Tipping, Busking, and Streaming Music

I think tipping is awkward and inefficient. It is also an expected social practice. Therefore, it’s important to be a good tipper.

I recently had a conversation with my mom about tipping. She is not well known for her excessive tipping habits. She says that she tithes 10% to God and she is not giving more to a waitress than to God. I explained that one is a percentage of your income and the other is a percentage of a bill due for services rendered. This led me to consider, are religious tithing and tipping basically the same thing? The purpose of tithing is to honor your deity for all of life’s blessings by giving back a portion of the material goods the responsible deity has bestowed upon you. Sounds about the same as tipping.

As a musician I have played in many establishments where money was being made on the sale of food/drink and I was compensated with tips. Entertainment draws in customers to the establishment and very often the performer is paid in tips. The customers pay for their food and drinks and also tips for the entertainment. That doesn’t seem right.

I think busking is completely different. In case you don’t know what it is, busking is when weirdos go out on the corner and perform with their hat out for tips. You have to be a brave maniac to put yourself out there in that kind of way. They deserve every penny gifted to them. This is a performance in a public space and there is no establishment benefiting from your craft. The sole benefit goes directly to the listener/customer and they have no obligation or pressure to give you anything. If they gift you a tip, it is because you created value for them. I’ve always wanted to be this kind of performer but I’ve never had the backbone.

I have been making Facebook live videos. At first I was pretty apprehensive about this format. There is virtually no overhead to this kind of performance. It’s really an exercise in showing up. It’s a very blue collar approach, a lot like busking. You show up everyday and just be there for your community. I have played some physical shows to empty rooms and Facebook isn’t much different. Some days you are preaching to the pigeons, other days you have virtual standing room only.

The music industry has changed a lot. Record sales aren’t really relevant anymore. Most listening is done via streaming services and royalty rates don’t amount to much. Everybody, including myself, wants total access to all available music at any point in time and for free. If your life’s work has essentially been relegated to a valueless free product, it becomes difficult to spend time creating anything new. Some services rely on advertisements to compensate the creators. I think we need less ads, not more. Also, unless you have a significant following, the ad revenue won’t pay enough to fund the next project. As creators all we want is enough money to make the next thing. I am looking for a better way. Selling physical products like T-shirt’s, posters, etc. might work but I feel like there is some inherent disconnect between merchandise and listening to music. A subscription model could be effective for a DIY approach but its very arbitrary and vague. I hate the idea of a tip jar but it’s a good way to find out if your work has value. For the time being, I will pass my hat and follow in the footsteps of so many musicians that have come before me. If you find me and hear something that touches some part of yourself and I have in some way made your life better even for a moment, hopefully you can spare a dime. If not, it was still worth it.

I am typing this while sitting in a great coffee shop. Due to a lack of actual cash and the use of a nearly empty gift card, I was unable to give a tip. The irony of life is not lost on me.

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Also, if you love what we are doing, here is a virtual tip jar.