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Tips for Street Performing

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open music instrument case with money

Where is good to play?

One important point to consider when busking is that you still want to play to an audience not only play on the street. In order to be successful you have to find a busy place where many people traffic on a regular basis. At the same time though you don't want it to be a place where there is no room for people to stop and listen to you play. A crowded entrance to a subway might not be the best place to perform because people don't have standing room to stop and listen to you. It should be a busy but open space. For example Alexander Platz, Warschauerstr., Mauerpark and the entrance of Tempelhof Feld are very spacious and popular busking spots in Berlin. You can always investigate good places to busk by searching on YouTube. Also there are many forums online such as 'Busker Central' and Wikipedia List of Busking Locations where you can find information about good places to perform.

When is good to play?

The best times to busk are of course on beautiful days when the weather is perfect and people will be out on the streets, it is exceptionally good to busk on the weekends and in the early evening.  Holiday weekends are ideal because people are in a festive mood and may also be looking for unique gifts to buy and your CD or merchandise could be just what they are looking for. Other good times to play are when there are flea markets, christmas markets, or during the tourist season around museums or popular restaurant strips.

What equipment do I use?

It's all a matter of practicality and portability. Busking with a single instrument such as a guitar, violin, accordion, trumpet or just your voice is pretty much the standard course of action but I have even seen buskers roll out a piano on coaster wheels or build a drum set made of empty buckets. It can be very helpful to have an amp because outside on the street is noisy and amplification will help people hear you and help you hear yourself. Some of the most popular street amps are the Roland street amps, which come in various sizes, power, effects, and price. I use a Roland Micro Cube, it has stereo speakers, runs on batteries, it has inputs for both microphone and guitar/keys, reverb, delay, chorus effects, and it fits in my backpack guitar case with my guitar.

Do I need a permit?

Always assume you need one until you find out that you don't. You will have to research on the internet if you need a permit or not because each city has different laws. Here is a Google Map of busking laws around the world. It's better to be safe than get caught by the police and fined. Also remember if you perform outside near a residential area, even if you have a permit and it is legal, there is still occasionally someone who will call the police anyway.

Is it really worth my time to go busking?

It's certainly worthwhile so long as you go to the right spots at the best times and you aren't afraid to be performing in public without the safety of a backstage or perhaps even a bathroom. You should have an easy way for people to put money in your hat, box, or instrument case and you can make it obvious by putting some of your own small change in there when you begin. Also it's a good idea to have a sign with your artist name that is visible. Have your CD's and merchandise easily available. There are thieves and pickpockets in every city so be sure to keep an eye on your stuff. Many street musicians have gone on to become quite famous and even after becoming successful they still go back out and busk. A good example of a popular street artist is Alice Phoebe Lou who went from playing on the streets of Berlin to performing at a TED talk and on to playing in huge sold out venues.

Appearance and Etiquette

People won't give you the attention you need to be successful if you don't look and act professional. Remember that you are definitely not the only street performer trying to play at the best locations and the best times so be sure to communicate with the other buskers and practice busking etiquette when you go to perform. Usually in a busy and ideal place for street performing any given act will have half an hour to an hour to play and then move on and let the next act play. Respecting your fellow musicians is the best way to interact but sometimes the best places to perform on the street can become overrun by a sort of mafia of street musician bullies who want to hog up that good spot for the entire weekend. If this happens, try to be cordial and remind them that the opportunity to perform on the street belongs to everyone.

Benefits of Street Performing

Even more beneficial than meeting new fans and making some pocket money is that if you can play on the street and capture the attention of a random public audience than you can certainly play on any other stage in the world with confidence. Your experiences street performing can refine your act and can inspire you to try new ways of presenting yourself as an entertainer. The act of playing on the street and exposing your abilities to the world can literally change the way you perform, it can give your sound a quality of authenticity that you won't necessarily get in a music school, band practice or open mic. A great example of a voice that was developed by decades of street playing is Doug Seegers who has gone from homeless to famous and is now touring the world. It reminds me of a Roger Miller quote,”it only took me twenty years to become an overnight success.” Sometimes the road to success with performing music starts on the street where you go busking.

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