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.
#1 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.
#2 Choose a good busking pitch
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?
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.
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.
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.
Try out different spots until you find which ones work best at different times of the day.
#3 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.
#4 Be courteous of other performers
Each UK region will have a limited number of decent busking spots that must be shared between all the local street performers, so if you want to stay on friendly terms with your fellow musicians, don’t loiter in a choice spot for an unreasonable amount of time — especially if there are a lot of other buskers around.
Equally, performing too close to another musician can cause passers-by to become overwhelmed and you are less likely to receive tips — your sounds will simply clash. Aim to keep a distance of at least fifty meters.
If you are busking in a new spot or intend to start busking, take the time to talk to some other musicians, it’s always beneficial to network!
While busking, you are likely to encounter many different types of people and all sorts of distractions, but this will teach you to focus on your music in any situation. There is no better training for live performances.
#5 Promote yourself in advance
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.
Caution: Shameless plug ahead! Continue reading below.
#6 Follow the UK Busking Laws
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 by-laws. In this post we cover the best-practices for busking in the UK:
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!
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.
Above all, have fun!
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.