Like so many business owners, Jeff James’ inspiration for his innovative new music app PickleJar came from sheer necessity. Sitting in a bar in the Broadway neighborhood of Nashville, James, a serial entrepreneur, realized there had to be a better way to tip musicians.
“This young girl walks through the crowd carrying a bucket of yeti, asking $ 20 for the group,” James told CultureMap. Without cash, James donated through Square. “$ 60 later I had so many questions: would she remember my name? Would she remember my songs? There must be a better way to do it.
James, a former radio DJ and record label veteran, began scribbling his idea for a musician tipping app on a napkin. Two years later, Houston-based PickleJar came into being, James says, because “every musician we’ve spoken to hates the way they get paid on these apps like Venmo and Facebook.”
By pushing an artist-first mission, PickleJar ensures that every musician using the app keeps 100% of the money – something unheard of when James started the process two years ago. Fans donate to musicians on the app and, in turn, receive this tip five times in proprietary digital currency called Pick Coins.
“If you give a musician $ 100, you get 500 choice coins,” says James, “which are used to purchase tickets, merchandise or VIP experiences on our app.”
The artist also gets 500 Pick Coins in this scenario. With its own e-commerce platform, PickleJar allows fans to use these Pick Coins for experiences and musicians to use them for much-needed gear. PickleJar has partnered with Austin-based Strait Music Company, which will provide musicians with instruments and equipment. Musicians can create their own wishlists so that fans can directly contribute to the desired equipment.
PickleJar also allows musicians to broadcast live.
“On Facebook Live, data shows that only 8-10% of an artist’s audience knows they’re live,” says James. “On top of that, Facebook takes 30 to 40 percent of tips.”
With PickleJar, 100 percent of an artist’s fans will be notified when the artist is streaming live.
Fans can even donate directly to a musician’s nonprofit of choice, which is happening right now during Hurricane Ida relief efforts. Many artists on PickleJar fundraise for Ida’s help, James notes.
“We really believe that an economy of gratitude is emerging,” he says. “We wanted to create the easiest possible way for fans to say thank you.”
This thank you option also means fans can send direct messages, notes, and even images on the app, which James concedes with a chuckle could get quite interesting.
Another nuance for musicians not found on other apps: PickleJar allows “smart” separations so that musicians are properly remunerated for their specific contributions. An artist who wrote songs and drove the van to a concert, for example, may receive a higher percentage of tips than his fellow students who contributed less.
James and his tech team in Houston are also working on a streaming TV station called PickleJar Plus.
While one might be tempted to assume that PickleJar is aimed at struggling musicians from gig to gig, James assures that the app is aimed at all skill levels, which he breaks down accordingly:
- “Never never”: these people will never be signed, but use the app to improve themselves.
- “Got Talent, No Signature”: Artists can use PickleJar to build audience and crowdfunding.
- “I am signed / tagged”: Here, signed artists organize selection lists, which can be monetized via tips.
- “Idols”: These artists are already brands. “Kenny Chesney can use it to make sure every dollar goes to a nonprofit,” says James. “Chesney’s team can look at a counter, and when donations reach a specific amount, Chesney can reward fans with their favorite song.”
If all of this seems to indicate that James manages and represents artists one day, he says that idea is not entirely wrong. PickleJar could one day be the biggest independent record company in the world, he admits, because it allows indies to promote themselves.
“We were in a meeting and the guy said, ‘You’re going to change the world of entertainment forever,’” James recalls. “We hope so. We just want to build a relationship with the artists – and put them first.”