Good to see you again! Or, if this is your first time to my website, welcome! Last time we discussed the pros and cons of busking (street performing) which you can find here.
For those of you who have decided to go ahead, this article is your trusty checklist to ensure that you have what you need for a great day!
First things first- check out the local busking laws. This information should be online but can be difficult to find or sometimes nonexistent (if busking permit yields nothing also try street performing permit). You will discover that not every town has a permit system in place which has been my experience here in the US. For those places that do, permits vary in price and duration. In all honesty, permits are a pain in the butt! Some towns just do not manage their system adequately. I have paid for permits that have never been sent to me and have run into dead ends where the phone number to call for a permit application doesn’t connect to anything/anyone… In those instances I just give up and busk anyway without one. The cities with a much larger busking culture and an organized system in place will sometimes require you to audition and/or attend a lecture about the rules and regulations such as in the city of Melbourne, Australia. Some systems include a schedule to rotate popular locations to give all buskers an equal opportunity.
In all the towns that I’ve busked in I have NEVER been required to show proof of a permit. I have seen many police while busking and they usually smile at me and probably don’t have a clue of the rules anyway. Based on my experience I believe that if you are not being a public disturbance then you will likely never have to produce evidence of your permit.
You are the brand and everything you wear is a message about you and your music business. Potential clients are walking all around you and will be making judgments on how you present yourself, winning or losing you a gig. Show them what they can expect from you if they book you! Also remember that people could be photographing you, filming you, uploading it to the internet as well as tagging you.
Accordionist The Great Morgani has built a following for the outrageous and unique costumes that he wears while busking.
Funky Bunny is an electric guitarist who gained popularity for busking in the city of Melbourne in a full rabbit costume.
You don’t have to go exactly that far to be noticed, but it’s a good example of the impact your choice in outfit can make!
If you busk in the winter…
A friend of mine gifted me these adorable fingerless gloves. They’re the only gloves I have found that are warm but thin enough that I can still play my accordion.
Music stand and sheet music
You will hear people say that it’s not worth your time busking if you haven’t got your music memorized but that is not true. When I was a teenager I busked many times on viola with my school friend who played violin. Together we performed Mozart duets with the sheet music always in front of us and received many generous tips from people passing by. While I do think that memorizing your music is better for engaging with your audience, it is not the only way to busk.
Food and water
It seems like an obvious one, I know. However I don’t think we can ever be reminded too often to drink more water. Bring more food and water than you think you’ll need because sometimes you will plan for a 1 hour session and end up staying for 3 because the crowd is so good. Even just slight dehydration will weaken you physically and mentally, hindering your performance.
Something to collect tips
Case/hat/bucket/tissue box cover
My preferred tip collection is my accordion case because it’s large and deep so people can throw money in from afar and multiple people can do so without getting in each other’s way. I get a lot of little kids coming over with money and they get confused very easily so I like to keep it simple!
Money is DIRTY and if you are using your instrument case for tip collection, you are exposing your instrument to a lot of grime over time. Let’s also not forget that some people have unusual tipping etiquette. Fruit, condoms, cigarettes, I’ve had them all… I protect my case with a tea towel and I highly recommend you do as well!
Bag for tips
Once you are done busking, you will need somewhere to put your tips otherwise they’re going to be rolling around in your bag on the way back home. I use a simple drawstring bag.
Cash to start
I put at least 2 one dollar bills in my case before I start, plus a bunch of coins if I have any. It shows people where the tips go and encourages the first few people to do it. Do try to have coins on hand because they can act as useful paper weights for bills on windy days. (I’ve chased bills down the street many times. Not fun and makes you look super pathetic).
Bring something to sit on if you perform best while seated. Some people sit on milk crates, their instrument case, amplifier or stool etc. Whatever works for you.
Even if you’re just busking for fun and do not intend to be a gigging musician, have a few business cards on hand anyway because you will inevitably be asked for your info! I only had about 5 songs under my belt on accordion when people started asking for my information and I was totally unprepared. Now I line them up inside my case underneath my social media info. People take them all the time and can do so without feeling as though they are interrupting my performance. Some websites I have used are Vistaprint and Moo.
An idea to make your cards more engaging
I once visited a tailor who altered a jacket for my bagpipe band uniform. Upon leaving the first visit, she gave me a small clear bag with her business card inside. It contained some candies and was tied up with colourful curly ribbon. It was so cute that I didn’t want to open it and when I did, I took my time. It really made an impression on me and made the ordinary experience of seeing a tailor a little bit special. Make your cards stand out so they don’t get stashed away in someone’s wallet and forgotten about!
If your musical act could be enhanced by some percussion, then buy a foot tambourine and give it a go!
I purchased a cheap one from Amazon and use it for certain styles such as Klezmer music, Christmas tunes and pop music. Check it out here.
AWW SO CHEESY.
But it’s true and I have seen it for myself. If you genuinely look happy to be performing on the street then people will respond with gratitude for your positive energy.
I hope this list helps you prepare for your first day busking. Good luck and have fun!