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The Why and How of Busking

The Why and How of Busking

By Robin Yukiko - April 29, 2013

Busking, or street performing for tips, is not for everyone long term. But trying it can yield fantastic results on many levels.

1. Good practice. You were going to practice anyway, right?

2. Tips. Depending on the time of day, it can be worth your while. It'll at least cover gas money.

3. Exposure. This word gets tossed around a lot, but in the case of busking, you expose your music to ALL kinds of people, many of whom would never heard your music otherwise. I've gotten gigs through people just walking by. Made fans who stopped to listen for a half hour and tipped me a $20. AND came back to see me the next day.

What you’ll need:

Check with your city about whether you need a permit. In some, like San Francisco, you only need one if you plan to amplify.

Seed money. People need a visual cue for where to put their money. Use a guitar case or a hat but keep an eye so no one snatches it from you. Also keep the right amount in. Have too little and you seem a little sad. Too much, and people might think you need anymore. People want to support an underdog, but not a loser.

Have a sign. Most people won't come up and ask your name so make it visible and professional looking.

Have CDs for sale. If someone can take your music home, they have more reason to put money in the hat.

Flyers. Let people know where you are playing next in case they love you enough to follow you.

And the most important..

Mailing list. Encourage every person who tips you or shows a remote interest in you to join. Give them a reason to, such as a free song or other exciting thing you send people. Like in any situation, every person who likes you but doesn't join your list is a wasted opportunity, but especially in a transient audience situation.

Now, here are a few tips on etiquette:

Know the regulars. If you don’t, wait for them to finish a song before approaching them, especially if you are asking how much longer they’ll be--a question I hated getting. It’s best to soften them up with a few compliments first.

Be mindful of the time. In a busy station where everyone is vying for a spot, an hour is an appropriate period of time. If no one else wants to play, stay as long as you like.

Pick a spot (if you can) that is out of hearing range of another musician.

And this one should go without saying, but BE NICE TO EVERYONE (vendors, other musicians, random people)! If you are rude, it is only a matter of time before a good busking experience goes south.

Got any more tips? Add a comment!

Happy Busking!

Robin Yukiko is a Berklee College of Music grad, singer-songwriter, pianist, and music educator in San Francisco. She performs regularly and hosts the SF Singer-Songwriters’ Workshop at the Musicians Union Local 6. Robin is currently producing her second album and enjoying nerdly pursuits. Get a free song by joining Robin’s mailing list at!


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