To conquer shyness, I began busking as an electric cellist in high school and have kept it at it with some regularity since then. The purpose of this article is to offer some tips for other performance artists considering putting on shows in their cities.
Where you perform matters more than the performance itself. Popular busking locations are typically located in a city’s major tourist and commerce centers, and you’ll find other performers here regularly. While you can generally be confident with the quality of such locations, fierce competition makes them difficult prizes to obtain. Furthermore, once you have one, you’ll find yourself constantly defending it from other buskers. Therefore, knowing how to discover your own busking locations is essential. Over the years, I’ve developed the following methods for finding hidden gems in whichever city I’m in:
Examine maps of the city’s major tour bus routes. Learn where these buses begin and end their tours, along with which stops they make along the way. If you can find a spot where tourists are regularly loaded or unloaded, you’ll consistently have a new crowd of people to entertain.
Use Yelp filters to see clusters of expensive restaurants and hotels. Cross-reference your findings with what Zillow shows to be the city’s highest-income neighborhoods. If you perform in these areas, you’ll benefit from having a regular stream of rich people leisurely passing by.
Use a crime map to ensure your new performance spot is relatively safe.
After you find a few spots that seem promising from your online research, scout them out on both the weekends and weekdays at multiple times throughout the day. What may look like an abandoned area at night might actually become crowded with foodtrucks at lunch time. Or, perhaps a particularly popular commuter train arrives at 7:37 AM every morning in an otherwise-quiet station.
Additionally, ensure that you won’t bother anyone in the location you’re investigating: the place shouldn’t be too close to a shop, outdoor restaurant, or residence, and it must be big enough so that you (and your future crowd) won’t create a hazard on the sidewalk.
While there is a correlation between how talented you are and how financially successful you are as a busker, it’s not as strong as you might think. Rather, I’ve found following the guidelines below are far more important than being a virtuoso:
Make eye contact and smile.
Engage your audience. Talk with them. Invite them to take selfies with you as you perform. Also, kids make great assistants.
No one owes you anything. Regardless of whether or not someone loves your performance, he owes you nothing in return for your entertainment. Accept this and focus on brightening the lives of your audience, regardless of whether or not they pay.
Begin your performance with a seed of your own $3 placed in the case. This acts as a visual reminder to people that they have the option of supporting you financially in exchange for the entertainment you’re providing them.
Once you have about 12 bills in your case, pocket them (while leaving a new seed). Too much visible money makes you a target for theft, and it also leads to a lower overall hourly rate due to the free rider problem.
Beware the wind. Ensure your money container or instrument case is wind-proof and that dollar bills won’t blow out from it.
You now know what you need to know. Fill your heart with courage, get out there, and give it your best shot!