Few musicians can truly appreciate what street performing has to offer. The ability to catch a passerby’s attention and encouraging them to put down their iPhone, iPad and eventually iBag is a difficult and intimidating challenge. The learning process is endless: song selection, visual presence and all round showmanship are vital to maintaining a fruitful busking career.
So why are musicians so quick to dismiss street performing? It’s as if singer/songwriters keep busking as a last resort should any “real” gigs not come through. And the funny thing is, street performing is a sure financial win; you’ll be very unlikely to walk away with nothing if you do your part right.
Can I play now?
Now, I’m not saying to go out and start jamming away. There’s a bit of research you’ve got to get sorted that will help keep you on the right track. Artists are competitive, we all know that, so buskers and street performers shouldn’t be any different. Scout the area well, maybe even talk with a few buskers and get their performing ‘roster’ so to speak. Last thing you want to do is step on on the toes of other acts who may have been performing in the scene longer than you have.
Another important point to mention is that not all, but certain cities, have their own busking regulations so keep that in mind. Nobody needs a cop interrupting your Katy Perry cover asking for a permit. A bit of homework never hurt anybody.
So you’ve done this before?
You’ll also get different views on busking from other musicians who have tried it before but found it a bit of a struggle. Though I can’t promise that every performance is going to leave you with a case full of cash, there are however a few tips you could follow ensuring you get a bit more attention than the average busker.
Keep up to date with popular music in the specific area. If it’s a clubbing sort of scene then learn some of those new Will.i.am tracks and put them out there. Kids dig it and the more of a crowd you attract the better are your chances at more people stopping by to check you out.
My new favorite; do yourself a favor and get signed up to this new app called BuSK. Its breakthrough platform is reinventing the way buskers and fans connect with each other and, more importantly it’s designed with you in mind to make your life easier. 21st century technology at its finest my friends!
Stand up and give it some effort. Don’t forget, you’re a performer, people want to see confidence... not somebody looking down at their feet the whole time. Nobody wants to feel like they have to put in money for you—this isn’t a guilt trip, so get your moves together and show them you’re happy to be out there. Don’t forget to smile and more importantly, get rid of those shades. Eye contact is key!
Learn as many songs as possible. Requests are common and you should try not to let them down. If you absolutely don’t know the requested song then be polite and learn it for next time. The world’s a lot smaller than you think and you may see them again, especially when you have nothing to lose by adding one more track to your list.
The right kind of equipment will go a long way. From foldable stands to lightweight battery powered amplifiers, there’s no question that the easier you make things for yourself, the more time you’ll have to focus on your act. Read this great article on the best busking amps out there to get you started.
Your donation box should also be inviting. Maybe work on a cheeky poster and be creative, don’t just toss it to the side. Another note is if you’re going to use your instrument case, I find hard cases to be a little more appealing and professional looking.
Get out there!
Apart from the pay off, street performing is probably the best way to try out newly written songs. There’s nothing better than busking out your own material and have someone stop from their busy schedule asking who wrote that song. It's also great to be able to see how many people leave during your songs – it shows you where the weaknesses are. Think of it as a perfect tool to test out those new hooks. Another good learning factor is that if you’re playing without any form of amplification you’ll really master how to project your voice to a whole new level.
So get out there, try it out and learn from it. I guarantee that you’ll walk away with more than just a payroll. If you truly believe in your ability to perform then take it to the streets; there’s a whole audience out there waiting for someone like you to tell them that their commute doesn’t have to suck.