An Open Letter To The Future Busker
Dear Future Busker,
On my first solo adventure in Greece, at the tender age of 17, I somehow had the courage to put down a hat and hula hoop in a town square with the hopes that passersby would throw a few euro at me, which I would probably use to buy beers I couldn’t afford otherwise. I am not too sure where the idea came from; it certainly wasn’t something I had ever considered before and the thought came to me in a moment of fleeting spontaneity which I decided to run with.
Imagine my delight as I realised people were stopping mid-conversation to watch a skinny, scraggly, barefoot teenager throwing a hula hoop around. This was six years ago, before the huge trend of hula hooping took off, so I was probably quite a novelty to most. Tourists took photos of me and couples gave change to their children, who excitedly dropped the coins in my hat with a satisfying ‘clink’. This moment was somewhat revolutionary to me, as I realised ‘Hey, maybe I won’t go back home to finish high school, maybe I could live like this forever, a travelling street artist, moving from one country to the next, cashing in my coins for a simple place to rest my head, or perhaps I’d join a band of buskers and we would share stories and cigarettes around campfires in the evenings’.
Well my busking journey hasn’t been quite that romantic and I certainly haven’t made nearly enough from it for it to fund my travels completely (although it is exceptionally lucrative for professional buskers). I still really thrive off street performing, mostly for the smiles from strangers but also for that extra bit of pocket money. Here are couple tricks on how to start busking for those of you interested in giving it a bash:
A Good Sign
A good sign can make all the difference. It lets people know that you are a busker and not employed by some nearby establishment. Placing your hat or bucket or whatever collection container you choose near the sign gives people the idea that you would appreciate a donation. Hand painted signs are easy enough to do and the text should be amusing, unique, and let people know a little about you. A sign I often use reads ‘Did I make you smile? Feel free to contribute towards the adventure.’ I have it propped up against my vintage suitcase adorned with string fairy lights so that people can see it in the dark. It directly asks for a donation without being pushy.
The Perfect Spot
Location, location, location. Location truly is everything when it comes to busking. I generally only busk in developed or semi-developed countries as I feel busking in a developing country is a bit of a cheek, as there are far less people that can afford to part with their change. The area you choose also plays an important role. There needs to be foot traffic, but the sort that has time to slow down, watch your act and hopefully show their appreciation. The best spots I have found to be city squares, outside strip malls and even airports. Depending where you are, busking may be banned so be sure to check on that before you set up.
A Unique Act
It doesn’t really help your cause if there is another busker performing a similar act to you mere metres away, and this can often happen in popular busking spots. Make sure your act is unique in context to your surroundings or try another spot. Remember that almost any talent qualifies as a busking act! There are many buskers that just parade around in amazing costumes. Other ways to stand out are to have a kick-ass outfit and perhaps join forces with another busker. I have often teamed up with musicians. They provide the music, I provide the hula hooping or poi act and we split the profit at the end. Collaborations are highly recommended.
Don’t be Afraid of Your Audience!
As an introvert, this is something that took me a long time to learn. I would just perform a sequence then go and sit down behind my sign after giving just a shy smile at those that had gathered to watch me. I now have no problems making eye-contact with my audience, interacting with them, calling people up to try hooping themselves and all-importantly walking around the crowd with my hat myself asking people if they would like to make a donation. This creates a bond between you and your audience and I have made many friends within my audience. My confidence has soared since I started doing this. It’s not easy at first, there will always be those within the crowd that give you a bored, judgemental look, as if you are some dirty hippy that is living off the kindness of others. But ignore those people and concentrate on the ones that are smiling, laughing and appreciating your talents!
I wish you all the best,