This is a mini-series by guest blogger, singer-songwriter Kirk Douglass.
Let's talk money. One of the first things people say when we begin to find ourselves in our instrument is “Open up the case and make a couple bucks!” Many of us are familiar with the proverbial subway singer but how does one go about becoming a troubadour? If you think it sounds easy, you're mostly right.
First things first: "Location, location, location." Finding a good spot is nearly as important as
knowing how to play your instrument, perhaps even more so when it comes to busking. Many people will toss you a buck simply because you're doing something productive. They won't, however, go out of their way to do so in most instances, so knowing how to spot a good place will go a long way in helping you to come home with a nice, jingling pocket.
Foot traffic is key. You want to set yourself up where people are walking. The best places are
leisure locations. Restaurant rows, movie theaters, venues, and shopping plazas generally have a steady flow of pedestrians, most of whom have expendable income which they are already intending to spend that day, so they may think "What's another dollar or two?" Business districts and transit stations generate plenty of foot traffic but these locations are often noisy and the people are just trying to get to work. They're looking to make money, not give it away. Also, the excess noise will make it difficult for you to be heard. Your dynamics matter, and if you intend on doing this often, blasting your sound as loudly as possible could cause your technique to decline, or worse: if you're singing as well, you could damage your vocal chords. A nice portable system is perfect for this scenario but that's a topic for another time.
Once you've found a good location it's time to pick out a good spot. Try to get there fifteen or
twenty minutes early. Walk around the area and see which side of the street people tend to be walking on more. You want to be where they are. Listen for noise, some stretches will be noisier than others. Finding a nice quiet spot will ensure that people hear you clearly and can appreciate your sound. The better they can hear you, the more likely they are to tip. Finding a wall to set up in front of will help with a little resonance giving you a little more "sonic" bang for your buck.
Now that you know what you're looking for in a spot, you should do a quick check to make sure
you have everything you need. Obviously you need your instrument and everything that you need to play it. A tuner, extra strings, a strap, and multiple picks if you use them. Try to find a nook or place on your guitar to stash an extra one while you're playing, in case it flies out of your hand. This way you can grab the spare and land your next chord in rhythm, skipping a beat or two if need be. Have faith that no one will notice. If you're already beginning to work as an artist, you should absolutely have a sign with you as well. Your name, your website, and your contact information should all be included in the design. Even if you're not really developing as an artist just yet or don't intend to, a simple thank you is a nice touch for your receptacle.
You will need a receptacle. Different buskers use different things for receptacles. Anything from a hat to your instrument case to a little cup are all great receptacles, although most buskers would recommend using your instrument case. It's one less thing to carry and it just has that vibe to it. Tossing a couple of bucks
of your own into the receptacle before you start helps people to realize what you're doing out there so don't be afraid to try doing that.
Armed with the knowledge of where to go and what to bring it's time to get out there and start
making money in one of the funnest ways possible. Busking is pretty straight forward. You stand on the street. You play music. However, there are some do's and don'ts to busking.
♫ Kirk Douglass