Spring is on the horizon here on the West Coast (if you don’t mind that it’s currently snowing outside!) and I am gearing up for the busking season. I thought I would share some tips for some successful busking/street performing. Here they are in 6 easy steps;
1. LOCATION – Where you busk makes all the difference of how much tips you will make and how people passing by will react. Make a list of places in your city or town where you know a lot of people will be passing by. If you stand on a quiet street corner chances are you won’t get as much of a response. If you stand in one of the central locations of your city or town you will have a better chance of attracting more people to your music. Also some beaches and sea walk areas can be great places to busk as people are generally in a calm mood walking by the ocean. I have known buskers that busk on a sea walk area and get a good response. Better than on a busy street as many people are in a hurry. Make a list of some great locations where you have seen buskers before and give them all a try.
2. BUSKING LICENCE – Many large cities require buskers to have a licence to perform on the street. You could alway pretend you didn’t know but then you risk finding out the hard way. Go to city hall in your area to inquire about where you need a licence. Where I’m from in Vancouver there are some areas where you don’t need a licence to busk but several where you do. I know in other cities like Toronto buskers are required to audition and then get a licence. Where I tend to busk in North Vancouver you are not allowed to use an amplifier. Check with the local city hall.
3. EQUIPTMENT – Make sure you get together the right equipment. You can purchase special battery-powered busking amps from the local music store. I have a small Trainer amp from Long and McQuade. If you are singing you will need a microphone. I use a Sure 58 dynamic mic which I purchased from Long and MqQuade. You will need a XLR microphone cable and then the appropriate cables for your instrument(s) Are you busking as a group? Make sure you get the right amp/PA system to fit your needs. Also like I mentioned above check to make sure amplification is allowed in the area you are busking. And if you want to keep it simple them go unplugged. I generally don’t use any amplification. Just me and my guitar. The only down side to this is that not everyone can hear you especially if you are close to a busy street. If you plan to take public transit with your equipment make sure you get yourself a small cart or dolly to carry your amp. mic stand, cables etc. Be mindful of peak times where the transit will be busy – not fun to cart your stuff around at those times. What ever way you chose to go about it is up to you.
4. SET LIST Your set list is very important when you are busking. You want to connect with the people walking by in a way that will be meaningful to them. If you are a person who writes your own music be sure to mix it with some cover tunes. Choose covers that fit your genre and style. People love hearing songs they are familiar with. Once you have someone’s attention with a cover song they love then introduce them to some of your originals. IMPORTANT! Don’t play the same 5 songs over and over again! Make sure you have enough material to make your performance interesting. My suggestion is have least 2 – 3 hrs worth of different songs if not more. Nothing annoys the local merchants in the area more than hearing the same songs 10 times! It will be good for your own self to have variety. There is nothing wrong with playing the same song over again especially if you are busking for the whole day. Just make sure there is a significant amount of time in-between.
5. Your Performance – Make your performance is lively and engaging. Get your body into it, move with the music. Smile and make eye contact with people walking by. Even if someone doesn’t look at you or return your smile keep doing it. Many people will walk by and not pay attention but several people will smile, put money in your case, buy a CD and some will interrupt you and talk your ear off! People love to see you having fun and connecting with the music. Don’t slump, have your head down or look disengaged. When someone puts money in your case or hat say a quick thank-you or give them a nod. Many people are lonely and want connection. Maybe you smiling, making eye contact and playing for them is the highlight of their day.
6. OTHER NEAR BY BUSKERS, PANHANDLERS AND SOLICITORS- When you are out busking you are usually not alone. You share the street with many other people. Panhandlers and people selling/promoting products are among who you will find sharing the street with you. The general unwritten rule is don’t stand too close to someone else who is busking, selling etc. You want to be courteous to others. If another busker, solicitor or panhandler starts to invade your space(and believe me this does happen) then you need to take action. Kindly yet firmly let them know that are busking and need your space at the moment. If they are rude and refuse to move then the best thing to do is change locations. If they threaten you then call the police. Your safety and enjoyment is of utmost importance while you busk. I have been lucky in all my years of busking to never have been threatened. I have had instances where people have been rude and invading my space. I found politely asking them to move helped.
Remember busking and performing your music is an art. No one has the right to belittle what you do. Go out there and have fun and make connections. Busking for me has opened many doors. I have met some good friends and landed some gigs through busking. Get yourself out there!! It’s worth it!