The good news: In 2012, the music economy in New Orleans was booming. More than 9 million people visited the city, spending $6 billion. More than 76% of visitors were in town on vacation. Compared to the year before, spending in bars and nightclubs jumped 10.4% and spending on entertainment increased 9%. Musicians played nearly 30,000 gigs. The bad news: In 2012, professional musicians in New Orleans made an average of $17,800, with about 40% earning less than $10,000.
Designers spent two days and long nights immersed in the city’s music scene, interviewing musicians, managers, record label executives, festival organizers, club owners, radio station deejays, buskers, social service agency executives and city officials — some of whom were locals and others of whom were in town for New Orleans’ Jazz Fest or a conference of U.S. mayors.
So why weren’t musicians sharing in the spoils?
As with every problem in New Orleans, there were a lot of theories related to greed, corruption, racism and ineptness. But the designers pieced together two novel elements: most artists didn’t like to ask for money and most audience members didn’t think of giving it to them.
There were programs in New Orleans designed to teach musicians how to be better businesspeople, but they presumed musicians wanted to learn. Musicians, like most artists, pursued their craft in part to escape conventions, like negotiating contracts and managing accounts. Venue owners paid most musicians little to nothing, leaving musicians dependent on tips. But most musicians never asked for tips, only passively offering an open horn case or plastic tip jar for anybody moved to contribute.
Concurrently, audience members didn’t see it as their responsibility to support musicians. Unlike the time-honored practice of tipping waitstaff and bartenders, there was no cultural expectation to tip musicians — even in a city defined by music.
The designers’ answer was “Tip the Band,” a collection of tactics and tools to encourage and enable visitors to support musicians. One calculation found that just $5 from every vacationing tourist would increase the annual average income of New Orleans’ musicians by $10,000.
The key components of Tip the Band were a mobile app, which would allow an audience member to deposit a tip directly into a musician’s bank account and tell friends about it, and a civic campaign urging visitors to support the city’s musical talent. Designers also recommended an apprentice program for aspiring music managers and changes in social services for musicians.
The mobile app component of Tip the Band was launched under another name by a startup company. While more than a thousand dollars has been paid in tips to-date, the company is not yet successful. Another version of the mobile app is under development by a second company.
In January 2013, UX for Good was honored with the “People’s Choice Award” at the Interaction Design Association’s annual gathering.