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4 things to consider before you start busking

Laura  Barnes
4 things to consider before you start busking

If you’re planning to have a go at busking, there may be more you need to think about and prepare for than you realise. Fear not, Know Your Instrument’s Nicky Patterson is on hand with some helpful tips to ensure you have a good time…

Busking is a way for musicians to make money and somehow test the waters to see if people like their repertoire. It’s also both a humbling and rewarding experience to see strangers smiling and enjoying your performance and dropping money in your case, because when they do so, it means they are sincerely giving you support for your music.

Before you bust out your guitar or ukulele and go busk however, there are some things you need to address first to ensure a trouble- and hassle-free performance on the streets.

Consider these 4 things when busking:
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1. Is busking allowed and what are the requirements to get a permit?

The first consideration is the most important. Is busking even allowed on the street corner, subway line or park you’re eyeing? In most countries of the world, you would need to secure permission to busk, so check local laws and restrictions.

Ask the authorities, such as the local city council or tourism office, about street performance policies. Some places, like York in the UK, require street musicians to register and show their busking badge when playing on the streets.

The same goes for public transport networks. Some give out a limited number of permits a year and require musicians to audition.

When busking on private property such as a mall or shopping center, you need to ask the management or building administration if you are allowed to busk on the premises and what the requirements are. In some places like the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston in the United States, street musicians will need to apply and audition first to get a permit – so you’ll have to be really good.

Ask where busking is allowed and what you need to get a permit. Note all of these on a map (a paper one works best, really!) and once you have your permits or busking licenses on hand, put these in a waterproof case and make copies if you can.

2. How do you choose an exact spot for busking?

Assuming you’ve already obtained permission to busk, scout the area first and observe the flow of foot traffic. While you want to attract the attention of passersby, you do not want to annoy them by being directly in their way, especially if they’re rushing. Ideally, a good spot is one that would allow your music to resonate even if you don’t have an amp around.

3. What songs should you play and for how long?

You want your audience to see how good you are, but for that you’ll need an audience first. One way to draw a crowd is to play songs that people will easily recognise. It’s best to have a varied song lineup to attract different kinds of people, so make sure you learn as many songs as you can, from popular classics and some old tunes to more upbeat pieces.

Prepare a repertoire that will allow you to play for at least an hour or two without repeating any songs. Of course, the songs you play should also mean something to you – people are drawn to performers who are really passionate about their work, so put feeling into it!

4. How do you package yourself?

Dress the part of a professional and make sure people learn your name. It won’t be good for people to see you as a poor, homeless musician (else you’ll be getting pity coins), so dress properly and make a good impression! Use signage showing your name/Facebook page and other social media handles to let people follow you online. Many buskers have achieved fame because they were able to package themselves well.

When busking, it’s important to acknowledge your audience and the people who show their appreciation. Look and smile at them and thank them for their support whenever you can.

Good luck!

Nicky Patterson is a blogger and guitar enthusiast. She has been playing the guitar for over 10 years (mainly acoustic) and is one of the founders of Know Your Instrument. Fore more information visit

Tags: Opinion , top tips , busking , Nicky Patterson , Know Your Instrument

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