Waiters Live Off Tips. So Why Can’t Musicians?

It’s a concept that’s never been tested.  But imagine if every bar and restaurant did something like this:

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22 Responses

      • TuneHunter

        I understand you want FREE from brilliant and homeless musicians.
        The truth, wax cylinders in 1890s had more monetization logic than someone coming in to my house with dirty shoes with intent to run advertisements around my art pieces, my wife’s jewelry or other valuables.
        They think they are my saviors! As is they just occupy my house and deposit 5% of my mortgage to my bank.

    • Anonymous

      “Surprised it’s not Ari’s post”

      OR Nina’s.

      Hm, is this just getting silly?

      • mdti

        “this is getting silly” : 11th thing you wouldn’t say to your audience 😉
        (just kidding)

  1. FarePlay

    Agreed. Maybe even dedicated music clubs, could have a line item to purchase CDs.

  2. Anonymous

    The Royal Room in Seattle does a version of this.

  3. Obie

    Waiters live off tips. So why can’t Google?

    Waiters live off tips. So why can’t professors?

    Waiters live off tips. So why can’t STEM workers?

    (this message was brought to you by The Department of Headlines You’ll Never See)

  4. Zac Shaw

    Waiters don’t live off tips, they are paid an hourly rate too.

    Musicians have been living (partially) off tips since the beginning of music. No doubt that will increase as the crowdsourced and gratuity economies continue to grow rapidly.

    You need to stop framing things like “can this one revenue stream provide a music career?” That has never been true. Sure, maybe 1% of 1% of musicians got a crapton of money from the copyright-industrial complex, the labels, publishers, PROs and other middlemen ate up all the profits.

    Music careers have always been about diverse revenue streams, and tipping is a vital one. It’s not going to become the model that replaces copyright, but it’s part of the model that replaces copyright: direct fan patronage.

    • never created

      cleary zac is someone who has never created anything. he thinks music is like commenting on a blog; it only takes a second, and how could you possibly think it’s worth anything?

      1 per cent of 1 percent might get a crapton, but there are tens of thousands who make between 2K and 40K a year from royalties, that enable them to live (whether it’s decades after they are no longer producing, or are a newer indie musician who relies on that extra few sales or royalties to make occassional rent or buy groceries.)

      zac, have you ever earned money from something you created?

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Well, this isn’t suggesting that musicians get paid nothing to start. It’s suggesting something additional, which could be lucrative.

      • Tony Gottlieb

        My favorite for a casuals gig pricing:

        Get the quote from six union plumbers to come out and work from 3 PM, until about 2 AM on a Saturday night….. and we’ll do it for half.

      • Blahblahblah

        Tipping in this country is already out of control. Can’t I just pay for my overpriced coffee without feeling obligated to put a dollar in the tip jar at the register? At Starbucks?? I think people would be annoyed enough at the concept of a music tip that they’d just never go there again.

    • Jeffrey Barkin (@JeffreyBarkin)

      Zac Shaw is available to help emerging musicians make it this world where he seems to see “music without a real value”; primarily through direct fan patronage, such as tips. Mr. Shaw suggests that future musicians and songwriters will survive and become compensated through other various channel streams, without the need for royalties. He sees copyrights as eventually become obsolete. I can’t speak for Zac, but I will try to summarize the views he seem to purport. [Please correct me, Zac, if I misinterpret, as I ONLY want ANY IDEAS that can help strengthen the future of Music clearly articulated… and I do not wish to undermine your perspective.]

      Zac Shaw apparently believes that music is not an art form that needs copyright protection and that it does not possess a real value, and that copyright and the Record Labels have brainwashed creatives and everyone for their greed…… Music should be FREE and we should all just accept this as it’s inevitable. We should not expect to be rewarded for our creations and performances through royalties. Somehow musicians and songwriters will get a bigger cut, which he has alluded to, but this has yet to be explained.

      Zac strongly believes that musicicans and artists should be paid through direct fan patronage, of which tipping is one means. He doesn’t believe that the broadcast networks should pay artist royalties for using their music to generate advertising revenue and programming. He has an interesting post on the LinkedIn Music Industry Group where he states the following about the “I Respect Music” initiative founded by recording artist and independent label owner, Blake Morgan…

      This is a direct quote of Zac Shaw’s comments:

      “This “I Respect Music” campaign is a laughable attempt by labels, PROs, publishers and copyright alliances to trick creative people into backing their market resistance to the inevitable free access to music we’re headed toward.

      Get with the program. The value is moving from the song to the direct fan relationship. No amount of whining, blogging, litigation, corporate lobbying, and hashtags are going to stop free access to music from being a technological and economic reality. Now, no one will sell a million records, but a million will perform live every night. ”

      I suggest everyone check out the IrespectMusic.org website and view it for themselves. Musicians certainly need CONSIDERABLY more than tips!

      I personally disagree with Zac Shaw’s views above, I personally, I see fewer professional musicians and less Live club and performance venues today – those striving to make a full time livelihood from music today have it FAR tougher than 10-15 years ago, despite music’s extremely high profile. There needs to be incentives to keep great artists at work and committing to full time musical careers. Perhaps more people have better access to recording software today than ever, but that does not make them capable professional songwriters and musicians, in positions to pursue careers.

      Look at professional athletes! Such a difference! Look at how they are rewarded. Music plays such a VITAL PART in our planet’s emotional Life, just as important as sports – from special moments to expressing our views; we are associated and identified by who or what we listen to – Music helps define us, and is part of our DNA and personality. Don’t sell yourself cheap.and lose site of what Music can become.

      Should NFL Super Bowl performers play for FREE for the exposure, while the athletes and broadcasters are making millions? Could athletes ever be expected to survive on tips?


  5. Chris

    Waiters don’t live off tips – well not in the UK anyway – we have a minimum wage here which is further topped up with tips.

  6. Nashville Musician

    Hundreds of musicians in all the bars along Broadway and 2nd Ave in Nashville get paid with tips every night. They get the equivalent of a waiter’s salary ($40-$50 per man) but the real money is made on tips. The honkytonks do not charge a cover. This has been going on for decades.

  7. Willis

    Is this a joke? Cmon, guilting patrons of an establishment to foot the bill for live music is terrible. It is the establishment owner who should pay thier staff appropriately. To lure me in with food and entertainment, then nickel and dime me is insulting. If I am to subsidize entertainment, then just charge me a cover charge up front or make me buy a ticket. This, at least, gives me a better way to decide up front if I want to patronize the establishment at all.

  8. hippydog

    Quote ” But imagine if every bar and restaurant did something like this”
    They already do..
    Ever been to a restaurant with a large party.. in most cases its pretty standard to automatically include the gratuity on the bill (you dont get the chance to ‘opt out’)

    and since restaurants and bars are ALREADY paying the PRO’s, there really isnt a lot of difference..

  9. eggchairjim

    Willis is right on. People are generous and prove it everyday on crowd-funding sights. But don’t hit them up with this. The establishment gets more business because people like the music – or they hate the music and wish they had gone somewhere else to eat and converse. In any case, the establishment needs to compensate the band. If not, pipe in Pandora and pay for that. Or charge a cover and be upfront about it.

  10. Venue Consultant/Manager

    I’m not collecting tips for non-employees. I do not EMPLOY musicians. Musicians are SELF EMPLOYED. Our relationship is contractual.

  11. John M.

    Pressuring restaurant patrons to leave a SECOND, SEPARATE tip for live music is a terrible idea, and it will never happen. (I am a performing musician, by the way, so I would love to see it, but it won’t happen.) Here’s why: 1.- Patrons already feel they are paying enough. In many restaurants, they don’t come for the music, they come for the food, and they stay, (sometimes,) for the music. 2.- A TIP is supposed to be a voluntary thing. If a patron gets bad service from the waiter or waitress, NOT leaving a tip is a way of expressing their disapproval. Likewise, patrons have always been free to tip musicians if they like them and are so inclined, but they always have the option not to, and they are not likely to want to give up that option. 3.- Restaurants won’t do this because they will rightly fear that it might drive away customers who might go somewhere else to eat.
    Everybody wants musicians to get paid for the work they do but everybody wants someone ELSE to pay them. I’m betraying my age here, but there was a time when I earned a living performing in restaurants and bars. There was no cover charge. Patrons could tip the performer if they wanted to, but it rarely amounted to a lot. The venue paid me, (the performer) a flat fee. In exchange for that payment I got people to come to their venue, enjoy my show, and eat their food and beverage. THAT’S how the restaurant made it’s money. They sold food. And they sold more OF it, and more drinks, because they had more people there than they would have had without entertainment, and the people stayed longer, after they were done eating, which meant they drank more. The restaurant covered its expenses, paid its wait staff, and paid ME, and still made a healthy profit. That model worked then, and it could work now. BUT… they paid more attention to who they booked to perform. They didn’t just accept anyone who told them that they could “bring in 20 people or so.” The CARED whether or not the artist was any good. Sometimes, if they believed in the artist, even if the artist was not well known, they took a chance on them. And more often than not, it paid off.
    Nowadays everyone only has their eyes on the money and the numbers. How many people? How much per person? How many acts can we squeeze in a night? How much can we charge the artist? (YES!) And nobody seems to care if the entertainment value is really any good or not. And some places don’t even pay that much attention to food quality anymore. They figure if they have entertainment, they can offer the people pretty much anything to stuff their faces and get away with it. Do I sound cynical? Perhaps, but I speak from experience. But I know the old tried and true model can still work. I’ve seen it. Book a good act. Let them play for a whole night, (or at least an hour or two,) so they can build up some rapport with the audience. Don’t charge a cover, but charge for the food and drink, and make sure the food and drink are GOOD. PAY the artist a reasonable fee. If they don’t deliver to your satisfaction, fire them and hire someone else who will. The artist can make some additional money through tips, (if they are good enough to earn them,) and through sales of CD’s or digital downloads, (if they have them.) It’s not rocket science. But everybody who provides a worthwhile service to others, (yes, even musicians,) has to be paid for it in order to be able to keep doing it, and if you enjoy these services, you should be willing to pay for them. You should NOT be required to pay for them if you don’t. Ok. I’m done now.

  12. hank alrich

    In Austin musicians are playing for tips all over town. And not only does it pretty much suck, there are negative side effects to oversaturation of any market.

    A few years ago I was headed for a late morning breakfast in S Austin, when a party of six exited the restaurant. A woman said to her companion, “I swear, you can’t even go out for breakfast in this goddamn town anymore without some singer-songwriter thinking you owe them money”.

    Even as a player I can agree. One Sunday morning last year I walked past an excellent BBQ trailer on S 1st with a large yard and tent . I might have stopped for brunch, but under the tent was an erstwhile twenty-something filling the space with typically mediocre music. I don’t want that with my breakfast, or lunch, or dinner.

    Tips are a nice addition to the take when one does a good job of entertaining and the audience responds favorably.