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Busking

Street busking is a great way of building up your confidence as a musician and gives you just about the best training you can get in dealing with people and overcoming any fears you may have of performing in public.

Once you’ve been busking a few times and got used to playing in different towns and cities around your area, you’ll find you become almost immune to just about every form of distraction around you as you get used to dealing with the everyday goings on in the street.

Busking in town instantly makes you a centre of attention for the general public and while you are out there you’ll find people shout at you, dance in front of you, stare at you, touch you, fight in front of you, argue and just about everything else you can imagine. You’re also guaranteed to get a few of the local weirdo’s take a shine to you at some point, so be prepared to deal with these things in good humour. If you have a good temperament you should be ok, but be prepared for the odd stalker type person weirding you out every now and then.

In general, if you can hold a tune and have a good number of songs you should mostly be greeted with a positive response.

Often you’ll find people want to join in or ask to jam with you while you are busking and this can be quite fun. If they can sing, play or are reasonably good at what they do then it can definitely add to the dynamics of your set and even get you a bit of a cash boost.

I remember being in one place a few years ago, and after playing for hour and a half I had made a measly £2. I was pretty fed up, and about to go somewhere else when this bearded old guy walked up to me with his harmonica and asked me to play a few blues chords with him. We started banging away, and within a few minutes we made nearly a tenner.

I couldn’t believe it. I offered him the cash which he politely declined and went on his way. What a dude. He must have been about seventy.

It doesn’t always work well. Unfortunately, you also get some pretty bad singers out there who think they are the next Robbie Williams, and they’ll ask you to play a song for them to sing to. This sounds like a good idea, till they start singing and find that without the words or the original track playing in the back ground, the whole thing goes tits up. The public aren’t so forgiving and they’ll often end up getting booed off by everyone else in town.

Misconceptions About Busking

The concept of busking is generally widely misunderstood by the general public, and people who go out and busk are often labeled incorrectly for various reasons.

Real buskers are usually full or part time musicians with a reasonable degree of skill, out to practice their art and at the same time getting a bit of publicity and supplementing their income through the generosity of the public. Others are amateur musicians trying to improve their playing abilities and get a bit of live experience.

But you’ll often see buskers in the street who are pretty damn awful and haven’t got a clue how to play an instrument. They’ll spend all day tinkering away on a penny whistle or strumming the only three chords they know, repeating the same song over and over again driving people mad.

This lady needs to get some serious practice in

I’ve got nothing against them personally as many of these have serious problems in their lives and they are just trying to make a few quid to survive, but this can give the genuine musicians out there who are struggling to make a living out of their music a bad name.

People get really sick of hearing the same thing day in, day out, over and over again and if you are going to force yourself and your music on the general public, then you need to have a good strong set and be able to perform to a reasonable standard so you are actually adding something positive to the dynamics of the street and are not creating a negative atmosphere.

I have been approached in the street by policemen while I have been setting up, and without even hearing a note, been told ‘Just don’t hassle people for money or do any aggressive begging’. I couldn’t believe it. I said ‘Look mate, my guitar and equipment is worth a lot of money, I can play for hours without repeating myself, and I’ve got a family at home, do I look like an aggressive beggar ?’ It emerged that they had a lot of trouble in that area with people asking for money in an intimidating manner and hassling passers by.

I have also been approached in the street by people who’ve said to me ‘What’s wrong with you then, you don’t look so poor !’ I replied ‘Well, I’m not’ and was then asked ‘So why are you busking then ?’

This is the impression many people have of buskers. They think that the only reason you are playing in the street is because you must be in some sort desperate need.

I’ve then had to explain that I am a musician, and singing and playing is what we do. Whether at home, in the street or on stage. Playing in the street makes a welcome change from playing at home, gets you out in the public eye, adds a bit of colour to the town and gets your practice done. Hopefully you can make a few quid at the same time.

The misconception that some people consider busking along the same lines as begging is what you are up against. It’s not surprising either. Some towns are so full of people trying to get money out of you one way or another, that often there are no places left to busk, or you’ll get moved on or sneered at by shop owners who think you’ve only got two songs to your name.

I love proving these people wrong, and once you’ve got set up and played a few songs, they’ll soon realise you’re a real busker and you should generally get a good response from those who doubted you.

Check this out. This guy is a real inspiration to everyone out there.

He’s got no arms and can still kick out great tunes. He’s having fun and making people happy. That’s the true spirit of busking. Entertaining people, playing for your money and not sitting on your ass doing nothing and expecting to get paid for it.

Bear in mind that whatever you do and wherever you go, you will always get a few miserable old sods who hate your music and just want a bit of peace, but on the whole, if what you are doing is reasonably good and creates a good vibe, then you should be received in a positive manner.

You Can’t Please Everybody

Remember, it doesn’t matter what you play, it will never be good enough for some people. If you play pop music, you will get the mick taken out of you by rock fans, if you play rock, the thrash heads will take the mick, and if you took your electric guitar down town and started banging out some Slayer or Metallica, then everyone else would start moaning.

You can’t please everybody all the time, but if you pick some good songs and throw in a few of your own, you can please a lot of the people, most of the time.

So be proud of the music you play and go out and enjoy yourself. If you look happy, you will make others happy and that’s what music is all about.

The great thing about busking is even if you earn sod all in a day, it only takes one comment from someone telling you they love your playing, or an anonymous note in your case saying ‘We think you’ve got the X factor’ to really make your day.

Go out and give it a try. What have you got to lose ?

Other Posts of Interest

What Equipment Do I Need ?
How Much Can I Expect to Earn ?
Busking Permits and Permissions
Famous People Busking
World Record Busking Attempt
Street Musician Busking Pot

Revised 12.01.09

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11 comments to Busking : What to Expect – Pros, Cons & Misconceptions

  • I think we must be on the same wavelength! Your experiences and opinions seem to match my own. Busking is my favorite gig!

  • Nice one sweet, you’ve got some good busking tips on your site. Make sure you guys check them out.

  • Hey, great page. I’ve busked a few times around Glasgow and had similar experiences to you. I’m in Sydney at the moment and I’m going to try here, i was on looking for some general tips and your page is great although I was wondering if you would recommend playing my own songs or not as that would extend the amount of songs I play by quite a bit. Thanks Paul

  • Definately, if you’ve got them – play them, for your own performance sakes. The more you play and the better you are at performing your own stuff, the more chance you have of getting your music noticed. They might not make you as much money as well known tunes but really, it should be all about your own music anyway.

  • Thanks Paul and Kier! I think slipping in a few of your own songs is a good idea. I don’t usually even mention that “this is an original song”. I just slide it in, which makes it extra cool when I get a positive reaction from people. It’s an unbiased, honest opinion, which is a good measure of your song writing skills. But I also like to throw in a variety of types of songs because people love familiar songs and will reward you for it.

    In fact, I kind of make a game of it. Like if I see some guy in a tye-dye shirt or a hippy chick, I’ll play a little Grateful Dead or some Old Crow Medicine Show and they’ll smile and start digging for a buck. Or if I see a nice looking, fiftyish looking lady, I’ll play a little Gordon Lightfoot or Dan Fogelburg for her, because that’s probably what was on the radio when she was young. So, I like to have a bag full of different tunes.

    I honestly couldn’t stand to do “an evening with Sweet Tater-all original songs”. I’d bore the shit out of myself!!!!

  • Krisztina

    Please, let me know, where can I get Licence for busking?In London, about Westminster?

  • Hi Krisztina, check out my post on Some good info there.

  • Real

    Thanks for the article. I’ve been busking by singing to backing tracks that I downloaded. My set consists of about 30 to 35 songs, mostly classic rock from the 60′s to the 90′s; songs ranging from “Nights in White Satin” to “You Shook Me All Night Long” to “Daniel”, “Don’t Stop Believin’ and “One” by U2. I throw in some variety such as “Love Me Tender” , “Danny Boy” and even “I Will Always Love You” to challenge myself and entertain people. I have found this to be great practice. I bring my original CD’s and have found that people will buy them if they like what I’m doing. That alone is worthwhile, the opportunity to get your original music out there, and the tips are nice too. Thanks again for the article.

  • menestrello

    thanks for this article, really informative.

  • What a great site, loads of interesting information and videos that I will apply when I busk.
    Please check out my busking blog:

    http://csbusk.blogspot.com/

    Thank you! :)

  • Scotty

    What a great site and very interesting. When I first came to the UK I busked quite a lot in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Newcastle and London. I play bluegrass banjo and found it a hard road sometimes but very rewarding at times. I would always play a few tunes like “Jed” or “Duellin Banjos” or “Foggy Mtn Breakdown” to get people interested and then play some other stuff. My set list lasted about 40minutes, and sometimes at high volume places (lots of passing traffic) I’d play the same 10 songs. Never busked more than 2 hours in one go.

    Now I have a superb flatpicking guitar player with a great voice, I’m keen to try busking again.

    Best busking experience? Playing in Circular Quay in Sydney 1996 with a full bluegrass lineup – we had a crowd of 200 around us in no time.

    all the best,

    Scott the Aussie in Devon. :-)

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