Hi there! I assume you have arrived here because you are thinking about busking, currently are a busker, or you are simply curious. Either way, here you will find a list of pros and cons of busking that I’ve discovered after 10 years of busking with multiple instruments across Australia and the US. The goal is to give you a realistic understanding of the challenges you’ll face as a busker and the things that make it totally worth it. Let’s start with the good!
Experience, money, exposure, passion… What is YOUR motivation for busking? Keep your reasons close to heart and remember to always be grateful for what is going right.
…exposes your talents to the world
Most individuals/venues that book me discover me on the street. As a marketing strategy, busking works better than any other method that I have tried. For example, back in Australia I emailed the owner of a French cafe who I knew had booked accordionists in the past. We emailed back and forth over a few weeks; things were moving slowly but he was definitely interested. Then one morning he saw me busking outside a grocery store (not making the connection between me and the person he had been emailing) and booked me on the spot for Valentine’s Day that same weekend.
Busking can also expose you to potential students, or their parents. Finding students can be difficult especially when you’re new to an area and have to start from scratch. Word of mouth works a charm but you need a successful base in order for that to happen. Busking can link you up with potential students if you do it in areas with families. This works best if you make an effort to talk to children when they approach you. Ask them about themselves and make it known to their parents that you teach, making sure they leave with a business card. You can even put a sign on your case about lessons so that people don’t have to ask.
…cures performance anxiety!
For some of us, solo performances can conjure the same level of anxiety as one would get walking to one’s own execution. This was definitely my experience in high school, whether it was a concert, exam or competition. By the time I graduated I had pretty much accepted that I would never be a solo musician in any form. But that all changed when I started busking.
Imagine how unintimidating your audience and judges would be if they were talking amongst themselves, texting on their phones and slurping drinks while they walked around the room. There would be far less pressure to nail every single note and you could actually sink into the experience of passionately doing what you love. I am not saying busking is an excuse to lower the standard of your performances, but rather it is an opportunity to get lost in your music and forget the audience. As your busking performances get better and your audience (or crowd in some instances) grows and spend more time watching and filming you, you will discover that your anxiety is slowly dwindling.
…earns you a higher hourly rate than a regular job (sometimes)
Busking can be incredibly lucrative if you perform well and find the right locations. I’ve even heard of people who funded their international travels by bringing along their instrument and busking wherever they went. I myself have worked many jobs that paid a lot less per hour than what I make busking.
(We’ll look at reasons why it’s not necessarily a good decision to busk full-time in the CONS section).
…inspires new repertoire
I get requests all the time for songs I would never have thought of learning on the accordion. Some of those include Smooth Criminal and the Game of Thrones theme song. It’s fun to break out of my usual genre and people love it when they see me the next week and I can perform their request.
…is an opportunity to rehearse new material
When I learn a new tune I like to ‘break it in’ a few times by playing it out on the street before I take it to a venue. Performing it with all the distractions around me while out busking helps to highlight some of the weaknesses to work on and takes the edge off of nerves when I arrive at a gig.
…boosts your social media following
If one of your goals is to increase likes and followers on social media, displaying your social media information in your instrument’s case you can help you get there. Not only can you gain more followers and likes but it provides a way for onlookers to share with you the footage they have taken of you busking.
…allows you to have control over your lifestlye
Being your own boss is AWESOME. Choosing when you make money and where you do it is one of the best parts of busking.
…connects you to people
You can meet some pretty interesting people while out busking and sometimes they can lead to great friendships and connections. I have met artists, photographers, poets and musicians that have led to my own expansion into new musical styles, incredible photography for my website and even a portrait of me drawn by an artist who saw me busking. Their help and advice has led to some of my best gigs.
There are a few good reasons why not many full-time buskers exist in the world. Is there any at all? Tell me in the comments if you are one and be prepared for a lot of questions from me!
…depends on the weather
It seems that the good weather never hangs around long enough when you’re a busker. Depending on how much you rely on busking for covering your living expenses, bad weather can range from being mildly inconvenient to seriously impacting your quality of life. It can be nearly impossible to plan a budget around what you expect to earn from busking if your act does not do well with rain or wind.
Running into other buskers is something we all need to accept will happen eventually. Some cities already have regulations in place that limit the duration of each busker’s performance so the space can be shared around. In the cities that do not have regulations, some buskers are not afraid to get aggressive to protect what they think is ‘their’ spot. (I have a story about this that I’ll save for another post). It can be incredibly unmotivating if you’ve trekked far to reach a location with a bunch of heavy equipment and may leave you feeling like giving up for the day.
I’d also like to note that sometimes your competition will not be other buskers, but people collecting money for charity or selling newspapers/magazines. They all seem to find the same places! In Australia I had four busking locations lined up, so there was almost always a free place to set up at. However, during peak season when the weather was perfect, I’d sometimes spend an hour driving around to each of my chosen locations trying to find an available spot.
…will not always be acceptable to everyone that you meet
There is stigma around buskers in some cultures as being barely a step up from panhandlers. People who have not seen or heard your art might not completely understand or respect you art and that’s something you need to learn not to be sensitive to.
…costs money to start
Depending on the city you’re in, you may be required to pay for a busking permit before you can legally start. This can vary by a lot. I’ve paid $19 for just one month of busking in a small town and $20 for an entire year in a much larger neighbouring city. If you busk regularly and do well, high fees might only be a minor inconvenience for you. But if you only plan on busking once a month, or you are playing in a duo and have to each buy a permit and split your earnings, it can be a significant loss.
…can strip the joy from performing
The more you busk, the better you will get an idea of what you can expect to earn per hour of performing. It’s tempting to use this estimate as a tool for forming financial goals and a budget for yourself, but be aware of how this affects your experience of busking. Forming expectations around something that can be totally unpredictable is unhelpful and might be enough to strip the joy from what you love.
In conclusion, I hope this list has helped you or at least given you something to ponder. I know that my life is much fuller with busking in it and it’s something I always want to do. My wish for you is that 2019 brings many great days of busking and opportunities to learn and grow. Happy busking my friends!