1. Figure out your act
Busking successfully is all about performing the way that suits you the best, and highlighting what you are good at. If you are a killer guitarist, but you sing badly, then focus your act on the guitar. If you have the voice of an angel, then think of ways that can put your vocal in focus. Maybe you are bad at both but are an excellent entertainer or storyteller. You will quickly get a feeling of what you are good at and what attracts attention. Use it to your advantage. If you are ever in doubt, try asking yourself what kind of busking act you would stop for?
2. Rome wasn’t built in a day
If you are new at busking or have not even started yet, then be patient and remember to be kind to yourself. It takes a lot of practice to become a talented busker, which is all a part of the journey. We did not earn as much in the beginning of our adventure and not as many people would stop for us because we were still rookies. We worked at it, and every time we were out performing, little by little, we would get better. We also started figuring out our style, finding out which songs worked, which songs did not work, how to talk with people, how to entertain, how to attract people and make them want to stay etc. Be ready to learn when you perform on the street and eventually it will get easier. Always remember you are never worse than your best busking day.
3. Look Presentable
We strongly believe that people take you much more serious if you look decent. It is very important to attracting people, and making them stop. Buskers are generally be mistaken a lot for being homeless. How you dress can tell a lot about you and even show people what your music style is all about. So put thought into it and If you think about it, you would probably be more likely to stop for a busker that looked decent than dirty.
In the busking community there is a lot of talk about playing acoustic or with amplification. We strongly recommend that you should play with a good amplifier. Quite a lot of buskers believe that playing acoustic is more than enough but if they tried with amplification they would be surprised how much it would improve their act. It attracts a lot more people as you can actually be heard through the noice of the city and it also makes you look more like a real act. The street becomes your “stage” where you feel you belong, and you earn a lot more. You have to take into account that some cities do not allow amplification or maybe you need a license for it. But if at all possible GET AN AMPLIFIER!
5. Police and city laws
In general it is legal to busk, but it can be illegal in some cities. The laws can generally be quite hard to figure out, but if you do your research it will still help you down the line. We have sometimes played in cities where it turned out to be illegal (often due to the amplification), where the police had stopped us or told us that we had to move. The police are 99% of the time extremely friendly and hate that they have to stop you. At the same time there are a few who will fine you on the spot (happened to us in Germany and Switzerland). Whenever a police officer comes to stop you, just be kind, be understanding and maybe ask if it is possible to perform another place, or how you can get a permission to play. Then move on with your day.
6. The Perfect Spot
Finding the right spot is essential for a good busking day, and it can be super tough sometimes. We always try to scout out a city the first day we arrive and then we play on the second day. We always want to play AT a destination and not ON THE WAY to a destination. Find a place with a lot of people to play for, with as low noise pollution as possible (cars, trams, stereos, other buskers, etc.). You need to make sure there is space for people to stand and listen but also freedom for them to easily move out of your crowd (do not create a “foot traffic”). Stand in a place where it is nice and comfortable for you to be because then it will also be good for others to stop and listen. Lastly you have to be careful that you are not blasting your amplifier into a store with open doors, or a restaurant that might not want your music. They could call the police and get you stopped for disturbing the peace. Try to talk with shops or restaurants around you and make sure they will let you know if it is too loud so they do not just call the police without a warning.
7. Don’t Worry, Be Happy
You always attract what you radiate. The better the day you are having the better busking performance you are giving. Try to be calm, collected, smile and enjoy the moment as much as you can because all the feelings you project are contagious. A busker, who is enjoying it, naturally gets more success. If you are having a bad day then maybe consider if you might need a day off and then stay home and watch some episodes of “Friends” on Netflix. The cool thing about being a busker is that you are the boss and get to decide when you need a day off. We all need a day off from time to time, especially when you are doing such an emotionally demanding job as busking sometimes can be. Always listen to yourself and be kind to yourself as well as others.
The greatest discovery we have made from busking is that communication is extremely important. Between songs we have learned to talk to our crowds, engage them or tell them stories. The more we tell about ourselves the more invested people are in us and our success. We have learned that it is not only our music that makes people stop, stay and listen, but just as much our interaction with them. It is not always easy knowing what to say. Maybe talk about why you love a certain song, what you are passionated about or even just why you are performing in the street. It is always very important to show your gratitude for the people who took time to listen to you, gave you a compliment or of course some money. A “thank you” will get you very far in the beginning when you practice your communication skills. Do not worry, you will eventually get the hang of it.
9. Should you ask for money?
Should you tell people you busk for a living and need the money? It depends on the act you are doing. Some really have to ask for donations after their act is done, for example street magicians, street dancers, and all respect in the world to that. Their circle show act requires it more. For us it is more important that people feel welcome and enjoy our music, then the money will come in the end, and therefore we have never asked for money. We ask people to follow us on social media like Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, as we believe it will give us fans and followers and therefore bring us a more prolonged support. We never force anything upon anyone, except maybe getting people to sing along to our final song. It is a tough question but try figuring out what works best for you.
10. Damn it’s raining!
Enemies come in all forms, an angry shopkeeper, stupid city laws, a competitive busker, but the biggest of them all is the weather. If it is raining do not play. If it is windy make sure you stand a place where it does not affect you a lot. If it is colder than the Arctic Circle, remember to bring four sweaters and gloves with holes for the fingers so you can play. If you feel like a fried egg in the scorching heat, find shade for yourself and secondly (if possible) also your crowd. You always have to play by the weathers rules and just make sure it is working for you and not against you.
Did you check out our other tips about busking?