Dear Diary,

This week I posted a funny (in my opinion…) tweet about a comment I overheard.


I felt like the irony was self explanatory but to many it wasn’t; lots of lovely tweeters jumped to my aid with their sympathies. I very much appreciate the sentiment of those telling me not to take it to heart, but felt like many had missed the point of what I was saying. It got me thinking about how tipping is perceived by onlookers in comparison to how it actually works, through the eyes of the performer.

The girl was right, I did have lots of coins in my case already. I’d had a stroke of luck when the next busker didn’t show up to play after me, so I played their slot too. I played for 4 hours, non-stop! I didn’t clear out my case in between because the crowds were coming thick and fast and I didn’t want to waste time that I could be singing. Besides, it shouldn’t matter how much I’ve already got, if you liked what you heard and want to donate then you should, shouldn’t you?

I don’t expect my Starbucks for free just because Starbucks already has lots of money.

I had a few comments from supportive tweeters that, perhaps, I would make more money if I cleared my case out, to create the illusion that I had less. There’s a similar theory I’ve heard in the past about how I ought to dress; that my aesthetic is stopping people donating. If I looked a bit more “scruffy” people would feel sorry for me and I’d make more money.

Both those points, while well intentioned, slightly miss the point of what I’m doing. I’m not trying to make money, the money is a necessity for sustaining what I do and an extra blessing on top of sharing my music and my name with a new audience. If pity is the main emotion I incite when I’m out busking then I’m not doing my job properly.

This also brings to surface a really interesting psychological phenomenon I’ve witnessed after many years of doing this full time. People are sheep and copycats and everso predictable. While the girl in the aforementioned tweet is an exception to the rule, I have found that the more money I have, the more money I continue to make.

Firstly, people love to have their opinion shared by others, and seeing someone tipping a busker confirms their suspicions; this musician is good. It legitimises the practice and other’s are likely to follow suit. Secondly, even without seeing the money dropped, a healthy guitar case of coins assures them that they are behaving correctly. They are giving this musician a thumbs up, just as so many others have done already.

I have found the same with social media interactions. While the first 100 or 1,000 “likes” are hard to come by, once you’ve been validated by a few people, others are quicker to support what you’re doing and your fanbase is easier to grow. I don’t mind it and I don’t think people are fickle for being this way, it’s just human nature; we are pack animals and we want to be part of something bigger. It’s kind of adorable.

I always start my set with 6 pound coins in my case. A gentle hint at the sort of donation I’m aiming for. Some people say you should always hide your £5/10/20 notes away, so people don’t think you’re earning too much. I disagree, but I usually hide them away anyway, before the wind takes them and deposits them in the river for me.



2 thoughts on “The Psychology of Tipping

  1. I’ve always believed in the sheep theory. When I was working on magazines we all used to gather round to check out the latest front cover. If one person said, ‘That’s a great cover,’ everyone would agree. If the first person said, ‘Not sure about that, it’s a bit dark,’ others would immediately jump in with, ‘Yes, I was thinking that’.
    When I give money to a busker, I never consider I’m tipping as such. If I go to a play or a music gig I’m paying to be entertained. If someone is entertaining me on the streets I feel I should pay them for doing that. Of course there is an element of wanting to support artists in whatever environment they happen to be. I have reasons for feeling an affinity to all musicians.
    Certainly pity is not a factor, neither is the visible amount they have already collected. Watching someone make good music on the streets is wonderful and if they are making loads of money doing it so much the better.

    Charlotte is a brilliant singer songwriter, communicator and entertainer. It’s a privilege just to see her go about her business. Great writer too.


    1. Really interesting about the magazine covers Alan! Aren’t people funny?! Thanks for that little anecdote!

      You’ve got a good ear for a good musician (if I do say so myself…) and I love to see how much you appreciate me and all the buskers on the Southbank, you give me a lot of faith in people with how much you love real music!

      Thanks for all your lovely words!


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