Why Tipping Musicians Is Important
Come on, sexy people
By: Reed Fischer Is it any wonder why so many bands break up? It's financially taxing to write and perform music, and that says nothing of the time commitment and mental strain that comes along with being an artist. Some people make light of the realness of the struggle, but it's not funny when an act you care about can't survive.
Instead of wringing your hands, put them into action. Call it Artistic Darwinism, prolonging a personal brand of entertainment, or whatever you like, but helping excellent musicians stay excellent isn't complicated. To quote AC/DC, "Money talks."
Here's the area you are looking for.
Photo by Mark N. Kartarik
The spirit of this commentary isn't about slipping rich geezer rockers like Bono some gas money for their semi trucks. (Apple just slipped him a reported $100 million, so we'll let him pay for his own hospital bills.) Arena-level performers do develop dire financial problems, but they can't be remedied with your help unless you're prepared to sell your house -- and your house happens to be a castle.
This call to action is about hungry, semi-bedraggled touring musicians with holes in their pants, free Vans they scored at a festival gifting suite, and a T-shirt snagged from their tourmates. These are artists who sell their own merch, haul their own gear, drive a rented minivan, and have played to less than 100 people sometime in the past month. Also, this call is especially referring to your favorite local bands who haven't yet stashed enough cash, favors, or paid time off to launch a tour at all.
But, but, but...
Yes, buying a ticket to the show is a fantastic start. Also, kudos for getting out of the house and putting on a clean shirt. A percentage of that ticket price will likely go to the band after the promoters, bartenders, security staff, sound technicians, and other people doing work to make the night happen get paid.
You bought drinks at the show? Splendid. Depending on the establishment, a portion of the money (or borrowed money) that exited your wallet might end up paying for their 1:45 p.m. breakfast tomorrow.
You even picked up a hoodie, tote bag, and a 7-inch from the merch table. Bravo. Once the band recoups the expenses for producing those items, they'll be able to start chipping away at the back rent on their practice space.
But, but, but...
All of the ordinary financial transactions people initiate at a concert are appreciated. Still, the music industry is a cruel master that chiefly rewards its Nickelbacks, Taylor Swifts, Dr. Dres, and little else.
Two decades ago, producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, the Pixies, etc.) detailed the "problem" with music with a lengthy balance sheet of musician expenses. Today, he's more optimistic that pay models and digital distribution will lead artists with business savvy to the forefront.
Look, there will always be cases siding with circa-'93 Albini or circa-'15 Albini, or whomever else is getting paid to give speeches to people who pay thousands of dollars to go to music trade shows. Believe whatever voice in your head you wish, but music industry talking points of the day won't keep a band you love from abruptly flatlining and putting out no more music. Tipping a band is a tank of gas, some tacos, and a clean shower that will push away the self-loathing artistic demons for another day. If someone gets sick or injured, there's actually something they can do about it.
Financially strapped? Hear you loud and clear. You don't actually have to take more money to a show than usual. If the experience is really about the music, first and foremost, it won't be impossible to skip the last cocktail of the night and put the money directly in the hands of the entertainer.
A Nashville pizza restaurant believes in tipping musicians so much that they added a line on their receipts.
Even if this particular move raises additional questions about credit card transactions, motives, and infinite other forms of distracting minutiae, it's a reminder on a piece of paper to do a good deed.
The best bet is not to over-complicate it. Just give them your money. Don't wait for a Kickstarter. Don't even wait for a tip jar.
Step One: Open your wallet.
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