This is a mini-series by guest blogger, singer-songwriter Kirk Douglass.
Previously we discussed where to go and what to bring for a good busking session. Today let’s consider some things you can do to make your vibe a little more polished and also discuss a couple things that most experienced buskers will tell you are no-no's on the street. As with anything pertaining to the arts, many rules can be broken, but it's much better to learn them first in order to determine which ones should be followed.
Most buskers will recommend standing. People like to know that you're really working it out there so standing helps A LOT. You'll also have more air if you're singing and mobility to move around which will really help your presence. Jam out and let them know you're working it. The more you do to excite what they're hearing the more enthusiastic they will become. These things should lend an air of professionalism to your vibe which is certainly something you want. People respect you when they know you're working hard.
Busking takes time. Don't overdo it but don't be afraid to take breaks either. Often times you won't see your first tip inside of the first hour. You'll almost NEVER see twenty bucks inside of two. Take a sip or two of water between songs. Set your instrument down and check your text messages every hour and a half. Play something instrumental or something that has a long intro every twenty minutes or so if you're singing. Three to five hours is a good busking session so it's important not to burn yourself out.
Interacting with passersby can be critical to your end-of-day earnings, so it's important to think about. Eye-contact, smiling, nodding, waving, saying hello, and dancing with those who dance by are all great ways to boost the likelihood of receiving a tip. Shouting out things such as crude jokes and phrases like “Gimme a dollar” or jumping into a private conversation will ruin some people's perception of you. Avoid these as it is important to maintain a good rapport with the entire community if you wish to have long-term success.
Most of what we've discussed so far is subjective. In most cases these are great rules to follow but depending on who you are and what you play some will make less sense than others. There is however one rule that, no matter who you are, you should follow at all times: Respect your environment. To quote Egon Spengler (Ghostbusters): “Don't cross the streams... It would be bad.” In good areas there will be bars or storefronts playing music as well as other buskers. If you can hear them, move down. I cannot stress this enough. If two pieces of music can be heard simultaneously, they both sound bad. If there is a panhandler standing give him/her some berth. Twenty to thirty feet should suffice. This just comes down to a matter of respect and community.
Entrapment is another thing to avoid. Pay mind to restaurants with patios and sidewalk seating. Some diners may appreciate your entertainment but there will always be the possibility of those who do not. If they're having a meal, unfortunately, your vibe could ruin it for them no matter how talented you may be. We don't want to do that so it is important to give a wide berth.
Once you feel ready to venture forth and conquer the street music scene, finding your own approach is the next step, so get out there and start playing! You'll find there are tons of little things you can do to affect how people perceive you. Everything from how you're dressed to what's on the ground around you contributes in some way to you as a whole busker. We'll talk about that more soon enough.
♫ Kirk Douglass