Top 10 Busking Tips For Street Performers
We caught up with Busk For A Cure's Helmut Uhlmann to get his advice on how you can get out there and start busking.
10 Busking Tips for Musicians
Busking is one of my favourite ways to perform. I find it the most humbling kind of performance because each person who smiles or drops coins (or notes!) in your case is showing direct support for your art. Here are my top 10 tips for how to be a beast when busking and make sure your street performance goes smoothly.
1. Use Signage & Business Cards
Every time I busk, my Facebook page accumulates a few more likes. I have little business cards that just have my Facebook and YouTube URL on them, which helps increase visitors to my pages.
I also have a sign in my case that encourages people to “pay what you think it's worth” for my EP. There's no better way to connect with potential fans than busking, and with the right approach, this can translate to online growth too!
2. Have A Busking License
Nobody wants to be shut down and threatened with a fine, so check out the local busking laws in your city, as the rules can vary from place to place.
3. Find Sponsored Busking Opportunities
Local councils, markets and other street events are often looking for buskers. Many may even have the budget to pay you – double dipping, woo! This way you can busk without worrying about council rules while making new connections. Busk for a Cure is a great example of this.
4. Don't Play The Same 5 Songs On Repeat
It's boring. Boooooring. Surely you must be sick of them? Plus, the biggest fans you make through busking, those who stick around or who come back half an hour later will notice (I once had a lady sitting with a bottle of wine enjoying around 2 hours of my busking!).
Don't let laziness or a misguided belief that people just want to hear Wonderwall and Brown Eyed Girl sabotage potential connections with awesome fans. Also, it's been my experience that, contrary to popular belief, originals can make just as much money as covers.
No performance is quite as exciting as one where you and your audience are equally curious about your next note. Sing that bridge a little differently, make a third verse up on the spot, switch it up a little. Obviously being well rehearsed is important, but adding unexpected flavours to your arrangements and note choices makes for an inspired street music atmosphere.
6. Connect With Other Buskers
I've learned heaps from talking with other buskers, plus I've made new friends and improved my confidence and communication skills at the same time. I also make sure to drop a coin or two when I hear street musicians I like.
It's all part of lifting your energy to a space of sharing and giving. By connecting with other buskers you contribute to a community atmosphere. Cooperation wins over competition every time.
Ditto-alum Tash Sultana started out busking on the streets of Melbourne
7. Bring A Massive Water Bottle (& Go Beforehand)
Seriously. You don't want to pack your gear up after only 30 minutes and lug it across the road to the local pub just to refill your little 300ml water bottle and use their bathroom while pretending you're totally going to buy a beer.
8. Try To Forget About The Money
Few people pursue music for money, and yet it has a tendency to weave innocuously into our thought habits. One of the ironies of art is that the more you consider money, the less of it you'll make because you won't be truly focussing on your music.
9. Be Open & Engaging
You make and share music to connect. Too often I see buskers staring at their guitars, or gazing off into the distance. We do this to avoid awkwardness, but things are only awkward if you make them awkward.
Eye contact and smiles with strangers who are digging my music are some of the most flattering and awesome experiences I'm lucky enough to have. Plus, it helps your potential fans fall in love with your music. You're already pretty bold busking at all, so why not be that bit more brazen?
10. Be Yourself
There are thousands of buskers, but there's only one you. It can be tempting to see another busker and think “look how many people are watching them! Maybe I just need to do what they're doing” but they already do themselves and, given your envy, they do themselves well.
Trying to copy someone else will never lead to anything more than a superficial fleeting sense of success because it isn't coming from an authentic place. Instead, share what inspires you. This way you'll be having fun while you busk, and you'll feel connected and true to your music. This will reflect organically in your energy and in turn in the way passers-by perceive you. By being yourself you'll feel amazing, make more money, win over more fans and offer real art and love to the world.
This is a guest article by Helmut Uhlmann; a seasoned busker and the brains behind Busk for a Cure - an annual charity music festival raising funds for the Cancer Council NSW.