The Buskers Guide started its journey with 3 busks under its belt. Having just formed for the sole purpose of traveling the world, we were not very good, couldn’t sing and had less than one hour of music. Looking back, it was a bit crazy, looking back I think it was perfect. We learned some and earned little. Here are The Buskers Guides 10 tips for first time buskers.
1. Enjoy Yourself First and foremost, busking can throw lots of different experiences your way. Always remember why you play what you play and do what you do. There will be times where you make next to nothing, there will be times where you do really well. Not only that you will attract lots of different people who will approach you and want to talk. It is a really great way to connect with people, sometimes you will be given praise and other times you will be told off. At the end of the day if you are having a good time and smiling it not only passes on to the people who see you but it feels good to enjoy every moment and busking is all about sharing moments.
2. The 3 C's Speaks for itself, people hear (1) confidence before they hear anything else, whether they know the song you are performing or not and what truly ropes them in is your (2) conviction. You can hear and feel conviction on a recorded piece of music not knowing or seeing who played it. You don’t have to be the best performer in the world and most who start busking may not have a heap experience, but as you practice and perform you will get better and become more (3) consistent. Stay confident, consistent and project conviction, people will be more likely to give you a chance than someone who does not.
3. Understand and compliment the environment Nothing worse than a sound that conflicts with all of the other sounds around it. I think a big part of receiving donations is how you can improve an environment rather than invade it. Some places call for a big energetic show that pulls people in from far and wide, and some do not. The easiest way to get a complaint is to set up on a strip that has a relaxed vibe and the you go nuts in your set. People will then notice you for all the wrong reasons, even if you are good. If I am learning anything about busking its about finding balance in the different environments you play in. Keep the local store holders happy and they will want you there as much as you want you there and depending on the shops some may even ask you to come in and play to the customers who have been sticking around due to your sweet tunes.
4. Introduce yourself to other buskers and nearby shops Who has more information on busking in places than anyone else? Other buskers. Every busking scene is different and occupied with different buskers, we have found more often than not, that buskers are friendly open people who want to share the good tips and tricks with other buskers (and if they don’t they can’t see the larger picture). Buskers can inform you on the local permits/ requirements and what to look out for in each place. Not only that its a great way to meet like minded people. Also try speaking to the closest shops, even if its a short ‘hello', 'my name is….', and 'today I will be busking here'. They will not always want a busker but if you have gone out of your way to say hi then they will be less likely to call the ranger/ police if they have a problem and come and see you to work out how you can both benefit. We have received lots of gig opportunities due to being mindful of the area we are in and it has also helped us learn how to ‘Busk Smarter’ we have been approaching cafes, bars who do not usually have live music and asking if we can busk there in return for a few coffee’s and us opening the case. More often that not a place will give it a go and it helps bypass some of the shitty rules and restrictions some councils have. People talking to people will forever be the best form of getting what you need.
5. Have the right gear This is one that we see a lot. Its better to have a loud amp soft than a soft amp loud. Not only that its better to be able to sing and play at your happy level then to be competing with the environment un-amplified and ruining your voice. If your gear sounds good you feel good. We did the entire east coast of Aus with beginner gear, as soon as we upgraded to better equipment our sound/ vibe and confidence improved dramatically. It can be expensive buying new gear but in all honesty it pays itself off. You don have to have the best gear to start with and money can be very tight for buskers, but good gear makes a substantial difference. Light, battery powered amps and a trolley are your friends on the long commutes and walks scoping out spots.
6. Research your strip Nothing worse than rocking up to a place to find out that busking is a big no no and incurs a huge fine and officer ball bag has sworn an oath to himself to man handle anyone who even thinks about the word Busking. Google, google, google. Go to google and type your location and busking. Its that simple, it should bring up all related content from the council, news articles and who, what, why and when and of course do tip number 4. Busking changes with every council in every town and the differences between them can be dramatic. Know the rules and know your rights if you are challenged. We are not saying to get a permit for every town (can be a time consuming and expensive process, especially for traveling buskers) but know what goes on so you are not caught with your pants down. Choosing the right spot at the right time of day/ night can be a task in itself. So may times we have set up thinking we were going to do really well but didn’t, and so many times we thought ‘lets just try to make enough for 2 coffee’s’ and then made well above and beyond that. Night busking can be extra rewarding due to people having a few beers in the belly and not having the day stresses like commuting/ work/ errands on them. Beware though there is more return with more risk and we have heard stories about buskers being assaulted, gear destroyed and money stolen. It does happen so be careful and protect yourself.
7. Signage & banter Cut some cardboard out to stick in the top of the guitar case and promote yourself, your name, your social media channels, selling cd’s and even chuck in a quirky sentence or a quote by some inspiring guru from happy high herbs. You need to tell people whats going on without having to say anything. People will also feel more connected to you and want to support you if they know a little history and can relate to it. This also goes for your banter, talk to people not at them, tell them funny stories or tell them about your music or why you started busking. Print business cards with your info and how to book you, make stickers people can have. People want to know who they are giving their hard earned money to. Give them a connection and they will give you one back.
8. Look the part & point of difference Want people to take your busking seriously and not label it as begging? Then be proud a craftsman of one of the worlds oldest forms of expression. Show them your seriousness by taking it seriously (not to serious). Dress the part and make it part of your act. Some of the most successful buskers whether they mean it or not project some sort of image. They have a style, their thing, even the ones who don’t care about that hijacked word ‘image’, everyone still kinda has one. So find your thing, I’m not saying go buy a new wardrobe but you are presenting yourself, your music and exposing yourself, to make a few extra dollars, fans, creating opportunities, sell CD’s, do it your way, your point of difference.
9. Know your material Busking has lots of different forms. Know what you do and do it well. Lots of people use busking as practice which is fine, in many ways it can be. We also meet buskers who practice before they busk. Most of the time you can hear a rehearsed show to an unrehearsed one. Most seasoned buskers do not need to do this but if you are just starting make sure you know your material. You don’t have to be great at playing it but at least know it. There is a major difference. Knowing will also help with confidence, if you make a few mistakes you know where you are at and can continue, if you don’t know it and have to stop, start, stop, start, especially with the crowd pleasers that people know the words to, they can know if you know it or not.
10. Acknowledge your tippers We try to say thanks one way or another during a busk. We may verbally say it or at the very least a head nod, wink or thumbs up. It may take a lot of confidence for one person to walk in front of the crowd and give you some money, no matter the denominator. As a busker you will soon learn, every cent counts. At the very least say thank you in any form, acknowledge their contribution and be humble. We notice that its always people who seem to have the least that give the most, and sometimes what people give is relative to what they can afford. We had a lady try to give us her watch once because she just had no money. We tried not to accept it and told her to enjoy the music for free but she felt compelled to give to us. Such kindness must be returned a simple thank you goes a long way.
There are a few things left out but as a beginner I feel these are the most relative things. You don’t need to do any or all of these things to busk, the rules of busking are as free as busking itself. These are tips we found that help substantially along the way. The beauty of busking is you can do it your own way any time of the day. Its the perfect job and its a very honest way of earning money. If you need an extra hand we have found taking other musician friends to play with helps a lot too. We try to busk with lots of different people and it makes it exciting to see what you come up with each time. Plus its a great way for artists to cross promote one another. Don’t be afraid, put on a smile and just do it'
If you have any tips, tricks, hacks or want to tell us about your first busk drop us a msg on our Facebook or email us at [email protected]