The sad fact of the matter is that walking out in your local city or town and playing some music might not be completely hassle-free, and could even be regarded as illegal in some circumstances. Fortunately, in most circumstances it is considered perfectly legal but there are conditions, things you need to prepare and consider before going busking.
Busking Legalities in Your Area
There are areas of the world where Busking is a complete no-no, these are rare but do exist. In most areas it is considered free speech but it usually isn’t that simple, and you may need to get a busking permit or license. You need to find out about the permissions required from your local authorities, who may ask you to get a permit or written permission to perform on the streets.
The Line Between Busking and Street Selling
One area that makes Busking laws even more of a grey area is the involvement of money. We don’t all busk for money and it isn’t the only motivation people have, but there is no denying that it is a benefit and a lot of us make our cash not only through donations but selling CDs too. If you are selling or even open to donations, check with your authorities if this will change anything and whether you need a street vendors permit instead of or as well as your busking permissions. These may be inexpensive but it is worth paying to cover yourself.
Another thing that you need to consider when you are finding out whether busking is illegal in your area is the volume at which you will be playing. Noise pollution and other charges could always be drawn upon you if you are exceeding audio levels that are permissible and this may vary depending on what time you are busking.
I’m sorry to say that it is a real grey area, but there are usually areas you can find to go busking. There are a few charges you could get heaped on you if you do go busking without your research, but in most areas you will be okay. You should definitely as I said above contact your local authorities and ask, and even if told ‘it’s fine’ on the telephone, try and get written permission to go busking and details of what you are allowed to do and where, this means if police do end up stopping and questioning you you have your a** covered.
Busking is a popular pastime and a largely encouraged cultural activity in the UK and in general Britain is very tolerant of buskers. Here is our guide to busking in the UK
Busking Locations in the UK
The UK is full of great towns and some really large cities, which can provide great places to busk. My local town here in the East of England has quite a small population but we do have a community of buskers, venture into the big cities and in certain spots you expect a busker to be there playing guitar or performing in some other way. City streets are laced with buskers in many cultural areas and we even boast some full time buskers, so you can have great success if you too partake in this activity. Of course, a lot of people want to busk in the capital cities, London especially, there are quite restrictive rules about Busking in some parts of London but it certainly can be done and is probably the best place to ply your trade in terms of profit from busking.
Busking Laws in the UK
Busking is popular in the UK but is restricted and there are certain hoops to jump through. In the words of the ask the police website:
“”Busking in itself is not illegal although some local authorities have passed byelaws prohibiting busking. If you want to busk it is worth contacting your local authority to see if any bi-laws have been passed with regards to busking. Children under 14 years may not busk.”
Some places will require a busking permit or license, some will require written permission from the authorities and some will be happy for you to play away to your hearts content on the streets with nothing in place. It can be a pain if you are traveling but the safest way to be on the right side of the law is to seek the advice of the local authorities. An amazing recent case saw buskers having to have 20 songs to play in Dublin, Ireland, and that they had to be a certain distance from other buskers, see the BBC News story.
Famous UK Buskers
The UK boasts loads of amazing musicians and many have even taken to the streets to engage in a spot of busking. Check out our list of musicians who have been seen busking in Britain (you can find out for yourself on youtube).
Fran Healy of Travis
Carl Barat of The Libertines and Dirty Pretty Things
Billy Bragg (Live at the “Big Busk”)
Paul McCartney (I forget which band he is from, some sort of insect? )
Hi there Busking enthusiasts. Just a quick post today to share with you some of the coolest buskers I’ve ever seen on Youtube. Hope you like the videos and feel free to email me if there are any more you think I should add.
If a busker were to make a list of his or her most desired places to ply their trade and strum their tunes, London is a city that would feature heavily among a lot of people’s shortlists. Where better to play out than a City with a rich heritage and tradition of music, and the capital of the country that brought us many of the best bands throughout history including a certain mop chopped foursome in the sixties. Not only is London vast, it is full of cool streets and places with a really great atmosphere to share your music with the world, and hey, you may even get noticed by a musical somebody if you’re good enough.
So is it easy to busk in London?
The short answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no. You cant just pitch up and play, at least. There are quite a lot of rules, regulations and hoops to jump through in order to busk anywhere in England, and busking in London is (as you might expect) tougher than anywhere else. First off, you’ll need a busking license to be certain that legally you’re covered, but some areas of London don’t even deem this enough, and Busking is not permitted at all in huge chunks of England’s capital city. Also, even if you have found a safe area to ply your trade, don’t be surprised if you end up getting hassled by the police even after you have shown your license. This can be an embarrassing and off-putting experience for a performer, so make sure you’re thick skinned in the more policed areas.
Another difficulty is finding a spot, there are a lot of street performers around and people who will consider a certain street corner or area their busking ground, you might find it difficult to find a good spot that isn’t already taken. In Camden, a cultural hot spot in LDN, Buskers have to pass an audition, yes, an AUDITION, to be allowed to play out their songs there. If you make it through it can be profitable and even get you noticed, but it isn’t as simple as turning up and whipping your instrument out.
There are some plus points though, and London isn’t totally against busking. The 2003 Underground Busking scheme now means that buskers get an organised slot in underground stations in which they can play. This was once an illegal activity but has now been embraced and is even encouraged, rightly so if you ask me!
Though central London is very strict on its laws and regulations, you may well have more success in outlying boroughs, still on the tube routes and often hives of activity, but a bit more relaxed. They’re still good places to get noticed and boast higher footfalls than many other towns and cities throughout the UK.
If you can manage to tick the right boxes, England, and especially it’s capital, is a brilliant place to busk. In London, there is no reason why you couldn’t even manage to make a decent living out of playing your songs on the streets, and you may well get noticed by many of the important individuals roaming the streets. Anything worth doing is difficult, and busking in London is no exception.
You’re probably here because you want to take your busking to the next level, whether you’re struggling as it is or just want to move up in the world of street performance, we’ve collected some busking tips to help you get to where you need to be. As always, the following tips are meant to advise, and shouldn’t be taken as gospel, you still need to make sure that you have the necessary permissions to busk!
- Find good spots! A simple tip in the world of busking, you need to find one (or hopefully a collection of) good spots to play at, they can be lively areas, affluent areas or musically receptive areas, make sure you keep a note of the profitable and most enjoyable places to play and keep going back.
- Keep your distance from both other buskers and any areas where you may be considered a nuisance such as shop entrances, shopping malls (which probably wont let you play in them anyway) and anywhere you might be in the way. Nobody likes a nuisance busker.
- Be opportunistic. If an artist is in the news at the moment or (god forbid) has just passed away, you can get noticed by playing their songs. If you notice someone wearing a Smiths T Shirt nearby, play a Smiths song! Busking is an art, and you have to riff off your crowd to be the best.
- Come prepared! Bring a case for donations, some CDs, your card or some leaflets or other promo material as well as spare strings and plectrums, a capo and anything else you might need, treat your busking like any other gig, and bring plenty of gear!
- Keep your stamina up, and play for as long as you can! Unlike a paying gig, if you’re making money at all out of busking, the longer you can keep going the better, so make sure you have loads of busking songs stored up and some food and drink (sugar and caffeine) to keep you going.
- Practice, Practice, Practice! Nobody wants to hear a rusty busker! Make sure you’re up to scratch and can play every song on your setlist to the best of your abilities. No point in attempting a Jimi Hendrix song when your guitar skills are more like those of E.T (no, I don’t know why I used E.T. as an example).
- Learn from the best. Talk to other buskers, stop and listen when you see one, you might pick up some new songs to play or an idea to interact with your crowd.
- Find a USP and use it. USP stands for unique selling point – what is yours? Can you play an unusual instrument? Beatbox? Live loop? Do anything you can to try and interact with your audience and stand out in a crowd.
We’ve talked about some easy busking songs already here on Busking HQ, but what if you’re not necessarily looking for the easiest songs, but the complete and utter crowd-pleasers? These are songs that will make you very popular and get people talking, and may even make you a few extra pennies purely by people recognizing them and wanting to reward your exceptional skills and taste! Some of these aren’t the most difficult to play, either, they’re the best because they’re the most resonant with popular culture, and people will relate to them far more than if you play a B-Side from Neil Young’s experimental electronica album.
So what are some of the absolute best busking songs you can play to your crowd?
Anything by the Beatles - Not many people have never heard Beatles songs, these will strike a chord with every generation of music fans.
Galway Girl – An absolute classic, this one will get a great reception whether you’re in Ireland or any other part of the world.
Wonderwall by Oasis - Not known for the complexity of their songs, but Oasis are best known for this 90s indie anthem. Great for beginners due to its simplicity.
Harvest Moon or Heart of Gold – Neil Young – Young is known for his stripped down acoustic tracks, and these two are his most famous tracks and great songs to play on the streets.
Karma Police by Radiohead - another one to go out to the 90s kids out there, Karma Police is another anthem, and isn’t too tough to play.
Anything by Led Zeppelin - If you can strip down a led zep song and play it, be sure to do so in your busking sets.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen – The jaunty and cheerful tune that everyone will recognize, include it if it fits your style.
Bob Marley – Anything by Bob Marley will be loved, too, and makes for a nice chilled out atmosphere.
Stuck in the Middle – Stealers Wheel – Perhaps best known for Quentin Tarantino’s use of it in Reservoir Dogs, this song will again be recognized and hopefully get people to open their wallets.
Layla – Eric Clapton – The maestro himself, just playing this guitar riff will get you adoration from a certain breed of middle aged men.
Anything by Jimi Hendrix – Another one who’s songs will stick out like a sore thumb, if your guitar skills are up to it, wow your audiences with some Jimi.
Bruce Springsteen – Everyone loves “The Boss”. Springsteen is internationally renowned and though a lot of his tracks are rockier, full band numbers there are still a number of songs that sound great played acoustically and in street performance.
Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison - This song may scream “80s” to your audience but everyone has heard it and it is a happy little number that will get people’s toes tapping as they walk on by (or hopefully stop to watch).
I’m Yours – Jason Mraz – This is a real busking track if ever I heard one, I’m sure many people have started to play acoustic guitar just to be able to serenade with this tune, playing it live will have teen girls swooning.
On top of any classics you can play, as I’ve said before on here, anything you can do to wow your audience is always a bonus, whether that be amazing skills with a guitar or other instrument, or something quirky like being able to beatbox or live-loop, make sure you take advantage of your unique selling point!
Happy busking, people.
I’m sure there was a time that busking licenses weren’t necessary, and one was free to play their sweet, sweet music wherever and whenever without getting in any trouble. But this is the 21st century, people, and a busking permit or license is needed for wherever you plan to take your tunes.
Unfortunately, I can’t give exact figures, numbers and information on obtainability, as it varies hugely from town to town and country to country. I can tell you more or less how you can get the relevant information on busking licenses.
The first step you need to take is to contact the relevant authorities, so your town or county council or local police. They should be able to advise you as to what you need to perform in public. Some places, would you believe, will still allow you to play without any permission, which is great, but they can of course move you on or ask you to leave altogether should your playing be scaring local children, for example. If your local council tell you that you dont need a license, then lucky you, get out there and play! But the chances are you wont be one of the lucky ones, and even if you are, you’ll want to play in a few different locations and some of them will ask for a busking license.
So what can you expect to have to do to get a license? Most of the time, you’ll just have to pay a small administrative fee (it will be small, the council don’t care about making a profit out of you), and provide a passport photo of yourself to prove your identity whenever you might get pulled up. As with most licenses, it will probably expire too and you’ll have to renew it. In some cases, you might have to do an x-factor style interview! This is just to prove you are good at what you do and that you dont sound like a bag of cats being swung around a room, so (hopefully) this shouldn’t be a problem. In some cases, your license might even be free, which is a real bonus.
A word of warning. If you play somewhere without a license to busk, you might be hit with a hefty fine. Another word of warning, be careful that where you’re playing is an area your license allows you to play in! Councils will probably be able to advise you as to where it is okay to busk, but for an example, you don’t want to play in a shopping centre as it will probably be privately owned and you will get in trouble.
I hope this guide has been helpful even if I cant go into specifics. Remember to be safe, call the council and authorities in every area you plan to play in and follow their exact requirements, or you will definitely get in trouble. Happy busking, folks.
Seems like a basic question, huh? How to busk? Well it isn’t as simple as you might originally think. You need to have the correct equipment, you need to have the right permissions, and you need to make sure you’re not making an idiot of yourself by playing the right songs, and keeping them in tune, plus you might want to make money busking, so you need to make sure you are prepared for that.
I’m going to write out how to busk as a bullet pointed list, I love my bullet points as you’ll know if you read my other blog posts. It just makes it easier to digest. Here goes then:
- First things first, planning. Where are you going to busk and when? Do you want a big audience? You might need to think about when you choose to go busking in order to get it right. You also need a plan when it comes to songs. You cant just turn up and strum, you need something of a setlist like you would have for a gig, and a bunch of backup songs for if you get stuck.
- Equipment. You need the gear, of course. You might just choose to go with a good old fashioned acoustic guitar, and that’s cool, but you might want to go further and buy a busking amp. Don’t forget spare strings, plenty of plectrums, a capo, and any other spares you might need.
- Permission. This is key. No, really. Don’t just go out and play for money, or even at all, without finding out the relevant permissions you need. You may need a permit, license or police permission to busk on the streets near you, and it may vary from town to town and county to county. We provide as much info as we can here on Busking HQ, but we can’t possibly provide information for every place in the world, so you need to contact your local authorities (council) to find out the busking laws where you are and where you plan to play.
- Practice. It’s a gig, at the end of the day! You might not think of it as one, but trust me, it is, and you need to be ready like you would for a gig, the only difference here is that you might play for 4 or 5 hours! Dont forget to make sure you know every song you are going to play inside out.
- Check the weather. Please do this, it’s so easily forgotten, but its especially important if you’re traveling to busk. Check the forecast and see how the weather is supposed to be. Hopefully I dont need to explain the reasons in too much detail, but just imagine yourself watching a gig outdoors in a thunderstorm, except you’re not at a gig, and you haven’t paid to get in, and there’s a nice warm coffee shop over there…
- Don’t forget, it’s earnings. I’m no tax advisor but if you are going to make a lot of money out of it, you’re probably going to have to pay some sort of taxes. Don’t overlook this.
- Go for it. It can be hard to take the plunge and just go out and busk, but once you’re legally covered and have the right permissions, go out and baptise yourself in the world of Busking!
Thanks guys, hope these tips are helpful for your busking, dont forget, there’s loads more information here at busking HQ to help you make the most of your busking.
Busking is not just for street corners and town bandstands, over recent years (the age of the music festival), busking festivals have popped up all around the world, from Barcelona to Gizbourne, London to Chattanooga, busking and street performance festivals are well and truly here, and there’s probably one in your area.
What can you expect at a busking festival? Well, they’re often arranged to represent a charity of some description, so you can expect to see a lot of people representing some good causes! Busking Festivals may be an ‘open mic’ affair, with bandstands and stages, or alternatively they may represent more of a street-carnival feel, with spaces between the buskers and the stereotypical merchandise and food vans you’ll be used to seeing at any good fest. The nature of street performance (and street performers) often makes for a really fun event with a positive atmosphere, suitable for adults and children alike.
Our information here at Busking HQ is mainly aimed at musical buskers, but dont forget that busking can apply to all sorts of performances, and you’ll see a wide array of crowd-pleasers at any of these festivals.
For a musician, playing a busking festival can be a great opportunity to gain new fans, showcase your skills to music industry pros who are scouting for talent, and have a great time playing your music! I’ve listed a load of busking festivals, and their websites, below, so you can check out any which are near you and apply to go and play at them.
World Buskers Festival - http://www.worldbuskersfestival.com/ – Christchurch, NZ
San Diego Busker Festival - http://www.seaportvillage.com/entertainment/busker-festival
Lugano Buskers Festival - http://www.luganobuskers.ch/
Hat Fair Street Performance - http://www.hatfair.co.uk/ - Winchester, UK
Harrogate International Festivals – http://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/ – Harrogate, UK
Busking By the Bay - http://www.weekendnotes.com/busking-by-the-bay/ - Brisbane, AUS
City of London Festival - http://www.colf.org/ - London, UK
Riverbend Festival - http://www.riverbendfestival.com/ – Chattanooga, USA
Street Performance World Championship - http://www.spwc.ie/ – Ireland
Barcelona Buskers Festival - http://www.buskersfestivalbarcelona.org/ – Barcelona
Cairns Buskers Festival - http://www.cairnsbuskersfestival.com/ - Cairns, AUS
The Mayor’s Thames Festival - http://thamesfestival.org/ – London
These are just some examples of some of the biggest and most widely-known busking festivals, but I’m sure you can find a festival that contains some sort of street performance at a town or city near you, I know that my nearest city here in the UK has one, and if yours doesn’t, there’s no reason you shouldn’t start your own by teaming up with a charity and your local council.
If you have any more information about busking festivals around the world, please do leave us a comment below, the same applies for if you would like to share your experiences at street performance or busking festivals, we’d love to hear from you.
Happy Busking, everyone.
A busker’s best friend. His amp. Busking amps are absolutely vital if you want to actually be heard on a busy high street, and let’s face it, nobody wants to busk on a quiet high street! Even if you are using an acoustic instrument, trust me, you should have a busking amplifier for it. This article will firstly recommend WHY and HOW, before suggesting some options for you, whatever your budget happens to be.
As I’ve said above, the main reason you need a busking amp is simply to be heard. It will increase the distance away that somebody can be and still be gripped by your amazing busking skills, and it will make you stand out. Not only this, it gives a far more professional edge to your performance, not just in sound but in your appearance too, having a busking amp can make the difference between someone thinking your a hobbyist or a real musician, and lead to more hands in pockets for donations. That’s the best thing about it, it can pay for itself.
So how does a busking amp work? I don’t have power on the street! That’s why it is called a busking amp, it works by either disposable batteries or a chargeable, internal battery. This is cool in itself, but the best thing about lots of them is that they often have 8 hours of battery life, 15 watts of power (enough) and are even chargeable in a car!
Which one is for me? Here are some great busking amps of all different price ranges and capabilities. Pick one that’s best for you and add a cutting edge to your busking.
Ashton BSK158 – An affordable busking amp with an 8″ speaker pumping 15 Watts out. Two inputs so you can plug in your guitar and a microphone (super professional). This amp has an internal rechargeable battery, and a brilliant three band EQ to tweak your sound. Awesome.
I believe the term is ‘Cheap and cheerful’, but if you’re on a very tight budget this amp is an option, only 5 watts but can still help you out with your busking, and is powered by a 9V battery. Completely portable and perhaps worth a punt at that price.
100 Watts of power, multiple inputs and completely portable! Wowsa. You’ll pay a premium for it, but you can even play small venues with this bad boy, so if you need to crank out your tunes while busking this may well be your option, be careful it’s nothing that can be deemed unsociable though, as authorities will ask you to stop. Maybe resist turning this one up to eleven
A great brand coming in at under £100/$150. Roland amps are great, and this portable amp is great value and useful for both busking and practice.
I’ll be reviewing more busking amplifiers as time goes on, until then, make sure you leave me a comment or drop me a line if you have used any of these amps and agree with my valuation, or have another amp or PA system to recommend.