6 Tips to Busking Success: takin' it to the street

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Beat in the Street from Jordan Satmary on Vimeo.

So you want to make money as a street performer, huh? Well, busking ain’t for the feint of heart; it takes perseverance and endurance. Classical guitarist/beatboxer Zack Andrew is no weekend warrior. You may’ve already seen some of his viral videos, where he performs dance-y versions of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata, and more. Andrew brings his music to the Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade Monday through Friday and sometimes on weekends (4-8 hours a day).

Check out the short documentary above or visit his website for more clips!

6 tips to busking success:

1) Have a good attitude- remember that you’re not the main attraction. Most folks didn’t even expect to see or hear you, so be gracious and grateful if anyone listens, applauds, tips you, or buys a CD.

2) Be polite to fellow buskers- you’re all in this together. Share the public space. Don’t hog the best spots.

3) Respect local businesses- keep your volume down, and play material that is appropriate for public spaces. Help them make money, and they’ll help you make money. Get adversarial on them, and they’ll be sure to end your busking career early.

4) Be upbeat and joyful– brooding melancholy may be perfect for a smokey club, but buskers gather the best crowds when they play material that makes the kids want to dance and the old folks smile. Ya know,… good times!

5) Pace yourself- Don’t strain your hands or voice before you’ve built up your endurance. Start slow. Work your way up to the long-haul days.

6) Pack light- Learn to perform your music with minimal setup. Strip it down to the basics. Guitar and voice? Great! If you need a PA, bring something battery-powered.

Have you had success as a street performer? Tell us all your busking secrets in the comments section below.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

 

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  • I used to perform in Harvard Square in Boston a while ago before moving to L.A. but I do remember this: sometimes you need to let the moment happen. In trying to create a stir or “buzz” for yourself playing material that is not necessarily something you connect with but you think will draw attention to you never works…play something that moves you. If it is phony or artificial people will sense this and not pay you any mind. Be passionate about your work, just like a job, and rewards will come. Just like a walk down the street – let it happen.

  • Louisiana Dan

    In Shreveport, Louisiana, a new street performing ordinance took effect today, (December 1st) and I was the 1st to hit the streets at 10:am…not much of a crowd, but due to some generous folks, I made my registration money back along with some change. Street performing is a unique arena, but, in my opinion, it will keep you honest as a performer.

  • Awesome! At first, I was thinking the "street performing ordinance" was going to be a bad thing, like a ban. Sounds like they opened the town up to busking instead. Nice.

    • edd

      it’s a constitutional thing free (artistic) speech. This pay to play was challenged in Santa Monica. the city lost and seems every time they try to regulate they lose. It’s that pesky first amendment.

  • Good tips. Thanks.

  • Tip #7
    Follow the rules. Make sure you have the right to be there busking in the first place.

    We have a great farmers market in Boise but if you are not on the list you'll get run off and possibly blacklisted..

    • Oh yeah! That too. Haha. Thanks.

    • zack andrew

      unfortunately though often times you are told by police that you dont have a right to busk somewhere when its a first amendment right so dont go by what people say, go by the laws themselves

  • I;ve been busking since i first learned the banjo (14) been doing it for 4 years now… yo can make money ANYWHERE. I live in a very small tow, with very limited audience.. i still end up with 30-70 dollars a day (6-8 hrs) and its been cold up here in the mountains, and it only gets better as Spring comes around… You must have a pleasant demeanor about you… dress brightly.. simple and be as clean as possible. Be extroverted.. SMILE like crazy, have genuine interest in other people, and they will have interest in you.

  • Greg

    I've been busking on the Sax/Flute now for about a year. I absolutely love what I do, music is my passion and I have learnt many do's and dont's from performing this way. I started out of 'despration' and a 'last resort mind set' after being made redundant. My first day out I earnt $100 in an hour! Since then I've never looked back and have had the best time. It's a not for everyone and you need to have a bit of a 'thick skin' so to speak. Push pass the negative stereotypes is my advice to anyone starting out and keep trying and play to your act to the conditions you find yourself in. I make on average $60 an hour. The bad days are frequent (mostly due to poor weather conditions e.g. rain!) and I've had days where there's no more $20 after a set list ( I keep mine to an hour). The beauty of it lies in the fact that even with a small taking, you've just gained another hours (or how ever long you've played) worth of practice and if you're passionate about your art, then you'll not worry about the money; another location, another hour and you've capitalised on your monetary losses.

    HAVE FUN! That's the key. If you want to make money from street performing or busking, be reasonably good (in the opinion of your audience, not necessarily your peers) at what you do!

    Cheers,
    Greg

  • Pingback: Top 3 Articles About Busking: The Musical Art of Street Performance | DIY Musician()

  • Eddy333

    christmas time is the best time for busking…. we made a little over a hundred and fifty….off seaseon times we would usualy make around 75 to 80 bucks…..my favorite spot is on michigan ave around grand…we also got invited to a party but we were to tired for that……overall you can makesome money…..especially if you do it by yourself…..i dont know ablut other towns but in chicago you have to have a street performers licence which cost 100 bucks and a couple hours a city hall…….make sure you bring a large bucket for the custamers to drop the money into….and its best to be amped because the streets are not quiet

  • Jordin Baas

    ive busked regularily at farmers markets and summerfest entrance, when people are leaving. the best way to make the most money is to stay in the same place..for hours..people filter in and out and some come back. 3 hours is exausting, but its worth it.

  • CJMoore

    Hey I made a short clip on an interesting & quite successful busker that you may appreciate, “A Busker’s Life”

    I’ve got it on youtube here.

    Thank for the great site on busking.

    http://youtu.be/-fuaE-NL36g

    Cheers,
    Chris

  • Sweet. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ben Williams

    http://fretdetective.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/buski… I wrote some tips from my experiences of busking here. Hope they are helpful.

  • Samuel Balentine

    I found when I started busking in high school that when you’re first getting your toes into the water it’s sometimes better to busk with musician friends you may have. This may mean less of a payout, but it’s a much easier way to start and it makes for a good way to spend time with friends. Also, I’ve found with guitar busking, people drop change more often if there’s some conga/djembe/other hand perc goin’ on.

  • john

    I've been street performing for a few years now, i'm only 23 but i've performed in many different countries and often take home up to £500 an hour. I do stuff very similar to a man called Dubfx who's recently become very famous online so that's helped me out too. I agree with most of this however there's a few things…
    Firstly, whilst i am a very humble person and do agree busking and music as a whole is a communal thing, many buskers do not. Many buskers will happily hog the spaces, and crank their p.a system loud to a point no one else can be heard. Due to this, sometimes you have to compete, and you shouldn't feel bad about doing so, because at the end of the day if you're busking and asking for money you want money, you dont want to busk for 5 hours and earn 2pence. So maximise your opportunity, steal the prime spot, or try and out do those trying to intimidate you, but dont make it a volume competition or it ruins it for everyone.
    Secondally, I agree against traveling with a battery powered p.a. If your set up requires a p.a system, there's a reason, chances are your portable guitar amp can't handle bass of keys that you use within your music, for me i use a lot of effects on my vocals (im 100% vocal) with low frequencies that a normal amp cant handle. If this is so, you need a gel batter/inverter set up and a propper p.a. This gives you the power and handles the frequencies that would kill a battery powered p.a's batteries, or simply cause distortion of sound on the battery powered p.as resulting it a mass of noise nobody wants to hear. I've tried about 5 battery powered p.as; including Rolands expensive p,a system, and all of them have this fatal flaw. The gel battery will also last you 12 hours so you dont have to worry about your pa dying (the "8 hours" batter life promised by these companies on battery p.a's is absolute rubbish, you'll be lucky to get 2 hours of good sound quality)

  • tom fleissner

    Check out the new busking amps from Sonic Pipe Amps, http://www.sonicpipeamps.com. The E-3 is perfect for guitar and harmonica and the E-4 is great for bass

  • Cool. Thanks. Checking it out now.

    @ Chris Robley

  • Jimmy Branham

    I play trumpet in a big band as well as brass quartets/quintets and as a solo act in churches
    Last Christmas I ran in to some financial troubles and decided to give busking a try in an attempt to make some last minute Christmas money. A high school friend.that manages a busy cafeteria allowed me to play out in front of the business for tips. That lead to me being hired to play the next day by the owner of a pharmacy/cafe that was across town for a fee plus whatever tips I could earn.I was anxious and thinking that folks might just ignore the guy playing Christmas tunes on trumpet with no accompaniment. To my surprise folks were generous with compliments and tips. I made a little over $400 in four hours. This year I plan to return to the stores that I played last year while adding other locations with even higher levels of foot traffic. I might even take some days off from work the week before Christmas up to Christmas Eve.

    I doubt that folks would be as receptive and generous the rest of the year as they are at Christmas, but I am thinking of putting together a playlist of standards and giving it a shot.

  • Sounds like a good plan for sure. Might as well “capitalize” on the season when passersby are feeling generous.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Jimmy Branham

    Busking this holiday season has been a greater success. Have been playing two hours a day for the last four days. Averaging around $100 per hour. On top of that folks go out of their way to verbally thank and encourage me for playing. One of the three cafes I have played has expressed interest in me returning outside of the holiday season. The challenge will be finding tunes that sound good on trumpet with no accompaniment.

    • Nice! Do you play holiday music?

      @ChrisRobley

      • Jimmy Branham

        Yes, I play secular and religious Christmas tunes. Folks really appreciate it and thank me verbally and monetarily. Not sure that popular tunes during other times would be as accepted as a solo trumpet act.

      • Jimmy Branham

        Just outside of Charlotte, NC. Our winters are relatively mild here. It was pretty chilly today and tips were low.

  • Yeah, there’s definitely a good angle with the Christmas tunes. Where do you live? It must be tough for a busking trumpet player to have the most lucrative time of the year also be the coldest time of the year!

    @ChrisRobley

  • I’m jealous. Tough to busk in Maine this time of year.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Matthew TeRonde

    All good tips! Be positive, humble, friendly and kind and people will reward you. I’ve been busking at farmers’ markets since the early 1980’s and people seem to enjoy what I do, which drives me to busk as often as possible. We make the world a little better place when we make music in public! In the service of song, Sweet Tater