​Busking: What it is and How to Do it Right!

Published August 7th, 2019

So you’re a musician trying to make a little extra money. We can relate! University can be expensive, so can being a musician. Have you ever thought about busking? AKA street performing? There is a way to do it safely and legally. Here’s what you need to know.

Check the laws in your area.

Some cities have no rules against busking. Others, you need a busking license, which is typically around $20-100 from City Hall. If you are caught busking without a license in a city that requires one, you can be shut down and fined - and trust me, it happens more than you think.

Pro Tip: do a quick Google search to see what the laws are in your area, or pick up the phone and call up city hall!

Be respectful.

Even if you have your license and you’re totally legal, be respectful. Don’t blast your music outside a library, or a spa for example. Even if you’re technically ALLOWED to, it doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Find the right location.

Location, location, location. You want a busier area because it’s safer, and provides a bigger audience. But you don’t want somewhere TOO busy where people are bumping into your music stand, and talking over your tunes. It’s all about finding that happy medium.

Pro Tip: Intersections are usually a good place because people will HAVE to stop and listen to you while waiting for the crosswalk.

Your tip jar.

Yes, an open guitar case is the standard cliche for buskers. But if you’ve ever tried it, you know you can lose a day’s pay in a swift breeze.

A glass vase is pretty, but then you have to worry about it breaking - or worse, someone coming along and swiping it, and again you’ve lost your loot. I prefer a plastic or tin container with a lid (like a coffee can or an empty Lysol Wipe container) that I velcro to the bottom of my guitar case or duct tape to the sidewalk.

Pro Tip: Some tech-savvy performers have their Venmo or CashApp handle on a sign in case people don’t have cash and still want to tip.

Know what to play.

Remember when you’re creating your setlist play songs people want to hear. You will grab attention with songs people will stop and listen to. Most of my tips come from people who have some sort of sentimental or nostalgic connection to what I’m playing.

Pro Tip: In your set building be aware of your surroundings and events happening nearby. For example, if you know Journey is playing around the corner on the same Saturday night you will do yourself a strong favor by adding, “Don’t Stop Believing,” to your rotation

Market yourself.

While busking is a nice way to make some extra money, it’s even better if you can book some jobs from it! Have your business cards ready or even a sign that has your name and some contact information like your website, Instagram or email.

Above all, be safe and have fun! Busking can be a fun and exciting way to earn a little extra money and try out some new material.

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