Review: Phil the Tip Jar, a card-dispensing tip jar for musicians
For working musicians, interacting with your audience is an important part of playing live. And so is getting paid. Sadly, even if your band manages to fill a small venue, ticket sales alone might not be enough to meet costs. Fans can sometimes show their support by dropping some change in a jar on stage. Phil the Tip Jar gives something back, dispensing "thank you" cards when it detects money going in the top.
In essence, Phil the Tip Jar (get it?) is a special version of the Tip for Tip jar from Good Fortune Industries, which was demonstrated at CES 2019 and is designed to sit on the counters of coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses in the service sector. The idea is sound – replace the shabby glass jar with "Tips" hand-written on the front with a professional-looking unit that dispenses a coupon or a card in exchange for a tip.
Phil the Tip Jar works on the same idea, but is geared towards working bands – our review unit had a piano design to the top, but custom branding will be available from the company in late 2019.
Infrared sensors in the money drop slot at the top detect when someone has shown support by popping in some coins or – ideally – notes. This triggers the unit's motor to start up and feed a card through a slot below the removable tip jar.
Good Fortune says that the maximum thickness of these cards is 100#, which makes it much more like quality paper than business card-type thickness. The samples we were sent were glossy on both sides, with a general "thank you" message on one side and a music-related phrase or funny on the other.
You can load the storage magazine located beneath the removable tip jar with up to 350 paper coupons of your own, with band info and upcoming gig dates printed on them perhaps, though due to consistency issues Good Fortune reckons you'd be better off ordering directly from the company.
Phil the Tip Jar – which stands 26.5 cm (10.4 in) tall with a diameter of 14.5 cm (5.7 in) and is supplied with a fabric carry bag – has two final tricks up its sleeve. Buttons to the rear allow the user to switch on a ker-ching sound for every tip that goes through the money slot, and there's another button to activate a repeating cycle of colorful LED lights so that your fans know precisely where to show their support.
In use, Phil the Tip Jar is undeniably quirky and fun. Tip jars are not really a thing for working bands in the UK, where our review unit was tested, so it's not known whether the interest shown in the device was due to it being out of the ordinary or because of what it offered above and beyond a "standard" tip jar. Either way, it certainly proved to be a talking point.
It did cross our minds that this unit could be a welcome addition to the toolkits of a particular set of musicians – buskers, or street musicians as they are otherwise known. But the fact that it had to be plugged into a wall outlet would limit this use scenario. As it happens, we discovered that Good Fortune had also considered this possibility and were working on a battery pack to take Phil the Tip Jar mobile.
This battery unit is currently in prototyping, but the company sent one over so that we could hit the streets. The production pack will not look anything like the unit pictured below, and will instead be shaped to slot directly under Phil the Tip Jar.
We showed the, now mobile, interactive tip jar to street musicians playing in our nearest city, and the reaction was mostly positive. Having the ker-ching sound enabled divided opinion though. Some said they would definitely like to hear the sound so they could personally thank folks who dropped in some change as they did so, but others remarked on how distracting it could prove to be.
Also distracting was the sound of the motor driving the cards through the slot at the front. This sound can't be muted, and proved to be quite loud and irritating. For bands running a powerful rig at a gig that's not such a issue, but for solo street performers and folks watching, it could be annoying.
It takes a second or two for cards to be churned out after the money is dropped through the slot. This meant that "drop it and run" music lovers didn't pick up a card. Those who did hang around soon got the idea though, and seemed to appreciate getting something extra for their support. Had this been musician information rather than cheesy quips, the performer may well have received follow up contact later on. Or maybe not.
Times are hard for many unsigned musicians at the moment and, quibbles aside, most of the musicians we showed Phil the Tip Jar to thought it would benefit their setup and had the potential to encourage more people to tip. But then we revealed the ticket price.
Eye-catching and quirky though it is, Good Fortune is pricing Phil the Tip Jar at US$199. The battery unit is still in development and will be offered as an optional extra. And then there's the cost of getting contact cards printed by the company or yourself.
We can see how the novelty could have fans tossing their money in the slot more than they would if the tip jar was just something borrowed from the bar, and if you're playing for change on the street then kids of all ages will love this. But that's quite an initial – and ongoing – outlay.
Phil the Tip Jar works pretty much as advertised though and musicians and music lovers we approached were both intrigued and pleasantly appreciative. Will it earn you or your band more money? A firm maybe is the best answer we've got. It's available now.
Product page: Phil the Tip Jar