So, you’ve decided to hit the streets.
Busking can be a lot of fun and can also help you gain more live experience. Plus, if you’re looking to make some extra change, it’s not a bad way to put some money back in your pocket.
If you plan well, and find good spots to busk at, it can even become a significant source of income.
So, what can you do to make the most of every busking session? Read on.
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Use An Amplifier
Fair warning: In some towns or cities, they frown upon the use of amplifiers. Check to ensure the use of an amp doesn’t violate local rules or regulations before you go and haul your MESA/Boogie stack to the street corner.
By the way, even towns that allow amps generally allow the use of small amps only.
The main reason to use an amp is because the sound of an acoustic guitar can get drowned out relatively quickly outdoors. And if you’re using an electric guitar, it’s practically essential, though there are reasons I would recommend acoustic over electric, mainly because of the natural amplification an acoustic guitar offers.
Obviously, if you can be heard by more people, you’ll increase your chances of getting more tips. So, if you’re allowed to use a small battery-powered amp, it would be a good piece of gear to invest in and carry with you.
This does mean having to haul around more gear though, since you’ll also need a patch cable, and maybe some spare batteries.
Bring Your Merchandise With You
Again, your local regulations may restrict the selling of merchandise. But if not, it would be a good idea to bring CDs and possibly other merch items with you when you’re busking.
You can make good money by way of tips depending on the day. But if you want to earn more money, you need to be thinking outside the guitar case.
Most of the time, people will throw their spare change at you while you’re busking. But if you have physical items they can buy from you and take home with them, you can increase your earnings relatively quickly.
Ideally, you should also have a lightweight display rack. Bringing merch wherever you go means the need to carry more stuff, so you don’t want to get too carried away here. If you can find someone to help you with carrying your gear and merch, that would be ideal.
Build A Rapport With Your Audience
Most of the time, while you’re busking, people will just come and go. But if people start to gather around to watch you, then you should work to build a rapport with bystanders.
People who’ve stopped to watch have already expressed interest in you. It’s kind of like someone who decided to like your page on Facebook or someone who signed up to receive email updates from you. They might not be sold on who you are or your music just yet, but they are sufficiently interested to hear you out.
If you can win over the people who are on the fence about you, guaranteed you’ll create more opportunities to earn more money. And the great thing about drawing a crowd is that it usually keeps growing if people love what you’re doing.
Again, just be aware of laws and regulations. Typically, you’re not supposed to block the street as a busker, and doing so can get you into trouble. It’s generally okay if pedestrians and cars can still get by without going out of their way.
So, talk to your audience. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Present yourself as someone they can relate to. Don’t do it because it will make you more money – do it because it allows people to connect with you on an emotional level.
You never know who might be walking by as you’re playing.
Sure, most people you’ll encounter will be normal, everyday ordinary people.
But occasionally, you may run into other musicians, bloggers, venue owners, event organizers, record label executives, radio DJs, TV reporters, media people, and so on.
So, be nice to the people you meet. They may hold the key to the next big step in your music career.
You could get booked for a show or a showcase. You may have the opportunity to be featured on TV or radio. You might even be offered the opportunity to sit down with someone influential in the industry.
It’s rare, for sure, but it can happen, especially if they like your music.
I don’t want to put any pressure on you, but if possible, you should bring your A game with you whenever you’re busking. This ensures people see what you’re capable of instead of writing you off as just another guitar player.
Do Something Unique
There are essentially three ways to capture people’s attention as a guitarist:
- Develop your technical skills to the Nth degree. Become a virtuoso and show off your skills.
- Do something different with the instrument. Percussive style acoustic guitar and looping are still quite novel, though more and more guitarists are doing these things already. Either way, see if you can come up with techniques that are visually interesting.
- A combination of 1 and 2. If it’s moderately technical and novel, then it doesn’t need to be either of these things to the extreme. If you can’t dedicate yourself to countless hours of practice, then this is probably the way to go.
Everyone’s heard people strumming an nice acoustic guitar, whether it’s by a fire at a summer camp, or even in their own home, if someone in their family plays guitar.
Yes, it’s a good skill to learn. But it’s not unique. It won’t grab anyone’s attention. But when it comes to fast leads, intricate fingerstyle guitar, percussive style acoustic guitar, people take notice. And some of these techniques aren’t even that hard.
How about a double neck acoustic with a six and 12-string? There’s something people don’t see most days.
I’m not saying it’s essential to be unique, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to earning money as a busker.
If you want to earn money as a street performer, think carefully about when and where to busk.
You could busk on any given weekend where street performing is permitted, and if the weather is nice, you may be able to earn decent tips.
But you should also be on the lookout for better opportunities. Maybe the circus or rodeo is coming to town. Perhaps there’s a big summer event coming up. There could even be a major concert or festival coming to town.
Guaranteed you’ll be able to perform for more people if you plan your busking excursions around these events, which can increase your chances of earning more money too.
This doesn’t mean you’ll get to busk on festival grounds, or inside stadiums mind you. But you can often place yourself strategically just outside these types of events.
Some of my acquaintances have also had success with transit stations or inside pedestrian skywalk systems. This may not be allowed depending on your town or city. Check before you start busking in these areas.
This is a bit of an esoteric idea, especially in the world of street performing.
Some bands record themselves live. But recording outdoors? How absurd.
Well, it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. My friend Daniel Guy Martin recorded an entire album this way, and it contains the noise of the streets, birds chirping, waves crashing, and so on, in the background.
Surprisingly, most of it is imperceptible. I think this had more to do with how he recorded than anything. He had a nice, clean signal for his guitar.
So, why would you record yourself busking? There are basically three reasons why you might do this:
- To evaluate your performance. Find out what you did right, what went wrong, how you could improve, and so on.
- To capture rare moments of inspiration. You never know when you might try something on the fly that totally rocks your socks off.
- To develop product. This is obviously the hardest thing to do with a recording from the street. You’re going to pick up a lot of external noise. But there’s always the chance you could take the audio you recorded and turn it into something great in post-production. You could then make money off that recording.
This idea goes together with the previous one on recording yourself, and it essentially serves the same purpose.
By filming yourself, you can watch yourself perform and figure out what you could be doing better.
There may be other interesting ways to repurpose the footage you capture. You might be able to put together a music video. You could upload select clips to YouTube. You could create a vlog by bookending your performance with a bit of an introduction and post mortem.
You can’t reclaim time that’s passed, but a simple way to get better leverage out of it is by finding opportunities to double your results with the same effort. Recording and filming yourself might be one idea that helps you hit two birds with one stone.
Collaboration and partnerships can lead to some interesting opportunities.
For instance, I once performed at the Calgary Fringe Festival with my band. We brought our own venue, because every other theater and performance venue had already been claimed by other performers. Still, we managed to secure a local coffee shop, so we were in our element.
We asked them if we could come in and busk inside the shop when we weren’t performing. They said “yes”, which allowed us to earn a bit of extra money. We ended up not having to rely entirely on ticket sales. When all was said and done, we did not too badly from a financial perspective, though attendance for our show was quite low in the first few days.
There are many ways to collaborate and partner up with others. You could busk with other musicians, backup or otherwise (if it’s allowed in your city). You could work out a cross-promotion deal with the store you’re planning to busk outside of. You could see if there are any viable opportunities at camps, beaches, BBQs, picnics, church or corporate outings, and so on. It might seem unconventional, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities.
Learn To Sing
I know, I know… You’re probably here because you want to earn money as a guitarist, not as a singer.
But the ability to sing gives you more range. It gives you an additional way to connect with your audience.
I tried busking with just my guitar once. And people seemed to enjoy it. But I didn’t get a ton of tips, and people didn’t stay engaged for long.
It might be a different story if you’re a virtuoso guitarist. Then please focus on your primary instrument instead of trying to learn one more.
But even then, the ability to sing won’t hurt you in any way. It will just give you more options and more ways to express yourself.
So, if you’re a guitarist and you don’t know how to sing yet, this is one way you could amp up your performance and earn more.
Just get out there – don’t overthink it.
I’ve offered some tips here in hopes that they will enhance your busking experience and help you earn more.
But at the end of the day, that’s all they are – tips. Ultimately, it’s your audience that will decide whether they want to hear more from you.
If you don’t go out and play, you can’t earn anything. So, see it as a learning experience. You’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t in due time. Be willing to go through some trial and error before you find your groove.
Above all, have fun. People love to have fun, and are attracted to others who appear to be enjoying themselves.