Most musicians will tell you; times can be tough when your in-between gigs. Busking can give you great experience performing to a live audience, whether you’re singing, playing the guitar, or with any other instrument.
In this article we are going to give you some good reasons as to why it’s worth busking on the street. We will also highlight some of the downsides of busking.
It’s important to know all the key aspects of busking so you don’t run into trouble with local city laws or street violations. Here are some ideal tips that include the pros and cons of street busking that should help you out.
Be smart and follow the rules
You might not know this, but every city has its own set of busking and street performance laws. If you decide you want to get out and make an impromptu performance, you need to have a permit first.
The city council office or city hall will have info about what is required before you can start busking on streets.
A permit doesn’t give you the freedom to perform anywhere in the city as there are forbidden places you cannot set-up. You’ll need to first ask where you can perform along with any allocated timings, if you don’t follow these rules you could be fined.
If you play too loud or are considered a nuisance you could also end up in trouble. Shop owners could call the police if they feel you are disrupting their business. The best thing to do in the scenario is to stay calm and if you have a permit and are following all of the rules you should be fine.
You need to ensure that you not making a scene and that you music is just loud enough that people will hear your music up to 2 meters away. Even with permit you could get in trouble if your causing too much of a disruption.
Consider your location carefully
When you are setting up you need to be aware of weather and foot traffic. Weather is huge factor, you need to be very careful on hot days. You can get sunburnt or overheated if you choose the wrong side of the street. Consider that you should find a spot in the shade that is not blocking anyone, especially local shops and businesses.
Bring a bag that you can stash extra clothes if it gets too cold. I recommend a portable folding chair that you can stash all of your stuff underneath easily. Make sure that the chair is comfortable too if you’re going to be sitting for long periods.
You might even ask local businesses or coffee shops for permission to set up next to or near their shops. If they like you and your honest approach you can be a two-fold win since it may attract visitors to their shop as well. Find a way to cross-market their products with what you’re doing. Family-owned and mom-n-pop shops are the best so look for coffee shops, bakeries, and comfort foods.
It may even be possible for you to get regular gigs at coffee shops are anywhere which has live music. If business owners can see you have talent and bring in a crowd of people, it can help both you and them.
It’s a good idea to also bring along cards with your contact details/social media profiles on it. This will allow people who may want to contact you and easy way to do so. Another positive of having cards is that it will allow people to pick them up without having to stop you performing to ask.
Watch your back for trouble
The streets can always be a dangerous place, theft can be problem for buskers. You should know that if you have an open case meant for tips, it’ll be a target.
Situate yourself so you can see everything from a 180-degree point-of-view. This way you can see what goes into your case or cup for tips and avoid troublemakers who want to snatch notes and spare change.
You should also watch out for homeless people who might gravitate to where you are. They can hound you for your tips and bug the people watching you as well.
You may also encounter some gangs or groups of youths who just look for trouble, if you haven’t scouted out the area well enough they could try intimidate you.
This is why It’s important to try setup in an area which is full of people and not on the outskirts of cities or towns.
It’s important to remember you should be set-up to leave in a hurry if things are getting out of control. When the situation starts to get uneasy you don’t want to be fiddling around with your stuff before trying to make an exit.
You have as much right to busk as anyone else on the street so find an area that’s friendly to your talents.
Make sure your intention is not for profit
You want to show everyone that you’re a real artist so this includes letting everyone know you aren’t begging for any money.
It’s more important for people to stop and listen to you and maybe follow you social media than for you to make a little of money, that’s a bonus.
If your not bothered about the money have a sign that clearly says tips’ and or let people know that anything given freely is for charity.
They don’t have to know the exact charity, but something that people know is beneficial. This also needs to be cleared with your permit if you do decide to list a known charity fund.
Always be cheerful if you’re given a tip and play up their tip with an extra performance bonus just for them.
Keep an eye on your tips also, and after a set, you should remove a certain amount to it doesn’t look as if you’re making much money. Just enough to look like there are people dropping tips throughout the day.
Make sure it’s a rounded number so you can easily see what goes in and what should come out.
That balance should be the same all through the day so you put any profit into your pocket.
If you had a good day, you can walk away with a decent lump sum, making busking have some financial gain.
Something to remember though is that you can have a day where no one gives any money and some when you get loads. So don’t get disheartened if you don’t get anything. For example at Christmas time people are a lot more generous compared to January.
Don’t sell yourself short
There is always the opportunity that you have your own stuff to sell. It can be a album CD or even a private request to play at a concert or in their shop.
It’s not a bad idea to have business cards on-hand so you can give them out to those who spot talent.
The singer Jewel was actually discovered busking and it leads to her getting a record contract.
She was pretty smart about getting booked at coffee houses when a talent scout walked-in for a coffee. It’s not uncommon local music organizers will be quick to look-out for performers that busk.
Just keep in mind if you have CDs to sell, you’ll need to be careful since this also requires a separate seller permit.
If you can afford it, you have the right to give a receipt too and that’s perfectly legal. If not you’ll have to ask a donation that doesn’t have a set price.
Figure that you are going to be unknown, so keep your merch cheap. A home burned CD or disposable paper USB drive is going to be a cheaper alternative for you.
The more you advertise yourself on the street, the better chance you’ll have to be a known make it in the music industry.
Practice makes perfect
Even though you’re going to be on the street, it’s good practice to interact with a small audience.
This goes a long way since you can work on your improvisation skills and conversation and interactions with your listeners.
It’ll be more-or-less the same if you have a real show, so these street busking skills are a great experience.
You can also learn how to deal with the times when people aren’t being so nice. Always remember you need to put on your ‘game face’ since you are performing!
Be cheerful and smile just like you would at a real concert and see how fare that gets you.
People like a busker that’s cheerful and friendly, but also know they are exposed to all sorts of hidden dangers.
Play it smart all throughout the day and you’ll know how is it worth busking for yourself. If you follow these tips, you can avoid further problems that are common for buskers too.