7 Tip Jar Upgrades That’ll Make You More Money At Your Next Gig

I’ve been playing in bars for a decade and a half. Over the years, I’ve tweaked & experimented with my tip jar, trying to bring in that little (or not-so-little) extra.

Here are ten ideas to attract more money into your tip jar.

1. Clearly Better

I used to use a galvanized pail that I pilfered from some bar that serves buckets of beer. Then one day my friend showed up at my gig with a clear acrylic pitcher, told me he spotted them on clearance at Walmart. Overnight, my tips increased. Why? I suspect it’s a social proof sort of thing—people see other people have tipped you and realize that it’s the appropriate thing to do.

ten bucks on Amazon

2. Lights

Something else the clear pitcher allows you to do is stock it with blinking LED lights to draw people’s attention. I’ve tried a dozen different variations on the lights—party “ice” cubes, bracelets that blink in time with the music, a blinky light for the back of your bicycle, etc. Currently I’m most enamored with cool white rope lights that can be set to blink, chase, or fade in & out. The remote is a nice touch, because sometimes it’s a pain in the ass to fish out some of the smaller lights at the end of the night.

nine bucks. also amazon.

3. Raise It Up

Blinking lights aren’t much use if your tip jar isn’t in anyone’s line of sight, so raise that puppy up off the floor, and put it near the singer (or wherever people stare most). When I play solo, I use a tiny music stand clipped onto my mic stand and laid flat. Or I borrow a barstool from the venue. When we do the duo or larger, I use the folding table that holds up the mixer case.

If I had to do it over again, I’d get this one.

seventeen bucks. amazon.

4. Use Better Bait

If you put dollar bills in your tip jar, people will tip you with singles. If you put $5 bills in your tip jar, they’ll tip you with fives. I start with a twenty, laid nice and smooth up against the forward face of the clear pitcher, so everyone can see it.

uh… twenty dollars. not amazon.

5. Make A Big Deal Out Of Tips

The bartenders ring the bell when they get a big tip. But you have a microphone. Hold that money up in the air and say something about it. Again: social proof.

Here’s a couple of my favorites:

“We just had a few requests come in. But only one came with money, so we’re playing that one.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, he speaks the international language of music!”
“These are your government issue request cards. The number in the corner of course corresponds to the number of requests you are permitted to make… not necessarily the number of requests we are required to play.”

6. Song Menus

As I’ve written elsewhere, you really ought to make song menus for your gigs. For every ten bucks I spend printing these, they bring in a couple hundred bucks in tips.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • don’t put your usual closing songs on the list or you’ll be singing Friends In Low Places twenty minutes into your first set
  • anything you shy away from when you’re sick (or just not warmed up) shouldn’t go on the list.
  • hand them out in person instead of leaving them on the table beforehand—otherwise they get ignored.
  • don’t print too many—I guarantee you’re going to make some changes once you’ve seen how people react to yours.
  • no need to put every song you know on there, just the ones that people request the most.

Here’s a crappy gDoc template to get you started, but you’ll have better luck in Pages or Word.

side a
side b

7. Talk To The People

For all the gimmicky tweaks and upgrades, the best way to make good tips is still to win the crowd over.

Invite them into your world.

As my friend Marcus says: Teach them how to hear you.

You’ve got a mic. Talk to them.

Don’t let yourself become sonic wallpaper.

Say something.

Anything.

See you out there,

Josh