Everyone has seen musicians performing on the street in major cities. This act is known as busking. Street performers do this to make money on the side and gain experience performing in front of crowds. In my opinion, all musicians should do this at least once. There’s no better way to do this as you will get instant feedback and see what people are digging from you.
You can do this on your own or with your band or friends. It is common to busk in front of music festivals or fairs as there is heavy foot-traffic. You will typically find buskers near places with plenty of foot-traffic as the point is to make as much money in tips as you can.
How Much Money Can You Make Busking?
Surprisingly, you can make some pretty good cash on the side. The best part is, you can be any kind of musician and do this. I’ve seen musicians busking in Los Angeles making $500 to $600 in one day. If you find a place that has a lot of traffic you can rack up plenty of $1 tips that add up quickly. I would say you are more likely to make about $100 in about 2-3 hours if you are in the right spot in a major city.
Keep in mind that some of this comes down to talent as well. If you’re simply not very good, then your tips will definitely reflect that. The good thing about this is it forces you to get better.
There will be plenty of competition, but your goal should be to establish yourself as the main street performer in that specific spot. If you live near a major city that puts on “farmers markets” this is a smart strategy to set up and perform because you can bank on there being a lot of foot traffic.
Amps For Busking
I would recommend a small portable amp. You don’t need anything special and it would be helpful if you had a bluetooth amp. If you have one of these you don’t need power as it’s wireless. Typically you don’t need to be very loud when street performing because people will be quiet and pay attention to you.
What Kind Of Music Should I Play When Busking?
I would say to do a heavy dose of covers and mix in a few originals as you get more confident. This is a great way to test out your songwriting and see if people are vibing well to your music. The covers will definitely pull people in as people will be drawn to familiarity, but once you have their attention you can then drop an original on them.
You don’t need to be a vocalist to busk. You can be a jazz trio with no vocals or even just set up a digital piano and start performing. I will say that if you’re playing piano that you should try and learn or be familiar with as many classic cover songs as you can. A lot of people will walk by and shout songs out and if you can quickly go into it, you will most likely receive a tip from just being able to do that.
Famous Musicians Who Busked
Ed Sheeran is a name that comes to mind. Ed would go out on the weekends and perform on the streets and he quickly started to get a following this way. Tracy Chapman is another name. B.B. King, Rod Stewart, Jewel and Tash Sultana also come to mind. There are plenty more musicians who came up through busking, these are only a few.
This should be motivation as it is definitely possible to be discovered street performing. Is it unlikely and very difficult? Yes, it definitely is.
Do You Need A Permit To Busk?
This depends on where you trying to busk. If you live in NYC you can legally do it in the subway without a permit. You will need to check with your council depending on where you live. If you do need a busker’s permit then you will want to display it at all times. Sometimes they will make you get a permit if you are using an amp as you will be a little louder than others.
Tips For Busking
I would recommend having a guitar case or something laid out that already has money in it. If people who are walking by see that there’s money already in your case. People always feel more inclined to tip when they see other people tipping. In most cases, if you can get one person in a group of 25-50 people watching you give you a tip, you will receive more tips from the rest of the group.
Try to know a little bit of everything. Even if you can only play 2-3 classical pieces and 2-3 jazz pieces with a bunch of classic pop songs, this will increase your tips. Also, learn how to do solos. If you can put your own spin on classic songs people will immediately think you’re some insane musician. Whether or not that’s true, it looks good either way. It also forces you to get better at your craft.
You can use basically any instrument for busking from buckets to crazy obscure instruments. Whatever you’re good at and have fun with performing. Here is a list of perfect instruments for busking:
- Stomp boxes
- Digital pianos
- Bluetooth keyboards
- Acoustic Guitars
- Electric guitars
- Bass guitar
- Auxiliary percussion