Busking, also known as street performing, is an age-old practice that allows performers to head outdoors and play to crowds of passersby for food, drink, gifts or monetary donations. Street performers – or buskers – are common all over the world and many make this their full time job, at least between gigs, touring, or recording. Busking isn’t just for musicians, either. Magicians, clowns, mimes, acrobats, caricature artists, and storytellers are all buskers, and the list doesn’t stop there.
Many musicians have at least a casual interest in busking, but are unsure how to get started. As a veteran of the busking scene, I can tell you firsthand that any busking tips I would have received before starting could have greatly increased my earnings, as well as my enjoyment of the activity itself. Hopefully, these tips that I’m about to pass on to you can help you on your new – or burgeoning – busking career.
Plan Your Locations
Where you perform is of the utmost importance to any self-respecting busker. Finding a location that isn’t quiet, but isn’t loud enough to where you’ll have to scream (or bring an amplifier) to be heard, while ensuring that you have enough walking traffic, and that it’s the type of crowd that might enjoy your music. For example, heavy rock probably isn’t going to go over well in a retirement community, just like jazz probably isn’t what people leaving a rock concert are going to want to hear.
Prepare About of 60 Minutes of Music
When busking, one of the best tips I ever received was from another young busker who only seemed to perform for a short time each day (during lunch at a busy intersection). When I asked why he didn’t stay longer in hopes of making more money each day he told me quite honestly, that he never wanted to look like he was going through the motions instead of thoroughly enjoying himself while playing. I took this to heart, and I started to take his advice. I try to plan about 60 minutes of music, or perhaps 90 minutes max, and then I’ll often leave unless I have a great (and energizing) crowd. I too, don’t want to appear as if I’m phoning in a performance.
Make Yourself Presentable
I’ve seen far too many buskers that look as if they just woke up in an alley somewhere after a bender the night before. Look presentable, so that you’re respected as a legitimate musician instead of confused for a bum looking for a donation.
Play to the Crowd
Much like playing any live gig, playing or pandering to the crowd is a great way to keep them entertained. Tell jokes, do a little dance, make up songs about them as they walk by. These are all great ways to make people enjoy your performances that much more.
Make Friends With Other Buskers
Other buskers are a wealth of information. Rather than competing for space or time, you should be encouraging your fellow musicians and sharing any busking tips or information that could prove beneficial to the entire local busking community. You’d be amazed at how often they’ll reciprocate. Some of my best friends to this day are current or former buskers.
Stay-Up-To Date on Current Songs
While you may not want to play covers all day, it’s a good idea to have at least one or two current (or instantly recognizable classics) songs up your sleeve. This is a great way to get people to stop and keep listening, and trust me, they’ll regularly stop when you’re playing their current favorite radio hit. Finding chords or tabs for new songs is easier than ever with free services like Jamplay.
Keep business cards, promotional information, and (of course) your tip jar right up front in an easily visible position. You’d be amazed at how many weddings, private parties, and corporate events you’ll get asked to do if you’re even a decently talented street performer. Heck, you could even sell cd’s and t-shirts if you were so inclined.
Know the Laws
Busking is legal in most public places, but there are exceptions to the rule. Generally, there will be signs posted in places that aren’t suitable for busking, but it’s always a good idea to check with your local city hall or courthouse in order to find out if a permit is needed, or there are other busking laws that you should be aware of. More often than not, the laws are pretty simple, such as not playing after a certain hour, avoiding certain areas, and not blocking the flow of traffic on a sidewalk or roadway.
By Derrick Manning