A new tune

City launches new musician tipping program amid struggle to preserve Austin culture

City launches new program amid struggle to preserve Austin culture

The White Horse couple dancing two-step
Two-step right on over to the new Tip the Band credit card machine. The White Horse/Facebook

In an effort to preserve the live music part of our city's famous moniker, Austin is launching a new digital tipping service for local musicians. In an increasingly cash-less world, the aptly named Tip the Band allows fans to pay musicians using a credit or debit card. 

The City of Austin-sponsored initiative is currently in the pilot phase, and local musicians are encouraged to apply for one of the 10 spots. If approved, the performer or band will be given a plastic credit card reader, which the city is calling a "digital tipping vessel," presumably to take the place of the ceremonial metal bucket that's usually passed around in small venues.

The application is open through the month of May, and according to a release, the inaugural 10 musicians will be selected through a "competitive application and panel review process." Once approved, the chosen few will be given a tipping vessel to use both locally and on the road, and required to participate in marketing and promotional campaigns with the City of Austin Music & Entertainment Division.

Following the six-month trial period, the musicians may continue using the vessel while the city evaluates whether or not to expand the program.

Tip the Band's launch is part of the city's attempt to curb affordability concerns for Austin's creative class, a critical economic concern as the city continues to grow.

In its annual State of Downtown, released April 30, the Downtown Austin Alliance discussed the economic importance of Austin culture. "The community's embrace of authentic cultural identity has helped [the city] become a magnet for talent and technology," wrote the nonprofit advocacy group in an otherwise breathless report.

The DAA also outlined the loss of creative jobs downtown over the past decade, the same jobs that arguably promote and protect Austin's culture. "We have seen a significant employment increase in ... accommodation and food service since 2010. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the creative arts downtown. Despite the significant growth downtown has seen, it was not enough to rebuild the arts, entertainment and recreation jobs lost downtown during the Great Recession."

(It's worth noting that some economists, including the famed urban studies theorist Richard Florida, have argued that Austin, as well as cities like Seattle, Denver, and Portland actually dodged the recession, and even grew during that time.)

It's encouraging to see the city launching programs like Tip the Band in the face of increasing affordability concerns, but it remains to be seen if it will just be a — and pardon the pun — drop in the bucket to protect Austin's creative class.