Busking tips – how to become a busker with pros and cons
Student? Unemployed? Here’s how to become a busker you can get creative and earn money. Discover the pros and cons of street music with practical busking tips, legal woowahs, busking links & more.
In this day and age it can be difficult to find a job as a student – or as any kind of person. Busking is a brilliant money-making alternative to regular work. Amanda Palmer did it. Jason Webley did it. Set your own hours, wear whatever the hell you like and – depending on which city you are in – there is often no tax!
What types of busking are there?
Making music is the most common form of busking. Guitarist/singers are among the most frequently seen buskers (or at least they are where I live) but literally any musical talent can be turned into a street act. For instance, I play penny whistle and also ukulele while singing*.
Other forms of busking include: street theatre, dance, acrobatics, and magic (if you’re a girl, there aren’t many women in magic around so you should go for it). These arts are more complicated than the simple musical ones as they require far more practice, space, and an audience with a longer attention span. Often there is a collection at the end of the performance instead of just a hat or case that people can drop money into as they go by.
The last form of busking is, of course, the living statue, if done well, this can be amazing, but unfortunately, sitting that still, in costume, for that long can be very difficult, not to mention sweltering in the summer.
Can you earn money from busking?
There is no guarantee of making a steady income from busking. The money you make is likely to vary from day to day. The things to consider are:
How long you will busk for? I try not to do more than two hours at a time. Like any job, the longer you busk, the more money you will make.
When will you busk? Pick busy days. Saturdays in general are good, and if you have a market day in your town then try that too. Summer is better than Winter, and consider busking between 11 AM and 2PM so that you hit the busiest times.
Where you are busking? In general, the bigger/busier the town the better. However, try not to be in a place with lots of other buskers as people do not often give to more than one street performer a day. Even if your town is small, busking in a busy spot on a Saturday is bound to bring in cash.
What will you play/do? The final thing that will affect the amount of money you make is your actual performance. There are two main routes you can take for this: originality or popularity. If you’re a guitarist/singer (or equivalent), go for popularity. Play songs everyone knows and likes, and reap the benefits of it. If your performance skill are less common to street performance, opt for being individual. People are fascinated by things they havent seen before; the more individual you can be, the more money you can bring in.
I personally play well known songs (and the odd original) on my ukulele outside the bank in my hometown between 11AM and 1PM or from 12PM till 2PM on a Saturday. I usually make between £20 and £40 over the two hours, depending on weather and suchlike. If I dont make as much as I had hoped, I do another session on Wednesday (market day) or Friday morning.
Make sure you know the legality of busking in your city before you go out with all horns blasting. As far as I know, busking is legal across all of Britain. However, in some cities, (particularly larger ones) you need a license to do so. Busking licences shouldnt generally cost more than £20 a year and I think they are to cover your tax. In order to find out if a busking license is needed in your town, contact your local council and they should be able to provide the information you need.
The pros and cons of busking
Busking is great; you pretty much get to do what you want. Even so, it’s not for everyone. To be successful you have to treat it as a real job. If you are disorganised or get bored easily, you’ll find regular busking hard because you need to be strict with yourself on rehearsal times, and actual busking time, and doing a half arsed job will mean no money.
Some people can be cruel, and tease you about your talent and performance. If you are the type who is offended easily, busking isnt for you. If you are the type who needs a set amount of money coming in every week, dont even think about it – busking is far too unpredictable, and finally, a bit of a no brainer but, if you suffer from stage fright then busking will be very difficult for you, especially since you’re playing to an audience who may well not acknowledge you half the time, let alone enjoy what you are performing.
Final busking tips
Before I bid adieu…
You’ve got past the stage fright, practised your set list until you are blue in the face, figured out how and where you will play… Is there anything else you can do to ensure maximum earnings? These things work nicely for me:
- If you can, stand up. Your voice will be louder, travel further and you will be more visible to passers-by. If standing isnt an option, see if you can invest in a fold away chair to sit on. The cold hard floor isnt nice and you will get horrid leg cramp.
- Always look enthusiastic and thank the people who give you money. Confidence and happiness are attractive and more people will be inclined to tip you more.
- Remove coppers from your collection as soon as possible and hide them, if people see a pot full of silver and pound coins, they are more likely to give similar.
- Why not take something a little more decorative to put money in? It will set you apart from other buskers: a pretty basket or decorated jar is ideal.
- Dress for all weather.
- If you hit the jackpot and someone gives you a pound note, pocket it. If you put it in your collection case it may well blow away – even worse, some tosser could walk by and steal it.
Helpful links for buskers: