A musician’s life isn’t always glamorous. The vast majority of us don’t make our money from pounding out power chords on a stage in front of 20,000 people; an average night is spent in a bar or restaurant, and occasionally, it’s necessary to play for nothing but tips.
This isn’t the end of the world for a musician. Far from it. In fact, any musician can make a good amount of money off of tips in a few hours, especially in a busy restaurant.
Here are some tips to help guitar players, pianists, vocalists, and other musicians fill up their tip jars.
1. Know your cover songs. Unless you’ve got a number of original songs that are very simple and funny, you’re unlikely to get much of a reaction from original tunes. When you’re playing for tips, you need a good, happy crowd. Unfortunately, this probably means a lot of covers.
The good news is that you don’t have to play Brown Eyed Girl all night, but throwing in a few popular cover songs will greatly increase your chances of making money. You’re going to be asked at some point whether you do requests; if you can handle any popular request tune thrown at you, you’ll undoubtedly make more money from playing music live. Get to practicing.
2. Make tipping easy. You should have a clearly labeled, easily accessible tip jar. Make it look fun or funny. I met one musician who keeps his tip jar bouncing around on a piece of metal tied to his microphone stand–that’s smart, because it makes tipping easy, obvious, and a little bit fun. Families with kids will give their children a few bucks to run over to your jar, and even adults will be more attracted to it.
3. Engage the audience. You should start talking to the audience at some point, unless you’re playing at a classy dinner place and talking’s obviously going to distract from conversation. Don’t treat it like a show. You’re playing background music when you’re playing for tips. However, engage your audience and thank people that tip you, applaud, or show their appreciation for you in any other way. You’ll get bigger tips and you’ll probably get asked back, too.
4. Play to your setting. Know how to read a room. This only comes with experience. If you’re in a classy place, you can’t sing drinking songs. If kids are around, you can’t say bad words or talk about drugs. If every one’s drunk and doing drugs, you need to sing songs about getting drunk and doing drugs. There’s nothing better than getting a room into your music, and this is easiest when you develop a sense of the room. This is especially important when playing for tips, because the tips are going to start piling up when you’re acting like people think you should act in your setting. It may not sound too rock and roll, but you’re making money playing music–do what you need to do to stay profitable.
Are you a musician? Do you have any other advice for making money by playing for tips? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.