Busking is a classic way of getting attention and money from your music.
All you need is your instrument and charisma…and you’re good to go.
But there is more to busking than just getting a few dollars. You can actually turn it into a money-making and marketing strategy.
In this article, I will give you tips on how busking is done the right way.
#1. LOOK FOR A GOOD PLACE.
The first thing you gotta do is have a location in mind where you will be sitting or standing, setting up your things, playing instrument/s, and singing songs.
Look for a spot where there are a lot of people walking by like train stations, parks, and streets along touristy places.
Make sure that there are no obstacles and people’s lines of sight are clear so they can easily locate you.
Of course, you have to do the basic stuff. Find out if the spot you chose is a public space or private property. Check the local bylaws if it’s the former and ask permission if it’s the latter.
#2. PREPARE YOUR SETLIST.
Depending on where you’re busking, you will have to mind the duration.
For street busking, the minimum is 30 minutes but if you do it at a market, you have to have at least 2 hours’ worth of songs. This is because there will be vendors listening to you from their stalls.
Make sure that you have a variety of genres per setlist you have so that it appeals to everyone.
Remember that popular covers pay and so do well-performed songs.
#3. PREPARE A NICE OUTFIT FOR IT.
I know it should be all about the music, but let’s not kid ourselves. How we project ourselves matter.
They say that the clothes worn say a lot about a person, and indeed it does.
So if you’re doing this, make sure that you wear something nice. It doesn’t have to be a suit or anything expensive, just something that says “I have a job.”
Don’t ever wear something that makes you look like a beggar, cuz it just cheapens both busking and making music.
Keep in mind that we are not beggars, we are musicians.
#4. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
When you go busking, don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Bring water and energy bars, because you’ve got to stay hydrated and energized to perform well. You also have to know where the closest washroom is so you get to check your appearance as well as relieve yourself.
Don’t stay under the direct sun for too long. It’s best if you look for a location with lots of shade in the first place. Always be safe and aware of your surroundings.
Be friendly with security people and reduce temptation by keeping your bill tips in your pocket. Do it discreetly.
#5. GIVE PEOPLE SOCIAL PROOF.
If people see that you are engaging with them they will be more likely to listen more to you playing.
This will lead to you forming a crowd, and we know that crowds attract people’s attention. Most people want to know why a crowd is forming and if they come over to see what’s going on and love it, they’ll add to the already growing crowd.
Another thing is to put some money inside your tip jar before you start.
You see, people are more likely to give you tips when they see that “other people” already did or when people are watching.
#6. PLAY WITH A WALL BEHIND YOU.
There are two reasons why you gotta try doing this.
The first one is that it’s safer for you. People won’t be able to sneak up on you and steal from you.
The second reason is that it helps make your playing and singing louder. The sound bounces off the wall and that’s very important when you’re playing an acoustic guitar and singing without any amplifier.
#7. PERFORM WITH EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT.
When you perform, you definitely have to give it your all.
Play your best and give your 1000%. Make sure you don’t look like a bundle of nerves. Be confident and be sure to make eye contact with your audience.
Thank every person who gives you tips. There’s no need to say it every time, but make sure that they see you acknowledge them in some way.
It can be hard to say your thanks when you’re singing in the middle of a chorus so you can just give them a nod, a wink, or a smile while having eye contact.
#8. MAKE CHILDREN ENJOY YOUR PERFORMANCE.
This is often overlooked by a lot of musicians but this is a good way to attract people’s attention.
When a toddler is nearby, most of the time, they stop and stare. When they have fun due to your performance, their parents or whoever they are with will also have fun.
Most would surely give the kids some change for them to give to you. Aside from that, other people who see the kid enjoying your performance would stop and give a listen too.
#9. PREPARE SOME PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS.
Busking creates a crowd, so why not take advantage of that and promote yourself more?
At the very least you have to have some business cards so people can contact you if they want to hire you for gigs or if they want to scout you. Make sure to have your website on it too so they get to check out your music too as well as your social media accounts.
As you can see, you can also put some signage for your guitar case or jar, so the crowd knows where to put their tip.
Additionally, you can also sell your CDs, if you have some, just like in the picture we have here.
#10. LOVE THE MUSIC.
The last tip is to love the music.
Aside from doing your best, you gotta love doing or performing it.
Play what you love and love what you play. If you do, then people will see that and will love watching you perform too.
If the crowd sees that you are enjoying it yourself, they will mirror that feeling too.
Busking is not a job that you have to be so serious about.
Yes, you’ve got to prepare and do your best. But the most important thing is to love and enjoy the experience.
Remember that loving what you are doing makes you happy and a happy busker is a successful busker.
Good luck with your busking experience!
James Hill is a veteran of the music industry. He first worked at Warner Reprise Records then later joined Interscope/ Geffen Records where he managed producers and songwriters and got his first platinum record for Keyshia Cole’s The Way It Is. He is now helping indie artists with branding and manufacturing through his company Unified Manufacturing, a CD/DVD, custom vinyl records and merch company in LA.