Busking: The 4 Biggest Misconceptions About Being A Street Performer
I will always remember my first street show.
It was back in 2012 in front of no more than a dozen people in Sydney, Australia. All we had was 7 minutes, a speaker, and a collection box. That was it.
I originally discovered busking through my Spanish friend, Dany, whom I met in Sydney a few years back. I was extremely intrigued about the concept, as was my best friend, Najib, who was also a break dancer from my hometown. After Najib and I both decided to quit our relentless 9-to-5 job as door-to-door sales man (let’s just say, it wasn’t for me), we figured we might as well give it a shot – what have we got to lose?
I had no idea what street performing entailed, how much money I could make with it, and what it actually took to be a full time street performer. But here I am today, living under the Portuguese sun, performing on the streets almost 5 years later with, now, a couple thousand street shows under my belt.
Busking is not your usual job, let alone full-time, hence why many people question me about it. And everywhere I go, without fail, the same questions are asked over and over again. These questions and are usually hinted towards the result ‘It’s not a real job’, that ‘I can’t do this all my life’ and that ‘it’s impossible to make good money’.
Fair enough – I pondered the very same when I started myself.
As the questions keep on comin’, I thought it was about time I debunked the 4 biggest misconceptions about the art of street performing. These are the top things people can’t, or refuse to understand about street performing – with my only goal being to educate the sceptics and non-believers that is a real lifestyle, and it’s mine.
#1. Street performers are homeless people/beggars
This is what people envision when I tell them I am a street performer. They imagine me rolling around on the floor all day long with my friends, accompanied by nothing more than a hat, begging people to leave their spare change if they have enough pity for us.
What if I told you that just our equipment alone (speaker, batteries, lights etc.) has a combined worth of that of a small family car, and that our shows gather crowds as big as 300 people who are kept entertained for about 40 minutes?
Getting a better idea now?
I wish I took a picture of my parents face on Skype when I told them I had quit my job to do street shows 4 years back. It was hard for them to conceive the concept, and hey – I get it. It’s a bit difficult for any parent to hear. The truth is, street performers take the art from the theatres straight to the public – and believe it or not, people that watch the whole show are more than often ready to pay an actual theatre entrance fee for it.
Beggars receive money because people feel sympathy and compassion for them. We receive money because we are simply worth it, and that makes a big difference. We give the public something to enjoy, laugh at, and interact with.
Talking about money, here is the second biggest misconception about busking.
#2. Buskers make no money
‘How much money do you make?’
People ask me this fucking question ALL-THE-TIME.
It all comes down to money at the end of the day, right? However, because people are too shy to ask me frankly, they often disguise the question and come up with an awkward ‘….So, do you make good money doing this?’ to which I say ‘Yup’ and then only the few extraverts will dare to ask me exactly how much exactly I make a day.
To this question, I usually ask everyone around the table exactly how much they rake in per month, trying to hide my smirk. But of course no one is comfortable answering such a crude question, which generally closes the topic pretty damn quickly.
However, seeing as your taking the time to learn about street performing, I will give you a rough idea. Buskers can make anything from absolutely zero to 300$ a day. Yep, there is quite a gap between these two amounts and I guess that it doesn’t really answer your original question. But the truth is, there is no real answer. Depending on your talent, your equipment, the location of your performance spot and the quality of your show, your earnings will vary HUGELY. Professional buskers located in good spot will make good money if their show is worth it – and if they know how to keep their audience entertained. Unfortunately, most buskers fail at this key aspect…
#3. Busking is illegal
Busking is not illegal unless you are stupid enough to try and do a street show in China or North Korea. As a matter of fact, most places have laws in place and specific licences that allow buskers to perform in select areas. The licence systems vary in each country. Whilst a licence would be free in Portugal, you will have to pay nearly 200$ to get one in Sydney, Australia.
In the US, busking is considered ‘freedom of speech’ which is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That being said, each state regulates the busking scene as they desire, implementing licence systems, audition process etc…
Even though busking is regulated in most places, police and council officials can be unfair towards buskers and it sometimes escalates to court. In fact, it happened to my friend Matt Boden in London, England. But if you are smart enough and that know your rights, you might be surprised at how the situation can turn in your favour.
Check this link to see how my friend took the council to court and won the case – fuck yeah! https://youtu.be/ZUJZnbGFBdo
#4. It is not a sustainable lifestyle / It will take you nowhere
‘You can’t do this all your life’
…I repeatedly hear this sentence, and I repeatedly answer the same way.
Why can’t I?
I have met plenty of performers that have been doing this for over 20 years and they have a wife, a house and children. Now, I personally don’t intend to do it all my life, but what if I wanted to? Working careers consume most of our lives, so we might as well do something we enjoy. Starting street shows taught me a lot about myself and about where I want to be in life. It directed me towards a more entrepreneurial journey. Later on, I realised that I could combine this ‘nomad’ lifestyle of street performer with a ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle, and still fit in street performing at the same time. I now invest most of my street show earnings into my digital nomad projects, and I couldn’t dream of a better way to fund them. Through street performing I have crossed paths with some of the most astounding, influential people.
The mindset that street performing actively cultivates, profoundly helped me with devising creative ideas on how to make a living whilst doing what I enjoy in life.
And to those skeptical party poopers who are still not convinced that busking can take you somewhere, take a look at this. Here is a list of 10 celebrities that started off as buskers and ended up being world-famous through their street talents.
So, next time a street performer catches your eye, please stop and watch the show. Give them your time and appreciate their courage for performing an unappreciated art in front of onlooking strangers. If you truly enjoyed the show, please reach deep into your pockets and shake their hands. They’ll truly appreciate it.
Most importantly, understand that these people are not beggars, but individuals that decided to take on an alternative lifestyle.
A lifestyle of travel, adventure, passion.