TipCow: The selfless app that financially rewards local musicians

Austin, Texas, The Live Music Capital of the World, obviously has a flourishing music scene. From hosting globally-recognized, music festivals, to supporting underground artists just around the block, the city revels in constant resonance and reverb.

From an outside perspective, the vibrant “hippie-town” is a sanctuary for starving artists and consumers to thrive. Unfortunately, this sanctuary is lacking in many aspects due to a lack of involvement and willingness from consumers. While the local music scene has seen major progress in previous months, many artists aren’t gaining the recognition or finances they deserve.

According to the most recent Austin Music Census conducted in 2015, 50 percent of Austin musicians with a secondary source of income take home less than $25,000 annually and almost 70 percent of total musicians make less than $10,000 a year. These statistics, coming from a city esteemed for live music, are unacceptable. Fortunately for artists, the Austin-based, music-tech, start-up TipCow is helping musicians make a living out of their passion.

TipCow is a self-funded, cell-phone application–available on both iPhone and Android devices–that allows fans at concerts to tip the band they are seeing; simple enough to revolutionize the lifestyles of local musicians. In an interview with TipCow founders Rene De La Mora and Chris Bush, they informed On Vinyl that the idea was sparked by a rainy night:

“I used to do booking on Rainey Street, and Chris, my best friend and software developer, came to one of my shows,” De La Mora said. “The Soul Supporters were on stage killing it, and Chris said he wanted to tip, but he didn’t want to pay the $4.50 fee at the ATM just to tip $1.00. I said, ‘There has to be an app that tips bands, no?’ This led him to thinking about why there isn’t this sort of technology in our day and age, and in our city.”

Although the concept is elementary, its source of funding poses a complication in the continuing development of its success. De La Mora and Bush righteously use capital from their personal part-time and full-time jobs to fund the app. The duo and their partners are ironically (and selflessly) giving up large sums of their immediate income to increase the pay of deserving musicians.

In a city that consistently showcases free shows and concerts, 20-somethings have a difficult time grasping the importance of covered shows, or tipping  bands. Austin’s youth is incredibly hedonistic and somewhat selfish as they consume live music regularly without contributing to the well-being of the artists.

“An older and more experienced audience is aware of cover charges at certain venues being split between production, staff, and the artist. [However,]fans are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want to support, but they also want the positive experience with their hard-earned dollars. Our service is definitely used less often at shows with a cover,” De La Mora said.

Although marketing the app has been as a demographic challenge, TipCow has been able to leverage the expanding influence of Chaka, one half of the popular, hip-hop duo Riders Against The Storm, to make some headway.

“Chaka has stretched our resources so much with his contacts and knowledge. He’s one of the best in the game, and we love what he’s done,” De La Mora added.

The utilization of a local, hungry artist is one of their most valuable strategies in marketing the app. Because of the established fan-base that follows Riders Against The Storm, TipCow can increase its own following.

Despite trials and tribulations, TipCow has made monumental progress since the launch of their app on January 1.

“We’ve had over 400 artists sign-up nationwide since its release…and moved over $3,500 into the hands of artists. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s a lot to us since many $1 [and] $5 tips are coming organically from word of mouth and social media shares,” De La Mora explained.

As a start-up, music-tech company, the distribution of $3,500 dollars to various artists in only eight months is huge. What’s not so huge is the size of TipCow. The company is working with under 10 employees–all fighting for the prosperity of local artists. While TipCow is seeking expansion, they are focusing primarily on marketing and advertising the application to gain exposure and a larger user base.

Austin music consumers and nation-wide consumers alike can learn a lesson from the openhandedness and generosity of the TipCow empire. In order to maintain culture in Austin and other aesthetically-driven cities, patrons of the live-music world need to embrace financial support. Although valued art appears innate and candid, it comes from blood, sweat, tears and a major loss of personal income.Despite what many music consumers believe, bands, producers and collectives typically lose money in their early touring careers.

Musical stardom does not only come from mass-applause at shows, but from financial understanding and support as well. If Austin seeks to maintain its position as The Live Music Capital of the World, they must get off their hippie high-horse and embrace capitalism for our aesthetic pioneers.