Busking (or street performing) is a great way to pursue your passion and gain more experience as an audience. If you put on a good show, you may even be able to turn your art into a career. Successful busking involves setting up the perfect stage, engaging with your audience, and performing well so passers-by give you tips. Whether you’re a musician, a comedian, a juggler, or another performer, you can make money busking if you entertain your audience.
EditChoosing the Right Location
- Check busking rules in your area. Busking laws vary depending on location. Even different boroughs within a city can have different regulations. Contact your local authorities and ask what the busking laws are. You may have to get a permit, or you may be able to perform anywhere that isn’t dangerous for pedestrians or on private property.
- Always follow the law. Buskers can get arrested for playing in unauthorized areas.
- Decide whether you want to do a walk-by or circle act. Walk-by acts are continuous, and you don’t have a single audience the whole time. As people walk by, they may give you a tip in passing. Circle acts have a set beginning and end, and a steady crowd stands around your act in a circle or semi-circle.
- Most musicians perform walk-by acts.
- Circle acts generally last 10-20 minutes. You can perform three or four in one hour.
- Plan at least an hour of material. Busking is not synonymous with improvising. If you play the same three songs or perform the same tricks repeatedly, you will bore your audience. Before you busk, plan beforehand. Musicians should construct a tentative set list. Non-musical performers (like magicians, jugglers, or mimes) should plan four to five 10-20 minute acts to rotate between as their audience changes.
- An hour is the minimum suggested time. If you want to busk for long periods of time, you can plan an hour and a half or even two hours of material.
- Select your repertoire based on your audience. You may love Baroque music, for example, but receive more tips from jazz or folk. Take listener requests, if asked. Scan the audience and choose music popular for their demographic. If you’re not a musician, base your act on the audience you’ve accumulated. Magic shows for an older audience, for example, may involve more complicated illusions than one for children.
- Find a venue with lots of foot traffic. The best busking spot is a relatively quiet place (so your act can be heard) with lots of foot traffic. You might choose, for example, a street corner, city square, outdoor mall, or farmer’s market.
- Avoid residential areas or suburban neighborhoods.
- Choose a place based on your act. If you want to do a circle act, find a spot with lots of space. Musicians might look for an area with good acoustics.
- Prepare your stage. Once you’ve found your spot, prepare yourself a stage. Busking stages do not have to be elaborate. Put up a sign or banner, and write your name on it so people can look up your work later. Set up a microphone or speakers if needed.
- Don’t sit down on the sidewalk to perform. People might mistake you for a panhandler.
EditInteracting with the Audience
- Smile and make eye contact with your audience. If you’re shy or have social anxiety, step outside of your comfort zone. Don’t close your eyes or look at the ground. Smile at your audience to appear friendly, and chat with them as they walk by. Acknowledge and thank tippers to show gratitude.
- Stand up. Don’t sit down when you play or perform. Your audience will not connect with you as easily, and they may be less inclined to tip you. If you stand, people will spot you better as they walk by and they’ll hear your act more clearly.
- Build audience participation into your act. Audience participation (especially in circle acts) can be a great way to engage passers-by. Ask for volunteers to help you perform a certain trick or sing a song with you. Kids especially like to volunteer, and their enthusiasm can be contagious.
- It’s okay to tease the audience a little, as long as no feelings are hurt.
- Respect others, and ask for respect in return. Treat your audience well, even if you draw the attention of a few hecklers. Get to know other buskers, and don’t intrude on their busking spots. Stand up for yourself when needed, but always do so with kindness.
EditMaking a Living
- Set up a spot for tips. Put up a sign that says “Tips Appreciated,” and set up an eye-catching tip jar. Hats, pots, baskets, or unusual containers all make great tip jars. Continuous acts keep their tip jars out constantly, but circular acts usually collect tips at the end of their act.
- Experiment with different venues and times. Finding the ideal spot or location for your act may take trial and error. Some performers may find that their perfect venue is near a tourist attraction on the weekends, while others may have the best luck in the subway on a Tuesday evening. Try several different places and keep record of which spots give you the best results.
- Holiday weekends are great for performing because people are in a festive mood.
- Stay safe! Choose a place that is well-lit and legal for buskers to perform at.
- Have a business card on hand. Prepare business cards with your name and website or social media usernames to increase your platform. You can also bring merchandise like CDs to sell, so your audience has something to remember you by.
- Deliver a “hat line” before your grand finale. A “hat line” is what buskers say while finishing a circular act to encourage tipping. Say it right before the finale so people stick around to see the most exciting part of the show. If you ask for tips after your finale, your audience may have already walked away.
- An example of a hat line might be, “Thank you, everybody! If you liked my tricks, you can leave a tip in the jar I’m passing around. Have a great evening!”
- Learn and improve from every busking performance. Pay attention to your audience as you perform and monitor their reactions. Record your busking experience and what you learned. Write down what went well (like the location, a song you played, or your audience’s favorite trick). Write down what you could improve.
- One show won’t give you an indication of your busking experience, good or bad. You might have just chosen a poor venue or missed your ideal timeframe.
- Play to your audience, if you’re a musician. If you see young people in the audience, play a little Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran. Play older songs for older audiences. Your audience will tip more if you play their favorite songs.
- Always ask shops you’re performing nearby for their permission.
- Be yourself. You may want to compare yourself to other buskers, but copying another act will not lead to success. Putting your heart and soul into your work will connect yourself to your audience and lead to great satisfaction.
- Busking isn’t usually a stable source of income. If you want to busk, you’ll want more reasons than just money.
- Never leave your props, instruments, or tips unattended. Watch your audience carefully if you pass your tip jar, in case anyone steals from it.
- Don’t busk in suburban areas. Not only is this usually illegal, but homeowners won’t appreciate you intruding on their neighborhood.
- Know and respect the law. Buskers who do not can be prosecuted for panhandling.