Cover Charge or Tip Jar???

What’s better? A $5 cover when you walk in, or a jar with a “suggested donation” sign?

Before you answer (and please, do answer!), think about this: Anymore, it’s crazy challenging to cobble together a decent living playing music. Which means it’s almost impossible to keep a band (playing any type of original music) together. Which means it’s difficult to develop a cohesive sound, let alone new ideas or new music. And on and on, into a vicious spiral that ends in some karaoke bar where crimes against music happen nightly, at no additional charge. We’ll always have “I Will Survive.”

This situation is doubly challenging in jazz or instrumental music. Some of Philadelphia’s best jam sessions are free; some of the least interesting musically require listeners and players to pay. What’s the best way to make sure that the members of a house band, people who play for four hours with just a few breaks, leave a club with at least gas money? Musician pay has been depressed for so long, many clubgoers probably don’t realize that the music accompanying their $15 appletinis is being made by people who are not getting paid.

As I’ve talked with the Milkboy Philly crew about the session that’ll start on September 27 in the tremendous new Milkboy second-floor space at the corner of 11th and Chestnut Streets, these questions keep recurring. There may be no easy resolution. Our goal is to develop a following for an evening of music that’s a bit different from what’s going on right now. That will take time. And it costs money. How to make it work?



7 thoughts on “Cover Charge or Tip Jar???

  1. I have played for a moderate guarentee from the venue combined with a tip jar. I have also played for a cover combined with a union mptf. These have been on monday or tuesday evenings and have worked out well.

  2. I have used a tip jar exclusively at the new music series I’ve been curating at a local gallery in Columbus, OH. However, after a few early shows in which I ended up with 30 people but only 15 bucks in the jar, I started passing around the tip jar collection-plate style after making a speech about “giving money if you have it, simply lending your ears if you don’t.” This has been a good compromise between a cover charge and trusting folks to maybe remember to leave some bread in the tip jar. I also find that some of my performers prefer the tip jar because they’d rather the audience buy their CDs rather than stuff the jar.

  3. I feel that if any kind of venue is going to commit to regular music especially from (mostly) the same musicians, there should be some kind of set payment. I think I understand the spirit of Milkboy. However, some kind of amount that covers gas and parking or a train ticket for the members in the house band should be expected from Milkboy regardless of profits or turnout for the night. The way I see it, if they trust you enough as a musician to give you a regular gig, they should at the very least make you not have to pay to play. A tip jar for the crowd I think is a great idea as well. Cover charge opens up a whole case of problems that frequently involved “percent of the door” that almost always end up screwing the musicians.

    Bottom line – MB puts up a small fee to cover bare expenses for the musicians and a tip jar covers the rest.

  4. Tip jar v. cover charge is really a matter for your agent and/or manager to negotiate, Tom. After all, that’s where they earn their 15%!
    What I think we should address is how to share out the money to the band, so here is a guideline we can all use.
    First and foremost, sax players should be payed by the note, that way the really good ones who play two times as fast and three times as long as everyone else are compensated commensurately. It’s only fair. Beyond that, here’s a general breakdown:

    *Keyboards-usually these guys are smarter than everyone else and they have already negotiated a special deal with the venue.
    *Guitars-it depends on how much gear they bring, but really good ones deserve an extra $20/gig, plus going home with the hottest groupie.
    *Bassists-as long as their girlfriends can come, and sit right up front where everyone can see that they’re the bassist’s girlfriend, they will play close to free. $20 should cover it.
    *Drums-they’re the puppy dogs of any band. Just pat ’em on the head, tell ’em what good boys they are, and forget about it.
    *Percussionists-similar to drummers, but they have to be having fun, so make sure to have plenty of toys around so everyone can jam!
    *Strings-ironically, although we typically think of string hierarchy as violin, viola, ‘cello then double bass, when it comes to pay, price per pound is the rule! Find out local rates for wood types, and pay accordingly.
    *Brass; upper-even cut
    ; middle/lower-gigs are hard to come by for these guys, so you can usually pinch 10-15% off an even cut
    ; trombones-a couple scotch drinks (top shelf for real good ones) and they’ll forget about getting paid
    *Woodwinds-deceptive, because as we all know, practically NO woodwinds are made from wood anymore! So we can not apply the same metrics as we do with strings, but still, in general, the bigger the horn, the more the pay. This is why so many cats these days play so many different instruments.
    *Vocalists-for male vocalists, as long as there’s no penalty for showing up late, an even cut is appropriate
    -for female vocalists, as long as there’s no penalty for showing up at all, an even cut is appropriate AND hook her up with the drummer.
    Hope that helps!

    • let the record show that Mr. Cargell is a known acquaintance of Rick Rosoff, a tremendous trombone player! note also that Mr. Cargell has been known to pound the daylights out of the drumkit from time to time.

  5. IF MB covers their staff for their time, they should cover the musicans for theirs. They are providing a service like any other person working. I don’t think waitstaff works for the door, nor do their other vendors. If it’s not in the budget, pay a flat fee of what is in the budget. You get what you pay for.

    • restaurants/bars pay SERVICE staff $2.65 (or close to that)/hr and the servers are required to declare their tips. if the hourly + tips do not meet min. wage standards, the business must pay the difference to guarantee min. wage. additionally, servers are usually required to “tip out” their bussers and bartenders a percentage of their sales, which they can not claim as a business expense come tax time. kitchen staff and mgt. are paid hourly and/or salary. this is because the irs views tipping food servers to be customary. this does not apply to musicians/entertainers. so, from uncle sam’s perspective, you better get it from the owner up front or you are working for free.
      musicians have to walk a thin line; playing for money or playing for the sake of art. if you play specific music to meet the venue’s criteria, they should pay and you should negotiate your value, i.e., do you pull a crowd or is it the linguini? if their business doesn’t cover the expense, they simply can’t afford you. as a musician, you have to determine your cost, profit & overhead, and negotiate accordingly. jam sessions, any gig where you play your choice of music, you need to establish a cover charge or put out a great big brandy snifter and hope for the best. oh, and hawk those cd’s!

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