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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.
This is an art that pays, given its recognition in recent years. In 2015, Busk in London created the National Busking Day. In 2016 the day was renamed International Busking Day and celebrated worldwide. The day, marked in July, is used as a campaign to assist in raising the profile of street performers.
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 paint all over you, you can make money!
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 make money busking 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. You can even take a course in busking with the School of Busking.
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.
Popular Netflix show Emily In Paris has highlighted the money that can be made from busking. Character Mindy, an aspiring professional singer is convinced to try out busking by two strangers after singing at a bar.
Throughout the series, Mindy partakes in busking and performances in busy parts of the city of Paris. She performs both with friends and as a solo artist, and makes some decent money along the way!
If you are a little nervous to try busking on your own to begin with, why not invite a friend or family member who also enjoys performing, to join you?
You can watch Mindy busking in the show below:
If you’re actually hoping to make money busking, then you need to think carefully. You’ll 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 get 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?
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.
Most local councils have similar rules for buskers, but do get in touch with your local one to see what theirs are.
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 to be a pretty extreme case for them to do that).
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.
In July 2019 a new code of conduct for buskers was introduced after an agreement was reached between businesses, busking community reps and the local community.
The rules will be in place for three years and include:
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.
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.
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.
You can make money busking anywhere in the world. Ireland, Spain and France are said to be the best European cities to busk in.
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.
You can make money busking without too much difficulty. 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 claims he makes an average of £200 a day busking on Westminster.
Remember, although you are earning cash, you are still liable for tax on earnings. You should inform HMRC 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? Let us know in the comments below!