How to become a successful busker. The complete guide for the new street artist
Disclaimer: I’v started my busking journey as a 22 years old guy with a little travel guitar. I was hitchhiking from one town to another, collecting coins to afford food and accomodation.
For some other people busking is a real buisness, with completely different rules, and different attitude.
This article is based on my personal experience.
Anyone who have ever tried to take his instrument to the street probably find out that it can be harded than he was thinking. The scenario of dozens of people gathering around you, pulling out their phones cameras and clapping might be misleading. In my few traveling periods I met many buskers and any of them has taught me at least one lesson about buksing. Before we dive into the “What to do in order to become a succeesful busker” list, let’s start with breaking some myths:
What is not essential in order to become a good busker:
1. Talent – Yes you read right. Talent is overrated, as long as you’re not completely sucks. Some very talented buskers brings their talent on the satge. Those guys don’t need that article like us, the average musicians. But I found out that there’s some other ingridiantes that can come instead of talent, in case we don’t have it all the way to the top.
2. Equipment – On the street there’s no acoustic monitoring. The noise of the passers, the transportation and the music emanating from other places will arouse another challenge, that we will deal with later. Your sound quality, if so, is not is not the main issue.
So we know now what’s less important, or overrated, as long we provide something else. Try to remmember all the times you have watched a street performers. Can you put your finger on at least one thing that was in common for all? try to think about it. I did this as well. that’s the list I came up with – with the help of buskers and some self experience:
The list is from the most important ingridiant to the less important.
The most important thing about performing, whether it’s infornt of a crowd or even when trying to start a conversation with some random people.
Confidence is always there.
on the street it’s changes it’s shape turning into a conversation with the audience. Are you familiar with the feeling of when you show lack of confidence on a one-on-one conversation and the man infront you almost mimic your own feelings? That’s what is going to happen on the street as well. People never feel convenient if the people infront of them hesitating or showing insecurity.
So confidence is the main keyword for sure. This list is pretty much surrounding around this word.
Not all of us were blessed with an endless confidence. It takes time to build it, but meanwhile, we can learn how to increase it.
Enjoy your own stuff
Listen to Jim Carrey on this one. As long as you enjoy your own stuff, peolpe will enjoy it as well. Try this next experiment: Pick a silly joke that usually only you laugh out of. First tell it to someone, don’t lough and wait for the reaction. That’s going to be fairly awkward. Now tell the same joke but ingnore the audience. Concentrate on the joke and make yourself laugh out of it. See any difference in the reaction? right.
How to translate this principle to the street?
As I asked you to choose a joke that you usually laugh out of, you should only play stuff that you like. Don’t try to “ensure” you success by playing popular stuff like Wonderwall by Oasis (as an example). As long as you play stuff that you can have fun out of, other people are going to enjoy it as well.
Play like no one is watching.
For the magicians between us, who can pick an instrument and make people dancing like nothing, you can play with your own rules. I prefer to play the “silence mysterious musician” character.
As people trying to avoid inconvenient situations as we said before, they are more likely to stop and listen to your performances if they don’t have the chance to bring them self into a awkward situation. Many buskers do this mistake when someone approaching and start listening to the performance, and as a reaction they trying to satisfy him by playing the stuff that he might like (play Rock if he wears a Rock shirt for example).
Other buskers sending smiles and needless glances. Don’t try to “save” your “client”. Your stuff are good enough. Don’t do any act that can be interpreted as an advertising attempt.
How to apply this principle?
– Sit with your back to the crowd. For example, in a broadwalk on the beach sit while facing the sea. Play for yourself, be aware of the audience. (This example might sounds strange. One time I’v seen a girl sitting on a bridge with her face to the river, playing harmonica. Many people stopped to listen. Of course – Don’t try it if you’re not sure you’re in the right sutiation)
– Avoid eyecontact. put your attention to a chords notebook or anything similar.
Try to be prominent. The best Idea is to bring a very special instrument, one of a kind, or one that you have inserted in some improvments in design or in functionality.
– Guitar with more than one neck
– Any device attached to your leg and make noises when you move your leg
– A traditional instrument from a far country ( make sure you can play it)
Excaptionality can be achieved also by how you dressed. For western people traveling in Asia like me for exmaple, that’s fairly easy. I would say that 80% of the attention that I get on a typical Asian street is thanks to my skin color.
Pick the right instrument
Since you’re about to play in a crowded street, playing fingerstyle on a classic guitar might not be loud enough. As a generall advice, if you taking guitar to the street, bring an amplifier. If you don’t have any or your guitar doesn’t have the plug, prepare to pluck very strong. Also, consider bringing some extra strings.
The instrument can be anything that you know how to play on, and that you think you can transfere your energies with it.
The instrument doesn’t have to be melodic. In the street sometime rhythm is enough. Make sure that your istrument is portable enough in a case when you need to change location for some reason.
Any country, any city and any street has different policies about street performing. In Melbore Australia for instant, a busker license is compulsory. But even if busking in your current country is legal in general, you can face other problems like:
– Streets with too much competition or veteran buskers that might don’t like the presence of a new guy
– Streets with too much traffic (too noisy) or streets with a thin traffic.
– Street with special policies (For example: playing after 11:00 pm is forbidden)
Do a short research before taking your instrument out there. Prepare to change locations in the first few times, till you find the perefect place. Also if you have arrived into a place and things going really cool, consider to change the location anyway, to make sure you indeed picked the best spot.
Few extra tips:
1. Fill your hat/box with your own money. When people see an empty hat they are less likely to give you money.
2. You can make a short sign that can give the passers a clue about you. For instant “Help me travel around the world” – people are very likely to responde positively to those kind of signs.
3. Bring friends. They can act like a “fake” audience (helps to attract more people) and give you more confidence.
There are few lessons we can learn just by looking at those two buskers:
– They are keeping their heads down – completly consentrating on the music, ignoring the audience and the photographer.
– The flout of the right busker is pretty uniqe. With the guitar’s accompaniment the outcome can be really nice.
– They are very prominent. Even in a western street their dressing style is very unusual.
The main porpuse of this article is to give you enough confident to make the first step. One can read many articles, but at the end experience is the most imoprtant keyword.
Have any thoughts about the article or about busking in general? Have you find this article helpful? Did you learn anything new? please leave a comment below.