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Jul 09

Busking: Taking It to the Streets

Photo by Lake Effects Photography

Maybe you’re getting tired of practicing. I mean, come on, it’s summer—everyone is taking trips to the beach, chasing after the sound of “The Entertainer” playing from the ice cream truck, and riding bikes in the sunshine. What could possibly be so appealing about confining yourself in a small, hot, stuffy room to play scales? Of course, all work and no play made Jack a dull boy. But could there be a way to practice and get your summer kicks?

Yes, there is. And it’s called busking.

 

What is Busking?
You know what it is, even if you haven’t heard the word. Busking is street performing; a busker is a street performer. From mimes to caricature artists to violinists, you’re likely to see some great live acts, especially in urban and major metropolitan areas. Visit New York or Paris and street performers are major cultural contributors to each city’s aesthetic.

Where do you busk?
Buskers are commonly found in populous, high-traffic areas—naturally, because why would a performer want to play without an audience? Common places to find street performers are at outdoor markets, subway stops, parks, fairs, and the like.

How do you do it?

  • Know where you’re welcome; sometimes street performers aren’t allowed in certain settings, so do a little research.
  • Play it safe. Especially if you’re a younger student or taking your child’s middle school jazz combo or quartet out on the town, pick a safe location and bring a friend or parental supervision. And kids, dress cute because people will LOVE you. And don’t forget your sunscreen.
  • Have some music to play. Playing memorized pieces or songs is easiest in the sense that you don’t have to worry about carrying a stand and your music blowing away in the wind. If you do bring music, be sure to have clothespins to keep your music from making its escape.
  • Set out your case and CDs if you have your own album for sale. Scatter a few of your own bills in your case to encourage people to add to it. Depending on your location (and you’re competition), you could make anywhere from $5.00-$100/hour. Not bad for an hour of practice, right?
  • Rinse, wash, and repeat. One great advantage to busking is that you don’t need a lot of music; you can have a fairly short set to repeat over and over again as people pass by. You’ll rarely see someone to stop and stand there for more than five minutes watching you perform, so you won’t sound like a broken record. This can be a great opportunity to play all three movements of a concerto over and over for a live audience in preparation for a formal performance.
  • And remember, don’t take it too seriously. The great thing about busking is that people aren’t paying too much attention to you, so you don’t have to sweat your mistakes or memory lapses as you perform. In this sense, street performing is a great “halfway point” somewhere between practicing and performing. Essentially, you’re practicing the act of performance in a really casual, no-pressure setting. Relax and have fun!

So if you’re sick of the practice room, take it to the streets! If you’ve never tried it, it can be a thrilling and memorable experience that connects you to your community in a fresh way. I mean, even Joshua Bell has done it. So it can’t be that hard, right?

6 comments

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  1. Caravel

    I don’t totally agree… People are paying attention and they will notice if you make mistakes. Now there are two ways to consider it I think: you go out in a wild park and practice in an isolated part and if you’re good, people will be drawn to you. If the aim is to sell CDs and to make money then you have to be really good and search for a busy spot and need to be prepared 🙂

    That’s what I found out while Busking in Australia…

  2. Megan

    Hello!

    I would like to hire a “busker” for my CO mountain wedding. I love the sound of street musicians and would love advice on finding a CO busker for hire.

    If you have any advice I would greatly appreciate it!

    1. Liz Lambson

      Finding a musician who solely markets him/herself as a busker might be a challenge. I’d recommend seeking out musicians in the local area in the genre of music that you want at your wedding, and then ask if the musician(s) are comfortable performing outdoors. One of the few differences between a stage performer and a busker is simply the location of their performance: auditorium or street corner? I hope you find a musician or ensemble perfect for the occasion!

    2. Lucy

      If you’re hiring someone to perform at your wedding, you need to pay them a fee. You don’t hire a busker. That’s just hiring a musician and expecting your guests to pay him for you. Playing music at a wedding is a professional service. Pay your professional musician or don’t have live music. Don’t ask artists to work for “tips” so you can get out of paying them. Unless you’re willing to do your job on a “pass the hat” basis, don’t ask me to.

  3. Jeff

    What do you know about the busking laws in COS? I’m living here at the moment, and can’t find any information on laws or permits.

    Thanks,
    -Jeff

    1. Rachel Davis

      I am happy to answer your question, I apologize for not knowing, but what does “COS” stand for?

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