Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Guide to Busking

Over the Christmas Season, I managed to raise almost £500 from busking. 

For fellow/future fundraisers: I think the most important thing I learnt from this is that it pays to focus on what you are good at. Of course not everybody is a musician! But everybody does have particular skills and talents, and when it comes to fundraising, it's worth personalising the way you do it, focussing on your strengths will earn you more than trying to do too many things or events that don't suit you.

If you are a musician and are thinking of giving busking a shot, read on...

Playing music out in the streets seemed like quite a scary prospect at first, would I be good enough? Will anybody think to give me money or will they be more likely to throw rotten fruit at me? Will I get arrested?

The first note is certainly the hardest, my saxophone felt terribly loud and piercing when it first cut into the peaceful hubbub of Perth City centre on a Saturday afternoon. But it was not long at all before I settled into my music and began to enjoy the sound of my instrument reverberating along the street and became part of the atmosphere, rather than an intruder.

Patience is important.

The first note comes a long time before the first penny in my experience. If you take a look around at the people on the street at the moment that you begin playing, you can be pretty sure that none of them will give you money. You need to wait until your sound has fully blended in to the mood of the street, until you have truly become a part of the scene rather than just the person who's suddenly started playing an instrument. People who have walked in from a distance and gradually noticed your music getting louder and louder will be the first to give money. So don't panic that you've played two songs and not earned anything yet- stick at it as consistently as you can.

Pick your spot carefully.

It can be tempting to go straight for the busiest place in town. However, I found that there isn't a direct correlation between how busy a street is and how much money you make there, and there are lots of other factors to consider:

1. Busier streets can be noisier- and you need your sound to project far enough for people to notice you from a distance.

2. You certainly don't want to compete with traffic noise, so aim for pedestrian areas well away from main roads.

3. Before you start, survey the area and note where any other buskers are located. You need to keep a good distance away in order to find new business.

4. Be aware of the shops and businesses around where you play. These will affect your audience, and bear in mind that your ideal audience tends to be young children with their parents and older people.

5. Without getting in the way of anybody, you need to be visually prominent and easily reachable so people notice you and can give you money without going out of their way.

6. If you are busking in a city, do a little research to check if there are any regulations or permits required.

People pay to be entertained, not for musical ability.

Another mistake would be to believe that the amount you make is dependant on how good you are and how technically accurately you play your music. It is far more important that you create a pleasant mood, impress people, or play tunes that they recognise. Choose easy music that you know well so you can communicate with your audience whilst you play.

My biggest successes were close to Christmas time, when I played carols and well known seasonal songs, but improvised variations on them to make the melodies more interesting. The combination here of recognisable tunes, a cheery atmosphere and a bit of showing off seemed to work very well.

The visual show you put on is also important.

Dress smartly or unusually, and let people know why you are doing what you're doing. Wherever I went busking I took with my some cardboard signs that said Project Trust, and Thank You! on them, as well as a few of my fundraising leaflets, to catch people's eyes and let them know that I was raising money for charity and for a specific purpose. When I was busking on a beautiful white grand piano by a fountain in a cafe in England, I proudly wore my formal kilt outfit. I regret not getting a picture of this!

A few busking experiences...

On my first day I was told to move on by an angry man: "My baby is trying to sleep!"

One afternoon getting a series of comments along the line of "You're trying your best" and "You've made the effort"... should I take those as compliments?

Earning myself 10 Australian Cents, some Indonesian money and we think Croatian money.

Being interrupted by a man who wished to tell me that his father is called Harry Potter, and request the Skye Boat Song which I had to figure out the notes for on the spot.

Meeting a lovely guy from Norway and a German girl who bought me a Coffee.

Playing for 20 seconds until I was informed that I wasn't allowed to on the shopping centre's patch of pavement... Dragging everything across to the other side of the street, to play there for 20 seconds before a group of people dressed in medieval clothes piped up their crumhorns 10 yards up the road!

Agreeing with the apologetic security guard of Marks and Spencer that it was okay for me to busk outside the store as long as I didn't touch their marble.

I hope this was helpful for musically minded fundraisers or interesting to read anyway, let me know if you have any further questions.

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