I almost called this post 'How to be a good busker', but for now I'm looking at them as synonyms, because a good busker makes money, so that he can busk more, keep improving, and touch more people with his music. AND we need to Git that Coin, amirite? A 'good busker' brings VALUE to people. And when people are appreciating what a busker is giving, they give value back, in the form of cash. In case you never heard the term, "to busk" is to 'play music in the street or other public place for voluntary donations'. I've been busking for almost 3 years already, and I've made a living out of it, so by now I think I have some valuable tips to share.
If you're an up and coming musician, busking is a great way to improve your chops, your performance skills, your creativity, your connection with the audience, and to get your name out there.
As always, I can only speak from my personal experience. I am not the all-knowing Messiah of street music. I just have some experience that might be of value to you! Take what you like, ignore what doesn't fit, and add your own shit! This is just an inspiration to dream upon and build upon.
Don't do it for the Money If you just wanna show people how great you are, don't busk.
If you have passion, if you want to connect, if you want to challenge yourself, if you want to learn, grow, EXPRESS yourself, or have FUN, all those things are very good reasons to busk. If you have a deeper motive beyond money-making, you will enjoy the process, no matter HOW many coins get dropped in your pouch. Because sometimes, you're gonna make zilch. And on those days, you have to still have a smile on your face and be proud of YOU.
Expect Money Listen. This post is called how to make MONEY busking. Girl, go GIT IT! Touching 10 people's fancy is very nice and rewarding. But connecting with 50 people is even BETTER! Now. This means knowing yourself, that is, knowing your abilities and your vaaaaab (vibe). This is a huge psychological game of Confidence. Get out there feeling sure of yourself, feeling like a professional, feeling valuable, and you will see that reflected in your guitar case at the end of your set. And don't just settle for whatever you get. I've grown my hourly average by trying out different places, songs, atmospheres, times of day, days of week, etc. When I start making more money than usual, that amount becomes my NEW average goal. Then I recreate that setting as best as I can, and my income grows. Then there's more tactical approaches, like..
Go To Rich Neighborhoods What more can I say? Where people will drop 10 or 20 cent coins in Crackton *cough*schönleinstraße*cough, the same amount of rich people in fancypants Charlottenburg will drop 1 and 2 euro coins. It's maths mate. That being said, though.. you want to..
Find the right busking spot for YOU
This doesn't necessarily mean the spot where there's the most people. It's where you feel comfortable, and where your music resonates. For example: You do soft, melancholic music. Maybe you don't want to throw yourself in the middle of crowded noisy street corner. You might want to find a more enclosed area with nice acoustics. So search around. Try different places and see how you feel in each one. You'll find you niche.
One important take-away that I got from the movie 'Beyond the Sea', starring the now dishonored Kevin Spacey as legendary 50s -60s singer Bobby Darin is People Hear what they See. I have to say the Gospel singers in that scene are really disappointing, but anyway this isn't a movie review. What i'm saying is: attract the attention you want by looking the part you are trying to play. Remember you're putting on a performance, and a lot of the time, people's first impression of you is with their eyes. Even if not, people are shallow. If you want more money, look like money. Meaning, dress nice, have a nice instrument, have a clean space and decorate as best you can. Preferably with your brand and logo. Make it look like everything goes together in a nice package that represents you. It shows you put thought and effort into your act.
Create Value Music is a VERY IMPORTANT part of LIFE. Buskers are doing people a huge favour by unexpectedly adding joy and positivity to their boring day to day commute. That positivity spreads like fire. That's why people appreciate it and pay us for it. Aim to create value by making people feel good, or even by making people feel something. Sometimes people don't even necessarily want positivity. They just want their emotions to be valued and understood. If you're intuitive, you can be that for them. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be a virtuoso. Just say the truth. Let those emotions show, and you'll see that you will touch people the same way. Don't never EVER underestimate the power of emotions.
Flow with your Environment (remember where you are) Remember who you are. you are the soundtrack to this scene right now. In this moment. The cars passing by, the people watching, the trains coming, they are all part of your stage. Include them and use them. "What do I want to say? How do I want to enhance this moment?" is what you want to be asking yourself.
Focus Amongst all the possible city distractions (barking dogs, drunken hobos, weird dudes trying to flirt with you while you're singing) you are putting on a show. The correlation between how focused you are in your music and how many people will be drawn to your show is very big. It can be hard, but it's a great skill to master. It's like meditation. Stop all thought and concentrate deliberately on the effect you want to create. And
Be Strong Duuuuude you're gonna get some Hay- Ters. People who look down upon buskers will sneer at you. There are nutcases in the streets that will scream at you. There are authorities who will kick you out. Neighbours will complain. Even other buskers will fuck with you sometimes. That's the game. You gotta be strong. You gotta believe in yourself. You gotta have a reason why. A good reason why. Because it can get tough. This is a test of your character. These experiences have really made me think about who I am. And I realised that i'm a person who wants to spread joy, and remind people that life is about fun and magic and love. So I always go in knowing that, and every time I face a challenge, i'm stronger for it. So stay positive, stay respectful, and keep on going and do your job!
Get in with the other buskers Find your local buskers Facebook group, talk to the other guys you see on the street, and get friendly with them. Sometimes you'll find teaming up can be really rewarding. You can also get some good tips on where to play, how to turn your coins into paper money, and solve other such busking issues. It's always good to know your peers. They're not even competition, because every one is doing his own thing. There's enough room and coins for all buskers and we should all help each other.
Be Yourself (unique) You're you, and you are the ONLY ONE of those. Use that to your advantage. You're a rarity. Find and use your unique gifts, play from the depths of your truth, and you will be doing a favour to humanity. But of course, if you are busking as a musician, you have to
Be a Good Musician
A lot the tips i'm giving here tie into this point. There are many facets to being 'A good musician', besides hitting the right notes, nahmean? I like how vague this is, but the point is, if you suck, the people will let you know. By ignoring you.
This is the tip that has made me hands down THE most money busking. By advertise, I mean put up a poster or a sign of some kind, made of cardboard or other such material, and write your name on it in big bold letters. Then, if you're really spiffy, add your social media contacts. That way, muhhfuckaz can take pictures and videos of you, TAG YOU on Instagram, and now, instead of 1 person watching you and finding you awesome, maybe 10, 100, 1000 new people are suddenly aware of you. A bonus point is that when people see that you have an official stage persona and are presenting yourself as a professional musician, you have automatically been elevated above the status of 'random punk playing music on the street'.
I've gotten so many gigs for private parties that way. People could easily find me and contact me later, check out what other music I have online, and book me. Another good advertising tip that I got from my amazing musician friend Tom Lee Richards is that if you already have a gig coming up, that night or in the next days, put up a sign advertising that as well, and get your new fans to come see your show!
You can even go the extra mile and print business cards. That's just another cool detail that will make you look pro and just allow you to charge more $$
Talk Admitedly, this is my weakest point. I'm a singer, not a talker. I don't have anything to say in between songs. But if you can engage with people, and make some commentary about who you are and the songs you're playing, during your show, you'll add an extra level of connection with your audience, which is great great great. If you're like me and you're not a fuckin MC/comedian, it can be good to straight up ask for contributions, in a nice way. If you got to building up a crowd, and they really enjoying it, you can casually mention that you'd appreciate some contribution, to help support your music. Some people use catch phrases such as, 'if you give me 5 bucks, i'll be really grateful, give me 50 and i'll come home with you...' Lol, something like that, which indicates the amount of donation you are expecting/asking for, while being humorous and non-threatening. That's cool, but I would avoid saying things like 'Don't be greedy, give to the needy' because you just subconsciously suggested to your audience that they might be greedy, AND that you're needy. You're not needy. You're a professional, you make money doing what you do and you're good at your job. By talk I also mean one- on- one. Some weirdos will approach, you, but also some really cool people. I suppose this is obvious, but you definitely want to network, and if you're open to it you'll meet some great people to collaborate with, as well as some interesting characters.
Sell CDs/ Merch
This will boost your income so fast. I spent an entire year creating an album, 93% because I just wanted to have a CD to sell on the street. It was worth the investment. I haven't tried stickers or t-shirts yet, but those are definitely things i'm looking at in the future. One more thing I will say about the CD is that the more professional the package looks, the more you can sell it for. If it looks like a mixtape that you burned yourself, you just won't get as much cash for it. You just won't. You just won't!
So there you go, people. That is my tips for being a good busker. It occurs to me, now that i've written all that, that there are many kinds of buskers. Not just musicians. There's clowns, dancers, acrobats, magicians; all kinda street people out there dedicated to making us have a good time. Oops, sorry for alienating y'all. But I think that most of what I said still applies to all those other kinds of buskers too.
In any case, if I missed something, or if you have questions or comments, i'd be really happy to hear from you in the comment section.
If you want to check out my music, here's my most famous busking video, and here's a link to my YouTube channel. And you can just click on the 'Music' tab at the top of this page to sample my album, 'Dreams|Reality'.