Street performing appeals to musicians for a variety of reasons. It’s fun, it can be a good way to gain some live performance experience, build your following, maybe even earn a few tips while you’re at it.
But there typically are some guidelines, rules, and regulations you need to be aware of, subject to your locality. If you don’t abide by them, you could end up in some messy situations.
This often causes a bit of confusion and frustration, since musicians often don’t want to wait around to get started. They just want to know the steps they need to take to bring their music to more people. Fortunately, if you know what you’re doing, obtaining a busking license should be a relatively straightforward process.
In this guide, I’ll discuss how to get a busking license in the UK. The steps you need to take are not complicated, though you may need to fill out an application or pay a fee depending on where you are located.
It’s also possible you live in an area where busking isn’t permitted, in which case you’ll want to find places you can go within a short distance of your home, apply for a license and perform in those areas.
I’ll also share some tips on busking in general, but first, let’s look at how to obtain your street performing permit.
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How Do I Get A Busking License?
In the UK, getting a busking license will require that you go to the local council for your area and apply. You may also be able to fill out an application online if available. You may also need to pay a fee when applying.
The council will inform you of local rules and bylaws to follow. These guidelines may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Keeping volume levels at an acceptable level.
- Not blocking traffic – vehicular or pedestrian.
- Not asking for money using a sign.
- Busking in specific areas of the city. You may also have a time limit.
- Being over the age of 14.
- Displaying your busking license while you are performing.
- Collecting money or selling merchandise without a license.
- And so on.
Familiarize yourself with local bylaws. This will not only help you avoid any troubles and costly fines, but allow you to maximize the time you spend busking too.
Is Busking Illegal In The UK?
No, but there are some restrictions, as I’ve already pointed out, and this can vary from one area to the next. There may be certain areas where you are not allowed to busk, and as I mentioned earlier, you must be older than 14 to be considered legal.
So, you may not necessarily be able to busk anywhere you want. The UK government busking license page can be of immense help when determining what’s required of you in your region. You can also enter your postcode to learn more about the opportunities available in your area.
How Do I Start Busking?
I’ve shared elsewhere on the site about getting started as a street performer, so this will be review more than anything else.
Basically, your first step will be to prepare your set list. In general, it should be family friendly, as kids are often the first to be drawn towards performers. You don’t need to be playing children’s songs per se, but you should avoid foul language and anything inappropriate.
As much as possible, you’ll want to memorize your set list. Failing to do so means having to bring a music stand and charts with you. The problem with this is that your stand can get knocked over, the wind can blow away your charts, and constantly referring to your music without paying attention to your audience is disengaging. This isn’t to suggest you can’t use a music stand at all. You just don’t want to become too reliant on it.
Song selection is also of importance (I'll share more about this a little later). You may have some limitations based on what instrument you play, but playing popular songs can endear you to onlookers and help you build your audience. This doesn’t mean you need to play covers exclusively – but having some covers ready should help you earn more tips.
Once your set list is ready, you can go out and get your busking license. Refer to an earlier section in this guide to find out how to do this.
Assuming you’re busking in an area you’re permitted to, at times you’re allowed to, and you’re abiding by the bylaws and regulations, you should be up and running and ready to gain some street performing experience.
How Do I Make Money As A Street Performer?
Again, I’ve shared elsewhere about steps you can take to make more money as a busker, so I’ll just touch on it lightly here.
One of the most important things you can do is build a bit of a rapport with your audience by talking to them, performing music they enjoy, and generally having fun. Don’t take busking too seriously. Remember that people generally view music as a form of entertainment. It’s supposed to be fun!
Creating this type of connection with your audience can help you earn more tips. If people like you and your music, and get to know you a little, they’ll be more inclined to support you too.
Succeeding in busking requires good planning. If you want to earn more, it’s critical that you go to highly trafficked areas at the right times. Research what might be happening in your locality that’s a potential draw. It could be a sporting event or a business conference. If you go to where the people are, you’ll increase your chances of earning more.
If the local council allows you to, you can also bring merchandise with you and sell it to onlookers. This can be a good way to boost your income as a street performer. A simple display shelf could do wonders for presentation (just don't block any traffic with it).
One more way to increase your income is by working on your performance. Being a better, more confident performer is certainly to your advantage, since people are more likely to stop and take notice (though this is not a guarantee by any means). Are you capable of playing extremely technical parts on your instrument? Is there a novel aspect to what you do? What makes you unique? Emphasizing your uniqueness can make you a more intriguing entertainer.
Is Busking A Lucrative Opportunity?
It depends, but busking generally isn’t a huge moneymaker. Think about it. Playing your instrument and singing outdoors can be exhausting, and realistically you can only do that for a few hours per day. Depending on bylaws, you may need to move every hour or so to a new busking stop too.
I’ve heard of people making up to several hundred dollars per day as a street performer. Those numbers are more realistic is some regions compared to others. If you could pull that off every day, you could potentially make a full-time living busking. The problem, of course, is foot traffic, weather, and variables that aren’t entirely within your control.
Busking is merely a means of bringing your music to people on the street, and different performers have different priorities. Some want to gain experience as a performer. Some want to create a supplemental income. Others want to take to the streets and have some fun.
If you’re looking at busking as an income opportunity, then know that there aren’t any guarantees. It can supplement performance or touring income, but chances are it isn’t going to be entirely reliable.
Can Busking Lead To Other Opportunities?
I don’t know too many musicians that take to street performance thinking they’re going to make it big one day. But can it lead to other opportunities? It certainly can. Here are but a few:
- Better busking opportunities. There may be hubs in your community where busking occurs independent of the city, such as in shopping malls. Sometimes these can be better opportunities, either because you can perform where there is more foot traffic, or because it’s rare for performers to be in those locations. Additionally, you may be paid a flat fee on top or your busking earnings.
- Live performance opportunities. Busking is live performance at its most raw. You’re generally performing for people who don’t know who you are, with less than ideal acoustics, in an environment where there is a lot of other noise. Prove yourself worthy in this setting, and you may just find yourself presented with some live performance opportunities in your town or city. For instance, someone from a local café might notice you and want you to play at their venue.
- Collaboration opportunities. It’s safe to say you aren’t the only person on the street that’s involved in music in some capacity. Busking can potentially open your network. You may meet other musicians, producers, engineers, and so on. Where you take those connections is entirely up to you, but collaborating with others can lead to fresh inspiration and more opportunities.
- Press and media opportunities. If you’re doing something particularly unique, you may be interviewed by a local news team, blogger, or even podcaster. The chances of this occurring aren’t great, but coverage can do a lot for your career if utilized well.
- Branding opportunities. If you want people to know who you are, then you must get out there and start playing for them. One of the more obvious reasons to busk is because your face will become known over time, and people may even become familiar with the music you create. Don’t overestimate what’s possible, because most people will just walk on by as you’re playing your heart out, but over time you can build your brand up by getting out regularly.
What Songs Should I Perform?
It’s entirely up to you, as there are no hard and fast rules.
The main thing to be aware of is your audience. What do they enjoy? What’s popular right now? This is an important consideration if you want to make more tips – less so if you just want to go out and have fun or gain experience.
You can play as many originals as you want, and sometimes this can be to your advantage, especially if you’re unique enough as a performer to stand out from the crowd. But certain songs are almost “universally” liked, making them easy picks for your repertoire.
I’ve shared about this in another guide, but songs like Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ‘69”, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”, and Matchbox Twenty’s “3 AM” are crowd pleasers. To this day, I still perform “3 AM” regularly.
You can probably think of a lot of your own favorites to incorporate in your set. There may also be cover songs you already know, or songs you know are commonly requested by audiences in bars. You don’t have to put all your time into crafting the perfect set, because that’s something you’ll start to figure out as you experiment and play out more.
In some cases, a busking license needs to be renewed yearly. Always ensure that your permit is up to date so you aren’t caught without a valid license.
Wherever a license is involved, responsibility is also involved. Recognize that you can be a contributing and supportive member of the community. How you conduct yourself and treat others will play a part in the reputation you build and your overall experience as a busker.
Things don’t always go perfectly. People may attempt to steal the tips you’ve worked so hard for (it’s happened to me). They may yell at you and tell you that you suck. They may ignore you completely. So, if you’re going to be busking, stay safe and don't worry about the haters too much.
Most of all, don’t be discouraged if no one responds to your music at first. As you gain more experience, you’ll improve as a performer, and people will come around. Just focus on what you can control.