For many performers who want to build a career, busking provides a way to go out and get started without having to get approval from anyone else. Musicians like Simon and Garfunkel and circus acts like Cirque du Soleil got their start by busking. It works for just about any type of performer who can plan a version of his or her act that can be performed on the street. There have been many famous performers with multiple talents who have successfully busked.
Busking requires skill. You don't need to be a world-famous musician, but to be licensed to busk in places like the London Underground you will have to audition and show that you're capable of performing an entertaining set. You may be out on the street and asking for money, but you aren't begging or panhandling. You're a performer.
1. Establish your income stream
Buskers earn money from their performances in two ways. The first is by collecting tips or "passing the hat." The second is by selling merchandise like CDs. It's not uncommon for two people to form a business partnership and work together or for a group of performers to have an additional person helping to collect tips and sell merchandise. In order to effectively perform, it's useful to not have to worry about something happening to the money. There are plenty of buskers who can at least match what they might earn from their skills elsewhere. A good busker may be able to earn more than other available job positions. At the same time, it's important to remember that performing for tips has more than its fair share of uncertainties. You can earn nothing for an hour's performance, or you can earn more than $30 per hour sometimes.
2. Know the Rules
It's crucial that you learn the laws for the areas where you plan to busk. There are multiple layers of rules you need to think about. Some cities allow unlicensed busking, while others require licenses. Events, shopping developments and transportation systems can all have laws of their own. Research any place you think would be a good place to perform before you ever start playing. Make sure you get the appropriate licenses, even if the process is a lengthy one. You may need to ace an interview or audition or pay a fee to have your license application approved. If you're planning on performing on private property, it's a good idea to get permission ahead of time and follow all of the rules. If you run into problems, like being asked to move along, pack up and go immediately.
3. Tweak Your Strategy
In order to increase your earnings, keep track of the details of each time you perform. Different places may have more generous audiences, or different types of performances may do better. Keep track of that information so that you can tweak your act and improve it. You'll also want to look for ways to amp up your connections with your audience. If you can add some audience participation to your act or otherwise connect with them, you can increase your tips dramatically.
The Bottom Line
Busking can quickly become a way of life. Even if you start busking just as a way to move your career forward, you will find that there is a whole culture that goes along with busking and many potentially great benefits. You can use it to travel the world, land bigger gigs and make a name for yourself. There are even busking competitions so that you can see how you stack up against other street performers. Busking can be a big opportunity for any performer just starting out.