Here are our top 10 busking tips. These tips are built on our experiences and have helped us immensely. They might not completely apply to you, but we believe they're a good place to start.
01. Figure out your act
To busk successfully, you need to perform in a way that suits you best and highlights what you are good at. For instance, if you are a killer guitarist but a bad singer, focus on the guitar.
If you have a great singing voice, think of ways to put your vocals in focus. If you are an excellent entertainer or storyteller, use that to your advantage. You will quickly find out what you are good at and what attracts attention. If you are ever in doubt, try asking yourself what kind of busking act you would stop for.
02. Rome wasn't built in a day
If you are new to busking or have not started yet, be patient and remember to be kind to yourself. It takes a lot of practice and work to become a talented busker, which is all part of the journey. In the beginning, we did not earn as much and had a harder time getting people to stop and listen.
But every time we performed on the street, little by little, we got better. We started figuring out our style and how we wanted to present ourselves as artists, which songs we wanted to play, how to attract people, communicate, entertain, and make a crowd want to stay. Be ready to learn when you perform on the street, and eventually, it will get easier. Always remember, you are never worse than your best busking day.
03. Look presentable
People take you much more seriously if you are properly dressed. Buskers are sometimes mistaken for being homeless, and that’s not the appearance you want. If you want to attract people, then dress the way you want to be perceived. If you think about it, you would probably be more likely to stop for a busker that looks decent rather than dirty.
In the busking community, there is a lot of discussion about playing acoustic or with amplification. Many buskers believe that playing acoustic is enough, but if they tried amplification, they would be surprised by how much it would enhance their act.
In a city full of loud noises, amps will help you be heard and make you appear more like an official act, which, in our experience, can increase your earnings. It's important to note that if your volume is too high, you might disturb some inner-city inhabitants, so find the right balance. Play loud enough to be heard but not so loud that you bother someone taking a siesta.
You should also be aware that some cities do not permit amplification or require a license to use amps, which we usually check up on from home. Either way, it might be worth just going out and trying your luck, but if possible, GET AN AMPLIFIER!
05. Police and City Laws
In general, busking is legal, but there may be cities or areas where it is prohibited by law. It can be challenging to navigate these laws, but doing some research will benefit you in the long run.
We have performed in cities where it turned out to be illegal, often due to amplification, and the police have stopped us or asked us to move. Don’t be too afraid if this happens because 99% of the police officers we have encountered have been friendly and don't enjoy having to stop us.
A few officers may issue on-the-spot fines, as happened to us in Germany and Switzerland. When a police officer stops you, be courteous and understanding, and ask if it is possible to perform elsewhere or maybe even ask where to obtain permission to play. Then, give yourself a hug and carry on with your day.
06. the perfect spot
Finding the right spot to play is essential for having a good busking session. When we're in a new city, we scout out the best spots on the first day and play on the second. We always look for a location that is a popular destination, such as a square, a landmark, or a busy shopping street.
It's important to find a place with a lot of people, minimal noise pollution from cars, trams, stereos, other buskers, and enough space for people to stand and listen without stopping too much foot traffic. Most importantly, you should stand in a place that is comfortable for you and make sure you don't blast your amplifier into a store or restaurant.
Before you play, you could let nearby shops or restaurants know that you can adjust the volume if it’s too loud, so they don't just call the police without warning.
07. Don’t Worry, Be Happy
You attract what you radiate. The better the day you have, the better your busking performance. Be calm, collected, smile, and enjoy the moment as much as you can because your feelings are contagious. A busker who enjoys their act naturally has more success. If you have a bad day, consider taking a day off and watch some episodes of "Friends" on Netflix.
But if you have to get out there, then be kind to yourself, buy a good to-go latte, and remember to take breaks. Being a busker means you are the boss and get to decide when you’re playing and not playing. Always listen to yourself.
The greatest discovery we’ve made while busking is that communication is key. It's not just music that makes people stop, stay, and listen, but also the interaction we have with them.
We talk about our stories and our travels, what a song is about or why we love it, why we play on the street, or maybe even something “random” that happened during our day. If storytelling, however, is out of your comfort zone, the easiest communication skill to master is simply saying “thank you” to the people who listen, give you a compliment, or tip you.
Showing gratitude to the people who give you their time, whether it’s a crowd of 100 people or 1 person, is so important. Time is one of the most precious things anyone can give, so never take it for granted when someone gives you theirs. But don’t worry, after a lot of practice, you will eventually get the hang of how to communicate.
09. Should you ask for money?
Should you tell people you busk for a living and therefore need money? It depends on the type of act you are doing. Some acts require asking for donations after their performance, such as street magicians and dancers.
For us, it's more important to make people feel welcome and enjoy our music, and then the money will come eventually. We always say "thank you" for every coin we receive, and saying that out loud might influence others to tip as well. In the last few years, we've noticed that Danish people don't carry as many coins, so we mention that we accept MobilePay (Danish Venmo) between songs.
However, we are careful not to guilt-trip anyone into leaving a tip. Additionally, we often ask people to follow us on social media platforms like Instagram, Spotify, Facebook, TikTok, or YouTube. Fans or followers assure long-term support and are very handy when you start releasing music and selling out shows. Whether to ask for money is a tough question, but try to be humble and figure out what works best for your act.
10. Damn, it's raining!
Enemies come in all forms: an angry shopkeeper, stupid city laws, a competitive busker, but the biggest of them all is the weather. If it's raining, don't play. If it's windy, make sure you stand in a place where it does not affect you too much. If it's colder than the Arctic Circle, remember to bring four sweaters and gloves (preferably thin ones with holes for your fingers so you can play).
If you feel like a fried egg in the scorching heat, find shade for yourself and, secondly (if possible), for your crowd, or wait until the sun sets a bit and the afternoon or maybe even the evening approaches. You always have to play by the rules of the weather and make sure it's working for you, not against you.