Street performing, also called “Busking”, is probably one of the least common way to travel and that’s the reason why most people find it so intriguing. I started busking back in 2012 in Sydney, Australia. As a breakdancer, I had heard about busking before but I never really considered it. In fact, my first job in Australia was as a sales representative. At that time, I never imagined that dancing in public spaces could be a substantial way of making money. But I had the chance to meet people who convinced me that it was possible and no more than 2 months later, I took the leap and started street performing with 2 friends. Today, I couldn’t be more grateful for that as this experience indisputably changed my life. Since then, I’ve been performing in a handful of major cities in Europe and Oceania whilst earning plenty of money.
Now you are probably asking yourself ‘How can I do it too?’
To be brutally honest with you, I have to say first that if you have ZERO talent, it will be hard… But actually not impossible! I have seen performers with no special talent hold a crowd for 40 min just with crowd building techniques, crowd participation and funny lines. Their finally was terribly bad but in some sort, their talent was to be able to gather a crowd and build up energy for their final stunt, even if it isn’t that impressive. People will still pay if they laughed for the past 40 minutes.
Now if you have a Talent (big or small), it will definitely be easier.
First of all, be aware that there are typically 2 types of acts :
- Walk-by acts, where people walk by the busker and occasionally pay him for the performance (usually musicians or statues)
- Circle acts, which are performances that have a distinct beginning and end. People usually stay and watch the whole show and pay at the end. As a dancer, juggler, etc. your show will most likely fall into this category.
When I first started busking, our performance looked more like a ‘Walk-by’ act as we were just dancing with a collection bucket in front of us and with no clear beginning or end of our show. It was clearly tiring and totally inefficient in terms of earnings. We didn’t interact with our audience and we were not managing the crowd effectively. Luckily enough though, I met 2 American professional buskers (T-co and JD) who taught me how to properly organize a show as they had been doing it for the past 10 years – and my career as a busker clearly kickstarted from there. Check the end of the page to see the main tips I learned from them.
Which Country / City is good for busking ?
Typically, any city with a good number of tourists will be good. I have been performing in major cities such as Sydney and earned the same amount as in a small coastal city of Portugal full of tourist. As long as the people walking are in a holiday mindset, not rushed by time and coming from a wealthy country, you will be doing good.
How do you find out about licenses ?
Find out about licenses can be tricky from time to time. Typically before going to a city I would youtube and google ‘street performer in xxxx (city)’ and check if there are some buskers already established in that area. Later on I would try to check if they have a permit system in place by visiting the town hall website. For major cities, you will most likely find your answers that way. But for smaller cities, this type of research is usually not conducive.
In my opinion, the 2 best alternatives are :
- To arrive in a city and try to speak to a busker directly. They will know what is the system in place and will eventually explain it to you. That being said, a lot of buskers don’t want you to be there as it means that they will have to share their spot. They will not hesitate to lie about the license system just to deter you so ask a few if you can.
- To rock up somewhere and just start performing until someone tells you something. As we say, it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Officials will probably approach you at some point and if they catch for the first time, they will most likely explain to you how to obtain a license.
Can busking alone support me financially?
If you are totally unexperienced, it will be hard but possible to rely on your busking earnings to support your basic needs. That being said, you probably won’t be able to save any money. Once you get a better act and understand how to manage a crowd, you will be able to save money and be location independent.
But it doesn’t stop here, performing in front of hundreds of people everyday opens other doors that are sometimes unexpected. For instance, I remember getting approached for a gig in Australia that payed us 500$ for a one hour gig. A teacher present during one of our street performances absolutely loved our show and desperately wanted us to perform at his school.
Again, my group got approached by a women from a council of a city in Portugal who is ready to fly us to come perform the whole month of July in her town. All of this food and rent free. As you can see, street shows can lead you to much bigger things and you should take advantage of that!
How do I find members?
In order to start busking, you can either start solo or with a group. If you decide to start on your own, you will not face many of the staple busker-act problems. However, starting on your own will be much more difficult physically and mentally. But some people are lone wolves and will prefer to do it that way – so kudos!
If you are like me, and you prefer performing with other members, finding dancers that are like-minded will be crucial. If you are a b-boy, you are most likely practicing in a place with many other dancers. Go and ask around if anyone would be up to start doing street performances and you will be surprised to see that lots of people are interested.
Tips to create a good act
These few tips might sound simple but they will make a big difference in your earnings so pay attention!
- Get an act together. From A to Z. If you are a group, you need to know exactly who does what, when and how. There is nothing worse than a show where the performers look lost. The audience picks up on that and will turn their back in a matter of seconds if they have that feeling.
- Have a final stunt. You will need a finally for your show and you should try to build up energy in order to get people excited for the ending.
- Talk. For some people it is natural to talk and interact with your audience but for some other people it is scary as hell! Push your limits and go for it. Prepare funny lines, improvise some and go for it.
- Be thick skinned. Basically, don’t give a shit about what people might think. If you believe in yourself, people will believe in you too.
- Define a clear beginning and end of your show. People need to know if the show has started already or if it’s about to end.
- Clearly talk about money during your performance. If you are out there performing for 30 minutes and people watched the whole show, you are more that entitled to ask for money. Explain that no one is paying you except the audience and make sure they get the message.
- Don’t think too much. Your first show will probably look nothing like you imagined it to be. Craft it as you go and always try to improve on the small details.
Are you are busker or interested in busking? Drop me a message and let’s chat!