I was recently asked by a friend for a few tips on how to get started busking. I quickly jotted down a list which soon turned into this Beginner’s Guide To Busking.
This is based on my extensive experience of having busked about 5 times in London, Bangor and Bath. If you have any experience of busking I’d love to hear any tips that you may have! Here are my selected words of wisdom.
- People Don’t Care
Probably at least 90% of people will be indifferent to buskers, so focus on the 10% that are interested and engage in a friendly but not pushy (e.g give me money) way. If they think you’re enjoying yourself they are more likely to enjoy it too.
- People Expect Things For Free
People are tight bastards and in a society where they can stream almost anything on their phones for free, they are often reluctant to dig into their pockets.
- Location Location Location
Don’t busk near a cash-point as you look like an aggressive tramp. Do try to find a place slightly away from the centre, perhaps with outside seating near to a coffee shop. Also near-ish to shops were people are likely to have change isn’t a bad place to be e.g. supermarkets, but not RIGHT outside. Also, make sure that your music is not too loud. I think the legal side of things says that you shouldn’t be able to be heard 50m from where you are playing. Less is more.
- Not Getting Arrested
If you get asked to move on by a shopkeeper don’t be offended. They are within their rights if they do not want you there so find another place in a different location – not just one shop to the left – and see how that goes. In some areas you need a permit/licence to busk so be sure to check the local laws. Also, in most places it is illegal to sell your CDs as this counts as street trading, which again you’d require a licence for. I’d suggest it’s better to have some CDs if people ask, but don’t have them in front of your case with a price. Maybe invest in some business cards and give people a link to download one track for free from the album and then the details of where to buy the rest of your music.
- Set Times
As a general rule it’s considered polite to not play for more than one hour in a particular spot/area. Also, don’t play within close proximity of another busker. If there is somebody playing in an area that you would like to play in, why not ask them how long they plan or playing for and if you can take over when they have finished.
Do mention if you’re planning on busking in an area on Facebook/twitter as people may be around town anyways and will keep an eye out for you. If you can get some videos/ pictures of you busking that is a good way to generate some attention online and shows that you are putting your music out there. Also, don’t forget to promote any gigs that you have in the area with flyers, posters, hand-made signs or whatever you can muster together.
In general people like hearing stuff that they are familiar with but sometimes people will want to hear something completely new. Maybe have a couple of well known covers to throw in if needed.
- Be Polite
Always throw somebody a smile or a thanks and make eye contact if they give you some money or say something nice about your music. It goes a long way and you can start to build a good reputation.
- Get Advice
Don’t be afraid to get advice from other buskers on where is good to play, when they like to play etc. It’s always handy to have musical friends in the same boat as you. You never know who you may work with in the future.
Have fun! Do it for the enjoyment of the music, not the money and you’ll never be disappointed with any money that you receive. HAPPY BUSKING!