Can you make money busking? Do those people on street corners and in tube stations make a living from it?
In many cases yes – and they make a lot more than you would think.
From the London Underground to the canals of Venice there are always potential audiences who need entertaining (even if they don’t realise it at the time!).
You can make money busking as a singer, musician, juggler, acrobat or general clown. Even being a ‘statue’ is a form of busking, so if you’re good at standing still with a load of paint all over you, you can make money!
- What’s involved in busking?
- How do I get into busking?
- Where in the world should I play?
- How much can I make through busking?
If you’re a natural performer, busking is a fantastic way to get paid to practice and possibly even be ‘spotted’ while you perform.
Famous buskers who made it big include Bob Dylan and River Phoenix so you’re in good company. Many entertainers have paid for their education, started careers and even travelled the world, with the money they made from busking.
Buskers are also known as street performers so don’t worry if you’re not a musician! You could be a magician, clown or even a living statue, among others.
You can busk by yourself, or work as part of a group.
Buskers are normally found in any public or licensed place, and there are a lot of busking competitions, festivals and events that support the industry. Check out busker central for events. They have a calendar of busker festivals here as does Vocalist website here. You can even take a course in busking with the School of Busking (hey, there’s another money-making idea – once you get good at busking, teach it!)
Busking is generally regulated by local councils – particularly in large cities that are popular tourist destinations – or by managers of privately-owned venues such as shopping centres, castles and the London Underground.
Step 1: Find your talent
If you’re actually hoping to make a decent bit of pocket money from this, then you need to think carefully. You will need to have a talent in entertaining – whether that’s juggling and riding a unicycle simultaneously, or playing the violin to a decent level – and you should be confident about being able to bring in a crowd.
If you have to audition and you are rejected, don’t take it too personally. They get a lot of competition for these places and the people they pick tend to busk for a living. If you are rejected just practice elsewhere to really get your routine polished.
Check out the competition – go and watch other buskers doing their thing. See what works and what doesn’t work. Does it help to have amplification if you’re doing music? How do they manage to get a crowd around them if they’re performers?
Step 2: Find a place, then the rules
Once you’ve decided you want to make money busking in a particular place, find out what the rules are on busking in that area by seeking out your local authority or management. DirectGov has a list of local authorities in England where you can check the local rules and regulations. Most council websites will have application forms that you can download and send back for approval.
If you don’t follow the laws about busking, the local authorities can ask you to move on, and might even fine or imprison you (although it has be a pretty extreme case for them to do that). Take a look at this article (from 2015) to see how a lot of buskers have been arrested in London.
Generally, you may not play within 100 yards of a place of worship, and you shouldn’t have amplification. If you are asked by police to move on you should comply or you may be fined or imprisoned.
The National Association of Street Artists and Performers is a UK organisation representing buskers, providing a forum for buskers to come together and discuss things. Once you’re set up you can request to join their group and take part in their discussions.
Step 3: Really perform!
As a student, Stewart Ferris, who is now an author, paid his way round Europe and had money in the bank when he returned, purely by busking.
Here are his tips for aspiring buskers on how to make the most money:
- Stand up! ‘Don’t be shy and sit down to play,’ he says. ‘Don’t hide from people. Be confident enough to perform. Sitting down can make you look like a beggar and you’re more likely to get better money standing up.’
- Try and have someone else around to collect the money. ‘If you get a crowd, the worst thing is that the crowd disperses when you finish. You need someone to go round “bottling” (collecting the money) while you’re still playing and the crowd is still watching.
- If you’re playing or singing go for tunes that are generally popular. ‘We sang Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel songs and those were popular all over Europe,’ he says. ‘People like hearing their old favourites’.
- Remember you can make money busking by selling CDs of your music, particularly if you have a friend with you to help sell. If you go to places where you could get a crowd then you could make extra money selling these and even T-shirts or other “residuals”.
- Saturday is a good time to busk because people are more relaxed than during the working week. Busking in busy shopping streets can be very lucrative.
- Don’t worry if you’re not brilliant. ‘People respect the fact that you’re trying – even if you have a music stand in front of you. I’ve been given money even when I was tuning up, so don’t think you have to be professional to make it. It’s even truer for teenagers. People respect the fact that it’s tough but you have the guts to be out there.’
Step 4: Be prepared
- To make money busking you should keep your appearance clean and well groomed and passers-by will look on your much more favourably – well-presented buskers who perform well make more money.
- Don’t play within 50 metres of another performer – and if your favourite spot is taken, just ask what time they plan to finish.
- Memorise your entertainment so you are free to connect with your audience.
- Bright, toe-tapping tunes, folk-dance music, and jigs will please your crowd and lift their spirits. The happier the audience, the more generous they will be.
- Have a tip-catcher – like a hat or guitar case – and include a couple of low-denomination notes and a handful of coins.
Step 5: Play it safe
Keep close to your instruments or props at all times, and if you stop to talk to someone move closer to your tips. Play in a place that’s out of people’s way so you don’t annoy them, but stay close enough so that locals can see if you need help. Caution always comes first.
Step 6: Enjoy yourself!
Stand up and be passionate about your performance! If you do you will easily energise the crowd, which will be returned in smiles and tips.
Stewart Ferris says that the southern European countries offer the best opportunities because they have large piazzas with relaxed people sitting outside cafes.
“You have a captive audience,” he says. “If you’re bold and you don’t mind performing in front of them you can do 15-20 minutes in front of one lot then move on to the next cafe. In two hours of that we made £150-200, and that was in the ’90s.”
Professional buskers and street performers often move around the world from open-air festival to open-air festival, following the sun, spending winter in Australia and then moving back to this hemisphere as it gets warmer.
It’s a nice life for those who like to keep moving and some make money busking along the way.
busking in london
- As a general rule, busking within the City of London isn’t allowed, but boroughs on the outskirts including Covent Garden and Camden do allow it.
- Camden doesn’t license busking, meaning you can just pitch up and start playing as long as you’re not causing an nuisance,
- Covent Garden Market is not really for amateurs – you have to apply first and then audition, if they like you they’ll issue you a license. You can find a pretty good summary of the process here.
- London Underground Tube: Buskers must fill in a busking licence application form, send two photos and attend an audition. A one-year licence costs £20, where buskers are assigned an official pitch. There are 1,200 slots a week to fill.
- Check out BuskinLondon for more information, rules and tips for busking in the Capital.
busking around the uk
- Events like the Edinburgh Festival, Brighton Arts Festival and pretty much any other festival in the UK are great places for buskers to perform. You can make money busking outside the theatres or in city squares.
- Oxford: The city council requires a permit to busk and has a code of practice.
- Belfast: There are no specific laws or rules about busking – just follow your common sense.
- Bath and north-east Somerset: Regular buskers tend to get to know each other, and arrangements for busking are made informally in the main shopping streets, Union St and Stall St. The Abbey Churchyard has a daily rota decided at a buskers meeting at 10am each morning in the yard.In Bath the buskers have their own website and are well organised. Check it out here.
- Birmingham City Council: Their Busk Stop initiative sees that those who pass a quality test will get the best spots marked with an approved sign.
- Cambridge: Buskers don’t need a licence and can perform unless they cause offence.
- Generally, if you want to know what the busking rules and pitches are in any particular city, just put the city and ‘busking’ into your browser and it’s likely you will find a page of their Council website devoted entirely to the subject.
Earnings vary depending on many factors: what the weather is like, the time of day, the location you choose and the amount of generous pedestrian traffic passing by.
Some people make hundreds a day, particularly at festivals.
However, you may get nothing for one hour, and then earn over £20+ the next hour.
One bagpiper in Oxford claims he can earn at least £250 a week on Cornmarket St.
Remember, that although you are earning cash, you are still liable for tax on earnings and you should inform the Inland Revenue of the amount you make.
So, use our handy hints to revitalise your talent and start to make money busking!
Have you made money as a busker? Tell us about it in the comments below.
We would be very interested to hear!