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  • @cblack  Feb 13

    Hey. So, I keep coming back to the idea of busking as a way to earn some money. Problem is, I have stage fright. I bought an acoustic/electric guitar to go busking with, as well as a busking amp, and couldn't do it. Couldn't even get my guitar out of its case in the city, let alone try to play.

    So... Do any of you have experience with busking? I'm pretty sure some of you do, based on comments I've seen. Any advice? Words of wisdom? Philosophies about what sort of person you need to be to be a successful busker?

    I ask because I keep coming back to the idea of busking, even though I have all that stage fright. I like the idea of busking, but the actual practice terrifies me.

    So... Anything you want to say about busking is welcome in this thread. It doesn't have to specifically address my concerns. Let the conversation go where it wants to, I say. It might be helpful to someone. 😁

  • @edwardsmusic Feb 13

    Interesting. I sometimes busk myself (can't do it this month unfortunately because of FAWM and sorting out my TAFE music course).
    Funny, I rarely suffer from stage fright (I can't think of any incidents where I have been through that).
    I busk with my acoustic guitar and vocals. The majority of the time I play originals (some of them written from last year's FAWM, as well as some songs from my albums on Bandcamp).
    Just play your heart out.

  • @stuartbenbow  Feb 13

    I busk in the warmer months. If you’re timid or tentative, the money will be sparse at best. The best buskers are energetic, enthusiastic and polished.

    You won’t get there on day one, but there are things you can try to give yourself a leg up. Work on a solid set list that you have down, practice at home, as if you’re on a street corner or in a park, pretending to engage the passers by. Maybe take an acoustic guitar to a park and rather than busking, find a tree to sit against and just play through the set for yourself, rather than trying to actively be a focus of attention before moving to full on busking.

    Once you’re comfortable doing the acoustic thing, pay attention to the people near you. Do they listen attentively, tap feet, move to the rhythm, sing along, move closer to hear better, or do they move away, ignore you, etc. That reaction can help you dial in your set list so you’re more likely to kill it when you really go for it.

    Do you perform anywhere else?

  • @tcelliott  Feb 13

    I used to play on the street in college at times. I was never successful. The thing is I have stage fright pretty consistently but it was easier to play on the street than on stage. But then I was t aiming to make any money.

  • @skylermf Feb 13

    I played outside a coffee shop a few summers ago, usually half hour sets every Friday. I mostly did it for fun, but sometimes I was able to make a decent amount given the time. Also helped that I was fourteen so adults noticed me more.

  • @halfwalk Feb 13

    Many years ago, I did some busking in a few different cities. I spent many hours learning cover songs I thought would be crowd pleasers, but ultimately I ended up earning the most on originals; perhaps people could sense my personal connection to the music.

    I played acoustic guitar and sang. For a while, I had a busking partner, who was more than twice my age at the time, who also sang and played harmonica. When we played together, we made waaaay more money than I did alone (though still not that much, admittedly, and split two ways of course). Double the energy, and half the fear.

    The trick to big money was to get the kids dancing. If the parents saw their kids having fun, they always put money in the case. One couple even threw a $20 bill in there.

    It seems most people have an aversion to the music of buskers, and that can be really disheartening. But people only actually got angry with me twice ("Get a job, asshole" and the like).

  • @johncrossman  Feb 13

    I like the idea and have always wanted to too, but I think I would have to enlist a musician friend or two to help me get over my jitters. There are a few good spots in town here and always some buskers in the warmer months.

  • @nancyrost  Feb 13

    @johncrossman - We should busk together some time!

    One of my first bands was primarily a busking band, with dobro, washtub bass, washboard. I played a toy piano.

  • @brrrse  Feb 13

    @nancyrost odd question - was that in seattle? There was a similar group at Pike Place Market a bunch of years ago when I was there, playing in a stairwell outside. They had amazing energy.

    I'm not a busker - but I appreciate buskers and try to give attention and coins when I can - The ones I enjoyed the best were upbeat, and played simple but energetic originals. I also prefer to see the musician standing rather than curled around their guitar - Wonderful classical guitar is lovely, but its hard to hear in noisy public places. A few bar chords, some catchy hooks, and a big smile always attracted my attention along with the way they are dressed. It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive - but like they made an effort - and a hat. a crazy hat goes miles with me. It's about the moment and the energy for me. But again, I'm not a busker and don't mean to give that impression. Your milage will vary. 😀

  • @nancyrost  Feb 13

    @brrrse It was in Boulder. I'd love to busk in Seattle some day.

  • @jamkar  Feb 13

    I started at a senior center. So it was pretty much a captive audience, and very forgiving.

  • @leah0k  Feb 13

    If you have any open mic nights in your area, you may wish to practice overcoming your stage fright in that environment first. Usually you’re only playing a few songs, and the other people playing are probably feeling similar to you as well. Once you are relatively comfortable playing on that stage, you might find yourself more comfortable elsewhere. It’s intimidating for sure to be playing on your own, but if you are well-practiced, that will give you more confidence. I am also considering doing some of that this year once it warms up just for fun!

  • @johnstaples  Feb 13

    Set up in a busy tourist area. I used to live in SF bay area and the street performers downtown could earn a little money. I'd say most buskers outside of these busy area earn very little so do it because you love it and get a real job to pay the bills.

  • @resonut123 Feb 13

    Also you may want to check with the City & Local Businesses to see if it is Legal or Allowable?
    Some Businesses may NOT like someone in front of their place & others May Love It! (especially if you are attracting people).

  • @tuneslayer2018  Feb 13

    @nancyrost Seattle is very busker friendly. I love spring afternoons when I go downtown to transfer busses and the sound of steel bands or guitar players fills the air.

  • @tuneslayer2018  Feb 13

    @cblack I don't know how rare it is but I very seldom have stage fright, so I'm not sure if I can give you any solid advice. But try this: Forget that there's anybody else out there. Oh yeah they're there, but you're just setting up your stool and your amp and your git-fiddle, and you're going to practice a few of your songs. It just happens to be out in public.

    Barring that, maybe you can get together with someone and do some duets. At least that way you'll have a familiar, friendly face nearby.

  • @gardeningangel1 Feb 13

    1) Seed your hat or case or whatever you're hoping to collect tips in with a dollar or two when you start. People throw money at money.
    2) Think of it as practice time, then any money you make is a bonus.
    3) Do it for the kids. Do it to spread joy and a sense of playfulness and wonder. Do it because it feels a m a z i n g and a little rebellious. And if you need inspiration, read Amanda Palmer's "The Art Of Asking" or just watch her T.E.D. talk.

  • @johncrossman  Feb 14

    I would busk with you, Nancy
    If you'd busk with me..
    We could try, the two of us
    Or add TC for three

    Four should be a square number
    Five might prob'ly rock
    You're right, that's overly encumbered
    Less cash in every sock

    Head on down to State Street
    Not too close to Art
    The butterflies are on the rise
    But somewhere I must start!

    @nancyrost, @tcelliott

  • @cblack  Feb 14

    Wow! DIdn't expect this thread to be so popular!

    There's 1 point which is entirely my fault and works against me, and that's that playing an instrument is, for me, all about improvising. I don't actually *know* any songs to play them. I just pick up a guitar, or start pushing keys on a keyboard, and sometimes magic happens. I'm usually at a decent skill level, and as I said, there's sometimes magic in the air - but then to balance that out, sometimes I suck horribly.

    So that's entirely on me. I just have such an aversion to playing the exact same thing over and over. So learning a set list or working with another musician probably wouldn't work for me.

    As for starting small, like in a park or open mic night... I've heard those suggestions before, and they still scare me. Like, playing guitar in a park around here is a good way to attract the wrong sort of attention, and open mic is, in my assumption, worse than playing the streets.

  • @cblack  Feb 14

    ... Because at an open mic night, there are people there specifically wanting to hear music, yeah? Whereas in a busy shopping district, if people don't like what they hear, they can just keep walking. They're there to shop, yeah? And that makes me feel slightly more comfortable than open mics.

    Ugh... I don't know. I think it's kind of like losing my virginity - I've wanted to do it for a while now, but that first moment is quietly terrifying. (That is, I'm no longer a virgin, but have never performed music for anyone, anywhere.)

  • @cblack  Feb 14

    (And I'm also aware of the irony of not wanting to write songs, and just improvise, and then doing FAWM. 😝 But so far, my only FAWM successes have been digital music. I'm fine with making a digital song, because I really only have to do it once, and then it's already in mp3 format, yeah? When I contemplate recording some guitar or keys, though, I start to get the same sort of anxiety as I get with the notion of busking. And I'd like to conquer that anxiety some day. 😀)

  • @mkd  Feb 14

    Hmmm, I wonder if part of the stumbling block is the setting up process? The act of showing up with your kit and setting it up, making it all feel like quite a big deal? Like you’re announcing your intentions to the world and setting up expectations?

    I know I have places where I play that I sometime find it difficult to get out the car and through their doors, but if only I could already be inside I’d be fine.

    If you were to randomly come across a guitar already set up ready to go, would you be able to resist the urge to go noodle?...

    Is there anybody who could go with you (or even ten mins before you) that you would trust to either set it up or at least help you set up in the first place? (Then they can go for a coffee away from you if needbe?!)

  • @cblack  Feb 14

    @mkd Yes! That is exactly on the money! It's that, "Hey, I'm about to start playing," thing that has tripped me up the most. Like, sitting on a bench, guitar in its case, watching people go by, and going, "Do I have the confidence to actually start playing? To signal to the dozens of people who will walk past while I'm setting up that, yes, I'm here to play?"

    Kind of like... Y'know, can I take the attention of strangers *before* playing? Will they be disappointed as soon as I hit a note? Those kinds of things.

    And you're also right in that I can't help but fiddle with instruments when I see them. Like, I work in a second-hand store, and we've had several guitars (mostly cheap kids' things) come in, as well as a cheap uke, and bam, I couldn't help but strum a few notes. And an organ which wasn't even plugged in, I kept pressing keys and fondling the knobs and dials.

    So thank you for saying that - it helps me cement what my issues actually are. 😀

  • @cblack  Feb 14

    That's not to say I don't also have performance anxiety. Again, going back to improvising rather than knowing actual songs... What if my first time busking is one of those "I suck" days? I wouldn't have anything to fall back on, yeah? Obviously, I know I can play well enough most of the time at home, or else I wouldn't even be considering it... But yeah. There's definitely some fear of sucking publicly.

  • @mkd  Feb 14

    I think the fear of sucking publicly is innate in all of us... the joy of busking is that people can just walk on - if you’re on a sucky-day, then people won’t hear you for more than a moment anyway! The only people to get on side are the shopworkers in the shop(s) opposite where you are, but a bag of chocolate buttons would be enough to cheer them up!

    Glad to have helped with the set-up thoughts 🙂

  • @cblack  Feb 14

    Yeah, and thanks again @mkd . For me, there's a particular shopping strip in the city where most local buskers play. It's outdoors, and is a long no-vehicles street with shops on either side. So yeah - the store workers there are used to buskers (and probably couldn't hear them all that much, anyway).

  • @kirrivath Feb 14

    Busking can be wonderful and can also be hell. Just do it.

    If you're nervous setting up then do that with back to audience direction. Turn around when you're ready to command attention. Breathe.

    If it's zero response in a few songs change up the genre or come back another time of day. Different areas like different music. Hecklers, you learn to deal with eventually. Some people simply are ignorant and assume it's begging, then assume you're homeless and therefore MUST be mentally ill and a drug addict. I'm singing so loud (my voice is near opera quality) that I can't hear the mutters and it takes my brain a while to process the body language and lipreading - should have intervened with their mean attitude but they're gone by then.

    My biggest problem is since breaking a couple of teeth and not having $20,000 savings to fix it all, some mean people decided to tell other people not to give me anything simply due to the visible poverty. I'm 10 years older than I look, and have always do

  • @kirrivath Feb 14

    Word limits. 😝

    I'm 10 years older than I look, and have always done my best, that just wasn't good enough in this society.

    Bullies will be bullies. The people who love you will love you, so concentrate on that.

    If you look normal, student, or performery (some flamboyance or a costume) that can help your attitude and theirs.

    Try to be friendly to other buskers, unless they're very rude to you first. Some had to literally fight for their spot to make a living, some are more collaborative. Networks help, especially when you gotta take a break but want to play again after.

  • @kirrivath Feb 14

    Buying something small from the shops nearby will help. I'd rather bring my own filtered water but for goodwill (and because people decided to be judgey about the contents of an opaque but obviously WATER BOTTLE - not like a singer needs to stay hydrated or anything) I've gone back to buying one. Plastics are toxic... Glass is heavy. Metal must be alcohol... Sigh.

    Maybe men don't get judged like that? Or if you sing drinking songs?

  • @cblack  Feb 15

    @kirrivath Thanks for the info! Sounds like you've had some nasty experiences busking... Sorry to hear it. And yeah, your comments are all things I've worried about before, even having never actually played in public. One day, maybe...

  • @cynthiawolff  Feb 15

    I have busked a lot with my three piece group...
    It's easier if you are with someone..
    don't expect to make a lot of money..

  • @cblack  Feb 15

    @cynthiawolff and others who have mentioned not making much money... The thing is, I've heard of buskers making ludicrous amounts of money in the past. And I actually spoke to a local busker (acoustic guitar and singing) when I was trying to do it myself, and she said she makes $100 per hour on a good day, and $50 an hour on a normal day. Now, she was good, but not exactly amazing.

    So for me, I tend to assume that there is a living to be made as a busker. Obviously I won't know 'til (if) I try it, but yeah... I'm pretty sure some buskers at least can make a living from it...

  • @devin  Feb 15

    Sounds like a couple of things to work through, in this order:

    1. Performance jitters.
    2. Attitude and material for successful busking.

    For #1, start with small house concerts with friends. Even better if they play as well... then sit in a circle, and take turns. Gives you some rest time.

    @jamkar has a good suggestion, although all eyes are on you in that setup. I volunteer at retirement homes and assisted living centres. Many of the staff work/move around different facilities. Word will get around, and some of the work is even paid.

    The number 1 strategy for stage fright is “be prepared”. The first 3 songs should be planned for vocal & performance warm-up, and practiced until you can start on any note of any song. If you are not willing/able to do that, then be an amazing virtuoso.

    Do you ad lib words too when playing?

  • @cynthiawolff  Feb 15

    go for it and let us know how it goes...

  • @cblack  Feb 15

    @devin Thanks for the tips. 😀 And no, I don't sing. Also, had to laugh a little at, "If you are not willing/able to do that, then be an amazing virtuoso." 😝 So very easy to be an amazing virtuoso. 😝 (But you're on the mark - that is what I'm aiming for. 😀)

  • @devin  Feb 15

    Yes @cblack , we're treading on that dreaded "entertaining people with what we are doing live" territory... so the options are "be entertaining" or.. um.. not! LOL...

    Unfortunately, Joe Public, while on their way to do whatever else they are trying to do today, won't stop and watch for much less.

    So, it's down to you practicing your spontaneous art until you can't help but be entertaining!

    The good news is, most people really want to see you succeed. This is the same with any public performance in business, entertainment, and social situations. When someone steps into the spotlight, there is a part of *most* people that really wants to cheer for something awesome. The vast majority do not want you to fail.

    So, the door's open 😀

  • @devin  Feb 15

    Maybe host a live video during FAWM, when you can grab a good audience? We promise not to throw stuff!

  • @cblack  Feb 15

    @devin Ha! No idea how to do a live video, and nor do I have the courage to do so. But you're bang on with how people want you to succeed. People are weird, really... So quick to judge, yet if you come at them from the right angle, they want you to do well...

  • @kirrivath Feb 15

    Some terrible, mostly after breaking the teeth. Many, MANY amazingly wonderful experiences making people cry in the good way, being uplifted by seeing my music uplift people... it’s so much more immediate a response than even on stage. @cblack

  • @brrrse  Feb 15

    You can (and should) be doing live facebook broadcasts from your Artist Facebook page and in YouTube - as well as recorded videos. You can also stream on the gaming stream platforms - a few FAWMers do that. StreetJelly.com is an online busking site - you may find that works better for you. good luck.

  • @julesbf Feb 15

    Great info on this thread thanks for starting @cblack . I have always liked the thought of busking yet never had the courage. Anxiety seems to be a common thread for lots of creative people. I am now singing lead and playing bass in a rock band regularly in pubs, I still suffer anxiety but it tends to be more around the build up to actually starting to play, once we have done the sound check I am usually fine. Like @mkd said I think it is concern over forgetting some equipment, not having room to set up, not finding a parking space even, all tends to build before a gig. I think these are the things that currently stop me busking but I do want to try and overcome them, perhaps 2018 will be the year?

  • @spinhead  Feb 15

    I am a natural attention hog. I have 50 of my own songs and eleventyleven covers memorized. I’m a crowd pleaser. Also have 47 years training in public speaking and presentation.

    But I am paralyzed by the fear of an officer of the law getting miffed. Terrified to an extent only those with a similar puritanical upbringing will understand.

  • @tuneslayer2018  Feb 15

    I should admit that one of the reasons I took up the banjo was a fear that someday I'd be out of work and not able to find another job (it happened to my father, but he had a pension and I don't) and the belief that if that ever happens, I could most likely take it and me to certain street corners in Seattle, plop down on a packing crate with a hat and a bunch of old Dylan tunes, and at least busk for enough money to buy a Cup-O'-Ramen.

    The worry about the job isn't what it used to be, but I still break out "You Ain't Goin' Noiwhere" or "She Belongs To Me" once in a while. Just in case, you know.

  • @cblack  Feb 15


  • @brrrse  Feb 15

    @tuneslayer2018 you better let me know which corner and when - cuz I'll bring an army of listeners along LOL 😀

  • @spinhead  Feb 15

    To put the fine and obvious point on it, my post above was a solicitation for advice. Or help. Assistance. Suggestions and whatnot.

  • @devin  Feb 16

    @spinhead I have 1/2 dozen friends who are in the service, including 2 neighbours, and another that is an exceptional fiddle player as a hired gun* for projects in the studio.

    * sorry. Bad pun.

    I also play the annual Police Chief’s fundraising ball. The first meeting was in the back of the station. As cool as I thought I was, That part freaked me out.

    I don’t have much time right now, but I’ll bump the thread and add my answers in depth later.

    As you can imagine, they are normal folks. But depending on the situation that causes them to talk with you, the first 30 seconds is when they need to know if you are a problem or not.

    If pulled over while driving:
    - pull over where it is safest for them, within reason. Don’t drive 5 minutes to do this 😀
    - sunglasses off
    - window down
    - both hands visible on steering wheel
    - look at them, but wait for them to speak
    - If you speak first, open with “hello officer, how may I help you?”

  • @halfwalk Feb 16

    @spinhead It's worth looking up the laws in your locality. For example, when I was in NYC, you have to audition to get a permit to play anywhere underground (subway terminals, etc). And above ground, you can't use amplification, regardless of decibel level (so those guys wailing on saxophone have an edge over the classical guitarists who can't even be heard over the sounds of traffic).

    In Boulder, we had some cops approach us one time while we were playing, and I'm pretty sure we weren't supposed to be accepting money without some kind of permit, but they just smiled and listened for a minute before being on their way.

    Sometimes that old adage is applicable: "it's often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission" or something like that. "I'm sorry sir/ma'am, I didn't know I needed a permit, do you know who I can call about that?"

    Act like you belong, and lots of people won't question it, even if it's their job to do so. Just don't be obnoxious about it 😀

  • @cblack  Feb 16

    So... I'm thinking of trying to busk with a keyboard, rather than my guitar. My reasoning is that I'm usually at least "adequate" on keys, whereas guitar is a lot more mercurial. Sometimes I rock, sometimes I suck. On keys, though, I'm usually at least "okay".

    Now here's the thing. My current keyboard is not battery powered. It has to be plugged into the mains. I've found a keyboard that should be battery powered (the manufacturer lists AA batteries as an optional power source, but the store website's listing doesn't...), but in order to pay for it, I'd be depleting my savings drastically.

    And then add in that I have major stage fright.

    So... Is it completely stupid to consider buying this new keyboard anyway, on the hope that the financial strain will convince me to actually go busking, when there's no guarantee of such? Knowing that I won't be able to replenish my savings for at least a month?

    Crazy, right? Or is it so crazy that it just might work?

  • @jenjen Feb 18

    Hey, busking is a great way to get your chops up! My advice:1) location is totally key. And you have to go out there expecting nothing, that way whatever feedback (and money) you get is awesome. 2) go with a friend, if you are having fun playing with eachothother the more likely people will want to watch. 3) prime the pot with some bucks of your own, And prime the crowd with friends- if people are into it and supporting you and clapping, etc. strangers are WAY more likely to stop and enjoy and feel like they should contribute money. Then if you get a regular spot and time that is perfect (ie. after dinner crowd where they can see the sunset) boom now your making money 😀 good luck!

  • @moonshadow Feb 18

    Hi, i have plenty of experience busking, to be honest i find it a lot easier than doing open mic nights, When you busk people only hear about 10 seconds of a song, they are too busy with their life to listen. So there is no need to worry, you can get away with playing just one song over and over and no one will notice, Over the years the only problem i have found is the abuse i have sometimes received off teenagers, but that is usually only in run down area's .
    It is really nothing to worry about, just get out there and do it!! after playing on the street for about 3 or 4 hours the nerves will be gone
    i usually have a set of 20 or 30 songs and just play through them twice before i go home.

  • @brrrse  Feb 18

    if you're going to be playing outside, would a cheap 2nd hand keyboard work? I've gotten several keyboards from the thrift store - it won't sound like a steinway - but it might be close enough for starting out.

  • @cblack  Feb 19

    Thanks all for the feedback! I'm currently still enamoured of the idea of buying a busking keyboard, even if it makes no logical sense for someone with stage fright. But I mean, the keyboard I have my eyes on has MIDI functionality too, so it would still be an asset to me.

    @brrrse Yeah, I work in a thrift store, and we've had a few keyboards come in. Problem is, I need one that is 61 keys or larger, with MIDI functionality, *as well as* being potentially battery powered. By the time one of those comes through the door, chances are I'll be able to afford the one I have my eyes on...

    In fact, I sold a bass amp recently. (It didn't sound that good, to the point where I was getting a better bass tone from my guitar amp...) If I can sell 1 more piece of gear (2 up for sale right now), I think I'd buy the keyboard. Right now, though, the only way to justify it would be if I actually went busking and earned some money. Which I'm still not sure I can manage...

    But the idea is insidious. Eve

  • @cblack  Feb 19

    ... Every time I think about how long it'll take to make a living from mp3s, I immediately think, "Hey, go busking!" *sigh*

    To be honest, though, I'd feel more comfortable busking on keys than on guitar Just more often "adequate" on keys...

  • @cblack  Feb 19

    Which then raises the question: How the hell would I even get my keyboard and stand into the city? Can't simply carry both, so I'd need some sort of bag. Apart from those large "moving house" style bags, I don't know any that would actually be the right size...

  • @kirrivath Feb 19

    Ok step 1. Write and print a song list so that you remember it after an hour

    2. Grab your guitar and go find a decent spot

    3. Set up your gear with your back to the audience if you’re nervous setting up

    4. Always warm up. Always.

    5. Don’t expect anything, ignore hecklers and haters because seriously they must have petty lives or come from a culture where live music isn’t appreciated (awful fate), and be thankful for all the love.

    6. If you get nothing within 3-5 songs, scratch that place/time/day of week and try somewhere or somewhen else. Or change your genre.

    I mostly do lush romantic songs that show off my amazing celestial vocals. There are areas of town where the majority only likes rap. I learned not to play there. Play where they love you. 💕

  • @oneslowtyper  Feb 19

    I think one way to work toward your strength (which seems to be spontaneity) is to sit there casually strumming your guitar, like you're tuning up, and just start talking to no one in particular and ask Is there a Cindy out there? Or a John? or Rachel...etc. And if you get a bite, you proceed to use their name in a song you sort of already had partially practiced. Also, if people in a crowd think you're making up a song on the spot, they would be more forgiving and understanding of minor glitches, plus the tips would probably be more generous if they thought certain songs were personalized specifically to them. Like mentioning the blond lady in the red dress, stuff like that.

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