Singers’ Guide to Busking in the UK
Busking in the UK can provide a flexible, exciting platform for musicians to reach new audiences. Done right, busking can be an enjoyable way to make some extra cash while sharing what you love with others around you. In this ‘Singers Guide to Busking in the UK’ we cover some of the best practices and tips for singers looking to start busking in the UK.
How to start busking
#1 Get a busking license
In the UK, it is perfectly legal for anyone over the age of fourteen to busk; but, in some areas, UK buskers are heavily regulated by restrictions and busking laws.
You may require a licence from the local council to perform in particular spaces. So, it’s important to research the system in your area before taking to the streets — or risk the embarrassment of being challenged by an official mid-performance!
Know the rules and check out the local council’s rules for street performers. Some cities have designated ‘busking points’ or you might need a permit/licence. Keep any paperwork handy, in case anyone requests to see it.
#2 Prepare plenty of material
A dash of improvisation will make your performance seem more personal and exciting, but it’s equally important to have a healthy stock of well-rehearsed songs to work through in a busking session.
Nobody enjoys a repetitive set, so make sure you’ve got at least an hour’s worth of material (ideally more) prepared, or consider moving around so you’re not performing a repeat of your set to the same group of people.
#3 Pick a good location
Choosing an ideal spot can be a challenge. A high footfall is advantageous, but also try to find a location where passers-by can see you on approach. Make sure you don’t block entranceways or annoy nearby businesses. Consider a sheltered area in case of unpleasant British weather.
Also, consider security, you’ll want to keep an eye on your equipment and earnings at all times, or it may be swiped by an opportunist thief.
It’s also useful if people can see you from a distance, so they have time to rummage in their pockets for change — they’re more likely to walk by without tipping if they’re caught unawares.
#4 Busk at the right time
You need to consider more than just the amount of footfall when selecting a performance pitch. Take into account the weather: do you need shade or shelter to avoid being soaked or sunburnt?
In the UK, you are likely to make more money busking in the summer months when the kids are off school and the weather is good — people are more generous when the sun is shining as they are more likely to be in a good mood.
Try out different spots until you find which ones work best at different times of the day.
#5 Engage the crowd & entertain
For many new UK buskers, performing in public is a pretty nerve-wracking prospect, but you’ll be more successful (and profitable) if the audience feels like your excited about and enjoying your performance.
When busking, avoid heckling or harassing; but if someone has stopped to watch you, they’ll feel more inclined to tip if you acknowledge their presence — even just by making eye contact or smiling to establish a connection.
#6 Promote yourself
Have a Facebook page? If not, you may want to consider setting one up to reach a broader audience and draw a crowd. Also, consider getting some business cards printed — this is a good way to market yourself to a newfound fan base. Even a handmade sign with a clever or funny caption may draw some interest on the day.
Use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to let people know where you’ll be performing and when. The more people you can encourage to come and see you, the more potential for tips; and, if you can gather a crowd, it’s more likely that a passer-by will be drawn-in to pause and appreciate your performance.
While social media helps you to connect to those you would not have otherwise had access to, aim to build an email mailing list of loyal supporters. Unlike social media, email is more likely to reach the right people every time — but make sure you have permission in advance.
#7 Mix up your set
Nobody wants to hear the same three songs on repeat, no matter how good you are. The main point of a live performance is to make it your own and have fun with your audience, so try out some new material or original songs.
Busking (from the Spanish, buscar, meaning to ‘look for’ or ‘seek’) is a time-honoured and well-respected art form in Britain. Many of the world’s most famous singers started out performing on the street. Ed Sheeran famously busked around London before he got his big break.
#8 Be mindful of your peers
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t set up camp right next to a fellow busker, but also consider how long you spend in a location. Aim for quality over quantity and don’t hog a particularly lucrative spot for more than a couple of hours. Street artists are a gracious community in general, so make friends and you might pick up a few additional tips.
#9 Prepare for the outdoors
You could be out there for a few hours, so bring a bottle of water and a sandwich; if it’s sunny you may want to bring sunscreen. It’s wise to keep your leads and equipment organised in advance, you don’t want to arrive on the day and realise you’ve missed something. Also, bring a secure bag to store your earnings.
#10 Don’t actively ask for money
Your audience shows their appreciation by dropping a few coins in a hat or case, and this is allowed in most towns and cities — providing you’re not blatantly begging for cash. This applies to the sale of CDs as well.
#11 Set up busking money
While you should avoid directly asking for money, many buskers ‘salt’ their tip hats or cases in advance, so passers-by know what to do. As the set progresses, you can funnel some of the cash into your bag. You should look like a popular performer, but one who could still do with some additional coin.
#12 Keep the volume in check
Be mindful of your surroundings. While most people are pro-busker, you don’t want to make enemies of local shopkeepers or residents. There’s a code of conduct here, so keep the sound at a reasonable level if you don’t want to deal with complaints.
#13 Enjoy yourself
Passers-by will likely feel more positive about your set if you look to be enjoying yourself. Busking can be a fantastic way to connect with people and put a smile on a stranger’s face. So, relax, loosen up, engage with your audience and have fun!
Due to area-specific regulations across the UK, you may be asked to:
Carry and display a licence in order to busk
Your local council should provide specific information about their procedure online, or be able to direct you over the telephone.
Limit the amount of noise produced
For example, some councils stipulate that buskers should not be heard from more than fifty meters away, or prohibit the use of amplifying equipment. Shops will also start to complain if the volume is too loud and they experience an impact on their custom.
Avoid blocking access to pedestrian pathways, open spaces and shop-fronts
Even if your local area doesn’t have specific regulations on where you can busk, it’s common courtesy, and in your interests, not to irritate the public. So, make sure you’re considerate about how you position yourself on the street.
Refrain from actively asking for payment
It’s widely understood that buskers perform in the hope of receiving tips, but displaying a sign, asking for money, technically violates regulations; you may be accused of begging and penalised for doing so.
It’s better practice to ‘salt’ (leave some money) in the space you wish people to leave tips, so passers-by understand that you’re entertaining them with the clear intention to earn money.
Avoid selling merchandise on the streets
Though you may be tempted to sell CDs or your branded merchandise while performing, the laws surrounding street-trade are totally separate to busking regulation.
You require a separate street-trading licence to peddle goods in public spaces. These licences should be available through your local council, although you may need to pay a small fee as part of the application.
Have fun busking!
Busking is a great way to gain exposure and earn some money at the same time. Be sure to follow council regulations, be courteous to other performers and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!
Are you an experienced UK busker? We would love to hear from you. Please leave your tips/advice for new buskers in the comments below.