Choosing the right tip jar

You do have a tip jar at your gigs, right? Seems simple enough. Grab any old container to plop in front of you on stage, and maybe even write “tips” on it. But what kind of container should you use?

Does the jar itself make a difference? Is a jar better than a bucket? Is a guitar case a good tip jar? Yes. Yes. Nope. Here’s why:

What You See is What You Get

You need a see-through tip jar. Why? Because the audience needs to see there’s money in it. Not just that, but they need to see how much money is in it too.

Seeing money gets people’s attention… big time. Drop your business card on the ground in a crowded shopping mall, and it will likely get stepped over, unnoticed most of the day. Drop a $5 bill and watch it get snatched up in seconds. I’m not going to dive into all the psychology behind this, but it’s clear – people’s eyes are drawn to money.

You want people to immediately notice your tip jar, as that’s the first step to them putting something in it! If you merely have a tip “container”, people are likely to ignore it. If you’re playing the typical restaurant, pub, or bar, then the sight of a metal box, bucket, or wicker basket is probably going to blend in with the other junk and decor on and around the stage.

Tip jar tips: choosing the right tip jar

What’s in the bucket? Money? Beer and ice?
A severed head? Use a clear container to give the cue.

Cue It Up

Beyond merely getting attention, you also want your tips visible because your tip jar will become a visual “cue” to the audience members. This cue says,

“You are supposed to tip if you like what you hear.” You want this cue to be clear and tasteful to get the best response from the audience… and the amount in your tip jar is a cue as well.

If your tip jar is getting some action from the fine folks listening to you, others are more likely to take part in the process. People are more prone to do what others do first. I’m no psychologist, and neither is Derek Sivers, but he put this more eloquently than I could:

You want the audience to see through the container, and get cued on where to put their greenbacks. This means your options are either glass or plastic.

Here are some pros and cons to each:



  1. They look classier than a plastic alternative. If you’re playing a golf club, fancy restaurant, or high-end charity event, I recommend going with glass.
  1. They’re inexpensive. You can get excellent “flawed” glass vases at discount home goods stores for less than $10. The minor imperfections in these discount jars might make them less than desirable to the common vase-seeking Susie home maker who wants to impress her neighbors at her next essential oil and mail-order-makeup party, but they’ll work superbly for a singer-songwriter accepting dinero in exchange for playing audience requests.


  1. They break. I was once playing an outdoor event, positioned at a storefront sidewalk, when a 5 year old girl walked up and deliberately kicked over my glass tip jar. It shattered. Everywhere. She looked right at me and matter-of-factly said, “You better clean that up. Somebody could get cut.” The fact that she walked away unharmed is a testament to my self-restraint.

I’ve also had them break inside my gear bag (I know, I know. Rookie mistake). Trust me, you don’t want to be outside the venue dumping broken glass out of your gig bag… or slicing your fingers open before a gig because you failed to remove a few tiny shards from two weeks before. Learn from my pain.



  1. They’re durable. Unless you go all Nirvana at the end of your set, it’s likely to survive for years of gigs.
  1. They’re multi-functional. I bought a plastic container with a flip-top lid that latches shut for about $6 and I also store my guitar cables inside of it. It keeps the cable ends from getting bent in my gear bag, thereby extending their life and preventing the dreaded “cable crackle” at a gig.


  1. Not sexy. They don’t look as nice as glass. Sure, they fit in fine at an Irish pub, but if you’re playing a posh corporate event, they may give a less than desirable image. If you look hard enough, you might find some that look somewhat glass-like though.
  1. They’re lighter than glass. At outdoor events where the wind is strong (I live in Chicago, so roughly 94.3% of all my gigs), these plastic fellas get knocked over easily, or even blown away, taking (or spilling!) your cash with them. A quick save is to drop a rock in it. This does, however, pose the risk of cheeky folks in the crowd starting to drop rocks in your jar. You’ve
    been warned.


The open guitar (or other instrument) case is a classic image of pop culture, known the world over. So doesn’t that make it an ideal tip container? Well, go ahead and imagine one now. Yes, really.

Don’t close your eyes though, because you still need to read this.

So (without closing your eyes), visualize that busking street musician on a corner downtown. Crooning softly, slightly windblown hair, swaying as he strums, playing as people pass by on the sidewalk. There’s his open guitar case on the pavement in front of him. What’s in it?

Not much, right?! Some coins and maybe a few crumpled dollar bills.

That classic image is usually filled with spare change in everyone else’s imagination too, so that’s the cue they respond to when they see an open instrument case. Crack open your case for a tip container, and you’re likely to get little more than nickels, dimes, quarters, and maybe a couple wadded up George Washingtons.

Stick with the jar!