Busking, or street performance, is a tradition that dates back to antiquity and is socially accepted in many different cities and locations around the world. Many buskers who take their jobs seriously work out a highly rehearsed and choreographed routine, not unlike professional stage musicians. That’s because busking as a musician is more than a great way to practice your ability to perform for a crowd – it can also be a great way to make money. Buskers who truly entertain their crowds and choose their locations wisely can go home with some serious money in their pockets.
Making money busking isn’t as easy as just showing up with your acoustic guitar, however. If you really want to make busking a worthwhile experience for you and your audience, try these seven tips.
1. Choose your instrument wisely
The classic stereotype of a busker is someone who grabs an acoustic guitar and finds a street corner and starts belting it out. That isn’t a bad way to get started, but the acoustic guitar is hardly the best instrument for busking. Louder instruments make a better impact in crowded places, especially drumming and electronic instruments. Take time to get your performance routine down so that you look effortless while you’re playing your instrument. Remember, it's important to put on a show. Taking care of your instrument is also crucial, as is purchasing any upgrades you might need to sound loud and proud.
2. Always dress the part
After you’re noticed for your music, your appearance will be the next thing you're judged on. When it comes to street performance, you want to keep people entertained – and part of that means dressing well. You shouldn’t look like you live in a cardboard box, but you also shouldn’t look like you just stepped out of your penthouse suite. Find a look that keeps you comfortable for several hours while engaging people without offending them. Basically, look cool.
3. Make sure you're being heard
The din of the crowd can easily drown out the loudest singing and acoustic instruments, so when in doubt, it's important to be loud. Being loud not only allows people to hear you, but it makes you come off as a confident performer – as someone who is demanding to be heard. This makes a strong impression on people who might want to donate some money to your cause. It also helps shake people out of their personal stupor or deep conversations as they walk down the street.
4. Play songs that your target audience is familiar with
If you really want to make money as a street performer, the most important rule is to play to your crowd. The people who will be walking by you are the people you will be performing to, so you need to play music that will make them want to give you money. For most areas, this will be upbeat and familiar songs. This doesn’t have to mean corny classics, but try to stick to songs that your average music fan will recognize. Deep cuts by popular performers are also popular and fun to play. True fans who recognize those tracks will be impressed!
5. Make money collection as easy as possible
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many street performers make it difficult for people to offer up gratuity. Poor placement or a small-size collection box will make it difficult for people to see if you're even asking for money. Make sure that your collection box is large and has prominent signage for your patrons to easily see it.
6. Learn a deep repertoire so you can play to any crowd
Depending on where and when you play, you'll be playing to different crowds. Street-smart performers who want to maximize the amount of money they make seek out crowds that match their repertoire. This can mean playing in certain neighborhoods or after certain sporting events. It also helps to be able to take requests. Depending on where you play, you'll want to have a certain repertoire or shtick prepared to for this. Recognizing what works will come with experience. It won’t take long before you see what people react to.
7. Choose your location wisely
Finding the perfect location to busk is an art unto itself. You’ll find that the best locations combine these certain factors together:
- The least amount of noise from bars or other musicians
- High traffic
- Large enough area to perform
- Unoccupied by other performers
Ready to busk? Learn how to take it to the streets in these major markets:
Christopher DeArcangelis is an active musician and copywriter from Chicago. He writes songs, plays guitar, and sings vocals for the rock and roll band MAMA and is the founder of the creative agency Static Free Industries.