And now, time for some actually useful advice from seasoned road dog and tour manager to the stars (the Hold Steady, Drive-By-Truckers, and others—but who’s asking?) Dave Burton. Today’s inquiry: Is it cool to tip the merch guy? Check out the last column, here.
I’ve been working since I was just a pup, growing up in the ‘70s, fixing bikes or mowing lawns for baseball card money in sunny Southern California. When I hit the big time at 16, bussing tables and making pies at an Inland Empire Marie Callendars, I was raking in that sweet tip money and sticking the check in the bank. I was flush. While my savings account ballooned, the record stores and drug dealers of the arse ends of Southern California beckoned.
In the 40 odd years since, I have worked in either the service industry or in rock ‘n’ roll. (That’s with the exception of a litany of McJobs in the temp field, a brief stint as a production accountant for a major motion picture company, and whatever I could do for dough working under the table in the U.K., Ireland, and Europe in the late ‘80s, but who's counting?)
Those industries have a few similarities: there’s zero HR, and even less fiscal consistency. It’s the wild, wild west of the working world. I have worked tip-to-tail in the service industry from manager to minion. I have been sucked in by the cash-in-pocket model at the end of the night, provided beautifully or begrudgingly by the general public; it is the restaurant equivalent to the denim-diapered tribe of twenty-somethings that keep the modern rock world afloat with their three day festival passes.
It is the restaurant equivalent to the denim-diapered tribe of twenty-somethings that keep the modern rock world afloat with their three day festival passes.
So why, then, has tipping the merch person at a show become such a point of contention? Allow me to explain.
At some point in rock ‘n’ roll history, quality merch people started putting their own tip jars out on the table, and it seemed like the way forward. My first properly paid touring gig was 20 pounds per day and a sleeping bag on the floor of the singer and bass player of That Petrol Emotion’s shared room, in the dumps of England, in 1993. I was over the moon. The benefits of the job outweighed any perceived slights. The band wasn’t making much dough, but the perks were plenty–-I mean, what 25-year-old rock 'n' roller didn’t want to hear Damian O'Neill tell stories of the teenaged Undertones opening for the Clash, and get paid?