Tricks for tips! A guide for keeping your tips where they belong


Fairly often the question of tips comes up in conversation among buskers or even when I mention to people that I am one. The question of theft is a frequent one as well as musing about encouraging those walking by to keep the love flowing. After sitting down and compiling research from conversations with other buskers and my own experience, I have come up with this handy little guide to help out the newly ordained to the street arts as well as a pick-me-up for the veterans.

1) KEEP IT CLOSE! Whether you are a guitarist getting coins dumped in your case or an acrobatic troupe passing a hat at the end of your bit, keep your tips close to you. Within reaching distance close. A lot of cities (including Portland) have a 2′ ordinance for leashed dogs – let’s think of your tip like a dog, and keep it within 2′ of your body at all times.

2) PRUNE THE SHRUBS! The idea of a tip hat, vase, jar, bowl, case or what-have-you is for people to put money into it – it’s not to

Katherine, a living statue, uses a vase right near her feet so she can always keep an eye on it.

showcase the money that you have made throughout the day. So, have $35 in $1 bills is a little excessive, and making you a target for someone to grab a big wad of your money and run away. The solution? I like to wait until there is a lull of traffic, then I transport 90% of the bills into a little zippered pouch or drawstring bag for counting later.

3) KEEP IT SEPARATE, KEEP IT SAFE! Wherever you’re keeping your little secret pouch of tip money, keep it separate from your other stuff. Sit on it. Tuck it into your backpack behind you, etc. I would advise against, for instance, just putting it in a side pocket of the guitar case that you’re also receiving tips inside.

4) THE SIGN DEBATE. Some buskers like to put up signs advertising that they need money and give various reasons; rent, pot, food, doctor bills, etc. The reason some buskers like to put out signs is that they want the audience to know where the money is going. There is another school of thought that putting up a sign is like asking for a handout, blurring the line between buskers and “spangers.” Personally, I feel that putting a dollar bill in the hat to “seed” it or even tape a permanent dollar to the side of my chosen tip receptacle is all that’s necessary to give people the idea that they should be giving me money. Experiment. If you want to use a sign, try it a few times and then go without for a few. See what works for you.

5) KEEP TRACK OF YOUR TIPS! After you’re done playing for the day, count up all your tips (in private of course! Don’t get mugged of your rent money!), and write it down in a log. I like to track where I played how much I made total and avg per hour. When I am looking for places to busk for the day, I can check my log and see where I did pretty good and where I have been consistently doing bad. Keeping track like this helps you in several ways. You get to see how much money you’re making, laid out all in front of you – you get to see where are the good spots and the bad, and you get to see how often you’re hitting particular corners. Hitting the same corner too often, you might filter through the regular passers and then run out of audience. It happens. Log it and you can avoid it!

I hope that these five hints can keep you safe on the streets and help you make a little extra pocket change at the same time! See you on the streets!


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