Friday, 4 May 2012

Busking Tips

I thought I'd write a blog and share some of my experiences of busking. Hopefully it's good advice and will help people who are thinking of going busking for the first time. After Uni I went busking for a couple of years with Kristyna Myles to make a living, and now we're travelling around the U.K. raising money for the charity Centrepoint

  1.  There's no point in busking without amplification. -  Unless you're playing a saxophone or another instrument with a lot of natural volume, it can be very difficult to be heard in a busy city. When we first started out Kristyna and I tried busking unamplified in the Manchester Christmas Markets and couldn't be heard from just a few feet away. We barely made enough money to cover the parking.
  2. Get a car battery- Although you can get some battery powered amplifiers, most of these seem to run out of power quickly and sound distorted. We used a car battery attached to an inverter, which converts DC to AC. The best type of car battery is a gel leisure battery which are used for golf buggies etc. If you use a normal car battery the acid will soon burn little holes in all of your clothes. For an amplifier, I can't recommend the Roland AC30 highly enough. It has two channels, one for a guitar and one for a microphone.
  3. Other useful gear- A compact camping stool means that you can sit anywhere and don't need to rely on finding a bench. A trolley is important for carting all the gear around as it can weigh quite a lot. A battery charger for obvious reasons. If you're planning on reading music, take some pegs so that the wind doesn't blow it away. Fingerless gloves can help with guitar playing in icy conditions. A bag to store the money in afterwards can be useful.
  4. Check the weather forecast- There's no point setting out if there's going to be torrential rain all day. Unless you can find some cover to busk under, but even then people are likely to be wet, miserable and less generous.
  5. Two's company- Busking on your own has the advantage that you don't have to split the money. But if you go with two or more people it means one person can watch the gear while the other can buy food/drinks and take a toilet break, especially if you're making a day of it. It also makes you less vulnerable if there are more of you. 
  6. Be safe- Keep all your gear where you can see it. Empty the money out of the guitar case every now and again and hide it away. Busking at night can be more intimidating as people have had a few drinks and can be a bit 'lively'. We never had anything too serious happen to us. Kids threw sweets at our heads. Someone crept up to me and shouted 'BOO' in my ear which made me jump out of my skin, much to the amusement of the crowd that had built up. Occasionally people would make as if they were putting money in but actually slyly take money out. But generally the good outweighs the bad. And if you're busking in a busy town centre there will be a lot of people around if anything serious does happen. Click JUMP to read on
  7. Float- Throw a few coins in the guitar case before you start busking.
  8. Licence- Different towns have different rules. They are much stricter about licences in London than they are in Manchester for example. It's worth doing a bit of research before you start in a new town. Some places have the rule that you can busk but without amplification. I tried to get a licence for Manchester once but after a whole afternoon of phone calls I still hadn't managed to speak to anyone who knew what they were talking about. We busked for two years and were never asked for a licence. Occasionally a shop would complain if we were too loud and they couldn't hear what their customers were saying, or an office would complain on weekdays if we were putting their employees off work and we would be asked to turn down or move on. But very rarely.
  9. Sell CD's- If you have a CD to sell this can enhance your income significantly. It can also help to have a person to sell CDs for you and talk to people while you're busy playing. 
  10. Respect other buskers- Generally the rule is first come first served. If you find someone playing where you had intended to busk, you won't become very popular if you set up next to them and drown them out. Have a word with them and see how long they're planning to busk for or look for another spot. 
  11. Look after yourself- Wrap up warm. If you're busking in winter it can be absolutely freezing and quite tiring if you're out all day. A hat, gloves, scarf and plenty of layers are important to avoid getting ill all the time. Likewise if you're going to be out in the sun all day, put some suntan lotion on.
  12. People can be more generous at certain times of year- At Christmas, everyone seems to be more cheerful, and during the first days of summer people are often in a good mood. If it's freezing cold and wet people are less likely to stop and watch.
  13. Variation- It can be worth trying a few different towns and locations in the same town to see where produces the best results. Busking abroad can also be fun. Below is an old video of us playing on the underground in Lyon, France. 
  14. Repertoire- If people passing by hear a tune they know, they may be more likely to throw some money in the case. But busking is also a good place to try out new songs as the reaction from the public is immediate and you can quickly learn what's working and what isn't. Busking is a great way to develop quickly as a musician and as an artist.
  15. Go for it- If you're busking for the first time it can feel strange to just start singing in the middle of a busy town. You just have to go for it. Lots of great artists have kicked off their careers by busking- Bob Dylan, Kt Tunstall etc. In a busy city, so many people walk by that you never know who might see you or what might happen .

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  1. Thanks Ben, some really good tips, particularly the car battery )

  2. I would say I disagree with point number 9 and have seen many buskers fall into this trap. People prefer buying a cd on their on accord. They don't like being approached by a stranger "sales person". Put your guitar case/cds/tip jar 2-3 meters infront of you and let people help themselves. You will get much more out of it.

  3. Fair point. But if you're busy playing a song , and someone wants to buy a cd and is in a rush but doesn't have correct change etc, it can be good to have someone to help, otherwise you're likely to lose the sale. We normally have someone sitting on a rug with CDs laid out slightly to the side of performer. I don't mean actively going up to people and trying to sell CDs.

  4. Really enjoyed reading your blog, I'm hoping to busk at some point and found your info encouraging and useful, thank you!

  5. Thank you for taking the time to write down all your bits of information. Keep it up! I started busking in the winter of 2017 and I am stoked to do this in the summer time. Now I can start wearing cool, revealing costumes to add to the mix!