Busking: 25 Powerful Tips For Musicians

Busking Tips

Before they performed in front of thousands, Ed Sheeran and Rod Stewart filled streets with their music, and delighted passersby. But even before them, performing in streets, better known as busking, has been entertaining people since the ancient times.

For musicians and aspiring ones like you, it’s a way to let the world know about your talents. It can also serve as means to earn money. Furthermore, it enables you to learn more about performing.

Buskers, as street performers are often called, seem like they just pop out of nowhere. More often than not, they’re well-rehearsed. They likely did some research as well. With the following 25 busking tips for musicians, you can also be one of them.

Getting Permission

1. Always research if busking is fine in the place where you intend to do it.

The first thing you need to look for is public space. You don’t want to perform in a private land, and get accused of trespassing, do you?

Next, look for ordinances governing busking in that city or town where you’re going to perform. Search for state or national laws as well. This is even more necessary if you’re going to do it in another country.

In some cities, you’ll be required to get a busking license. However, the majority of cities and towns around the world don’t have definite ordinances regarding street performances. To be sure, contact the local authorities and record your conversation to have proof.

Aside from the local government, ask permission from the shop-owners and street vendors where you’ll be performing. If they don’t want you to, then look for another spot. If there are other buskers in the area, wait for them to take a break and ask if you can perform in the spot as well.

Finding A Spot & Setting Up A Busking Station

2. Find a place where people pass by and/or hang out a lot.

Tourist destinations are too popular among buskers that they end up overcrowding the places and creating noise competition. Moreover, it won’t be too easy to find locals in such areas. When you perform in a foreign land, don’t you wish to entertain locals as well?

Local parks are one of the places you should consider. Go to the areas where there are other street vendors but without street performers. You can also set up near a supermarket, a train station or a parking complex. These are the areas where people most likely have spare money in their pockets. Just make sure you’re standing or sitting in a public property.

3. Relieve yourself before setting up.

You can’t afford to take a bathroom break in the middle of a performance. People won’t wait for you. You should already visit the bathroom before you even set up.

4. Don’t block.

Busking has a bad rep for causing blockages in streets. Don’t make it worse. If the sidewalk is less than 15 feet wide, you should disregard it and find a more spacious place. Don’t busk near crossings either.

Don’t annoy shopkeepers by setting up near their entrances as well. The same goes for street vendors and their stalls. Make sure there’s still ample space for them and their buyers to move around.

5. Choose a spot beside a wall.

A wall can provide comfort and security. When you’re not performing, you can lean on it for a while. People will less likely walk near the wall as well. This means you have less to worry about when you put your drinking water behind you.

Choosing Time And Day

6. Avoid rush hours.

Whether it’s a holiday, weekend or weekday, there’s a chance that you can earn a lot and there’s also a chance that you won’t. Fairgoers are among the most generous to street performers. Performing on or near fairgrounds, however, means stiff competition against vendors and other buskers.

Instead of the day, focus more on choosing the time for your busking session. Avoid the early morning and later afternoon rush hours. There’s less chance that people will stop by and watch you perform.

Picking An Outfit

7. Wear a piece that has deep pockets.

There’s a risk that your bag may get stolen while you’re too engrossed in entertaining your audience. Because of this, it’s more preferable to don something that has deep pockets.

A coat is a great option unless you’re performing in a hot place. Jumpsuits, jackets, pants and button shirts with deep pockets are also advisable. It even gets better if the pockets have zippers.

8. Try a security belt.

A security belt has pockets that you can use to keep your phone, cards and paper bills. You can also attach your travel documents. As for your other things, you can put them in a bag or in your deep pockets.

9. Strive to look approachable.

You need to draw attention to yourself as a street performer. Other buskers do this by wearing eccentric clothing or sporting eye-catching costume. If you’re not the type who goes daring when it comes to fashion, then try to wear whatever you’re comfortable with, as long as it’s decent. Rugged clothes are fine as long as you still smell nice.

More importantly, you should appear approachable. Keep in mind that your smile is the best thing you can wear.

10. Accessorize.

One statement piece is enough. Perhaps it’s an attention-grabbing hat. Perhaps it’s a cute bag, a statement shirt or a set of accessories made by ethnic groups.

Preparing Your Gear

11. Bring your instrument, phone and water.

If you’re performing in your town or city, these three should be enough. If you have a busking license, bring that as well.

Bring your instrument’s case as well. You can even use this as a tip receptacle. If you’re performing using string instruments, make sure you have spare strings and tools for replacing them.

If you’re performing at night, it helps to have an extra phone and a powerbank. Save the contact numbers of the nearest hospitals and police stations, too.

Portable amps and mics are available these days. Using these makes it easier for people to notice you. In some places though, using amplification isn’t allowed in public spaces. Be sure to ask when you contact the local authorities for busking permission.

12. Have a signage.

You can write your stage name in it. If you’re busking in another state or country, you can indicate that in your signage.

If you have social media pages, put them on the sign as well. You can also appeal to youngsters by adding a QR code that directs people to your online pages and/or payment options. You can use a free QR code generator online, print the code and glue it on your signage.

But even if you’re busking to get tips, don’t write that explicitly so. You may end up looking like a beggar to some passersby.

Deciding On A Setlist

13. Plan a setlist for a two-hour performance.

Some of your audience will only listen to one song; some will stay all throughout your busking session. A lot will ignore you but you should focus on those who give you their time and attention.

Don’t bore the latter by singing the same five songs over and over again. While you don’t need to master 100 songs to start busking, it’s important to know at least songs that will help you entertain people for at least two hours.

You don’t have to perform all of them in one busking session. In some spots, you can only play music for at least 30 minutes due to low traffic. If you’re able to gather a small crowd, you can go on for two hours at least.

In case you’re going to perform longer than that, you can repeat the songs starting from your first song earlier. By this time, most of those who watched you earlier are already away.

14. Practice songs from well-loved artists like Ed Sheeran and The Beatles.

You can find fans of the said artists in the most unlikely places. Whether you like their songs or not, it doesn’t hurt to master a few of their hits. People are more likely to sing along with you if they’re familiar with the songs you’re performing.

Should you do a cover or make your own rendition? It actually doesn’t matter. As long as you do it well, people will give you tips.

Aside from Ed Sheeran and The Beatles, try well-known tunes as well. These could be the theme songs from popular shows and movies in the place where you’re performing.

15. Include songs from different genres.

Don’t limit your potential audience to millennials. Expect people from all ages so make sure there’s a song that most can relate to. If not, at least there’s a genre that many will like.

You can never go wrong with pop and acoustic. Rock is a bit tricky to perform near churches and memorials. Experiment by mixing different genres, too.

Planning Your Performance And Dealing With Your Audience

16. Make sure your performances are all family-friendly.

Never underestimate the attention that children can give you. Stare at them and give a reassuring smile. If you’re lucky, they may drag their parents along to watch you perform. If the parents see that their children are enjoying, they’re likely to give you tips.

However, that won’t be the case if your songs are filled with cuss words. Remember that you’re in a public place and people of all ages can walk by. Even if you don’t have any intention to offend, using cuss words and making inappropriate gestures will earn you the ire of many passersby. Worse, the people will report you, and the police will drag you out of the place.

17. Acknowledge your tippers and punters.

You don’t have to say it out loud, especially if you’re in the middle of a performance. Start by keeping eye contact to potential tippers (also known as punters). Smile, nod and gesture them to clap, dance or sing along with you. Make your tippers feel more special by bowing to them after each performance and as they put tips to your receptacle.

18. Offer business cards.

You can put these on a container beside your tip receptacle. If you’re using your instrument’s case as a receptacle, you can place the business cards therein, too. You can put a signage encouraging people to get a card as you perform. You can also hand out those business cards after your performance.

Taking Tips

19. Fill the tip receptacle beforehand.

Aside from your signage, putting a handful of bills and coins helps define your tip receptacle. The mere sight of the money will encourage people to add more.

Instrument cases are among the most common tip receptacles. You can also use a hat or a drawstring bag. As much as possible, avoid using an empty cup, can or bucket. You might look like a beggar if you use those. Begging is illegal in many cities and towns, so you should strive not to look like you’re doing it.

20. Clear your tip receptacle every once in a while.

Get those paper bills before petty thieves do. Furthermore, hiding much of the money will make people think that not a lot of people have tipped you yet.

Clearing your tip receptacle also ensures that they don’t become too heavy. Otherwise, they might get damaged due to the weight. Don’t totally empty your tip receptacle though.

21. Consider cashless tipping methods.

In the US and in major cities around the world, you can consider Venmo. Patreon and PayPal also provide a way for cashless tipping, but they tend to require some steps.

Portable card readers exist these days. However, some of your punters may assume that you’re already rich enough to afford that kind of equipment. Consequently, they may not tip you.

Keeping Yourself Safe

22. Bring portable LED light if you’re performing at night.

Turn this into a spotlight at night. It will be a bit easier for drunkards and jerks to spot you. However, helpful people will also find you easily this way. Moreover, the latter feel more secured themselves when they’re in a well-lit place.

You can always choose a spot under street lamps. However, you should still prepare for the worst. If you bring a portable light, make sure it’s fully charged and you have spare batteries.

23. Ask a friend to accompany you.

This is especially helpful for female performers. The mere sight of a male companion could ward off some nasty people.

Aside from helping ensure your security, your companion can also serve as tip collector. He or she can also distribute the business cards while you’re performing. Your friend can organize your audience as well. He or she can stop the clapping and tapping when such actions start to distract you.

If you’re friend is performing with you, make sure you practice together most of the pieces. Don’t try guessing each other’s notes while you’re in the middle of the songs.

Being Part Of The Busking Community

24. Respect other buskers.

You don’t have to like everyone. Just respect them. If they’re already in your preferred spot, let them be. Don’t try to attract their audience by setting up your pitch nearby. Don’t disturb them and their audience as well.

If you really like to perform in the place, consider busking 500 meters away from the other buskers. Don’t use amps and mics as well. Follow these tips even if the nearby buskers are poets, painters and sketch artists. Your music could distract them in their work, too.

Many buskers are friendly with each other. Some even participate in impromptu performances. If you haven’t mastered the song they’re performing or the instrument you’re using, it’s better to just watch and enjoy their show. Don’t forget to tip as well.

25. Remain level-headed.

No matter how nice you are, you’ll still encounter jerks – regardless of the time or day. It doesn’t matter where you are.

Prepare to get heckled. Instead of focusing on them though, notice the people who stop by and watch you. Smile at them.

Some will take photos and videos whether you like it or not. You should be prepared for it anyway. You’re performing in a public space after all. Some of them will tip you and some won’t. For those who tipped and about to tip, look at their cameras to acknowledge them.

If shopkeepers, street vendors, and other buskers around you look annoyed, it will be much better to move on and choose another spot. Don’t ruin your busking day because of those people.

There’ll be thieves as well. If thieves target your tips, let it go. There’s no point in chasing them. Moreover, seeing your tip receptacle become empty or get taken away may make your audience feel more sympathetic.

If you get captured by guards or police, remain as calm as possible. Present your busking license if possible. If you asked permission from the authorities via call, present your recorded conversation. If they ask you to pay a fine, then do so.

Most importantly, enjoy every moment and learn as much as you can while busking. Don’t obsess over earning a lot of tips. It’s not advisable to turn this into your main source of income. Instead of busking all the time, score gigs by asking local establishments if they need performers for their respective events.

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