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Busking 101

Busking is the practice of performing in public spaces for donations. It can be a fun, rewarding experience, and a way to make a few extra meals’ worth of money as a young musician. Busking is also a great way to hone performance skills and put yourself out there; if you choose the right places, you can count on a constant stream of potential audience members. We’ve compiled some tips on busking to make sure your public debut isn’t a flop.

Check your local regulations

First off, it’s important to make sure busking in your area is not illegal. There have been a good deal of legal cases about busking, and they’ve mostly ruled in favor of busking (and therefore, free speech). Just be aware that regulations might bar you from making a racket at night, and you should always ere toward the side of no amplification. I couldn’t find Orange County specific regulations about busking, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Don’t consider this post legal advice of any kind.

Choose a Setting (provided it’s legal and all that)

Phew! Now that the legal stuff is over with, we can focus on the fun part. You should choose a time and a place to busk, based on several factors. The best setting is one where there are a lot of relaxed people.

Why a lot?

The more people there are around, the more likely you’ll capture someone’s attention (and make a buck or two).

Why relaxed people?

You might find a lot of people at the DMV during rush hour, but that doesn’t mean they want a show. It’s best to find a setting in which people are seeking entertainment.
Consider parks, boardwalks, and main strips as your ideal stages—anywhere people would go to hold hands and take a stroll.

*A note on safety: please, please, please remember to be safe when you’re performing. If you’re not a legal adult, ask your parent if you can busk, or request supervision if necessary.

Choose Your Songs

Make a list of all the songs you currently know. Hopefully, you have a nice-looking, diverse repertoire of songs to sing or play. If you don’t, consider postponing busking for a few weeks, and make it a project to learn some more songs. Even if you’re more of a fringe artist type, always keep your audience in mind. If you want to fill your hat with change, play something that will please a crowd.

Get Creative

It’s okay to have a gimmick. Remember, it’s ‘low art.’ You’re a street performer, after all. songs interpreted in new and interesting ways, One man bands, and paint bucket drummers all fly, when you’re out in the crowd. If you want, put on a costume—hey, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Put a few dollars in the hat

Finally, a financial note: if you want to make dollars, start with some dollars in your jar (hat? Whatever). There’s something called social proof—If a person sees that other people approve of your music, and want to give you money, they’ll be more likely to give you money. A good amount is $3-5 dollars, which is enough to show people you’re attracting attention, but not enough that they’ll think you’re well-off without them.

Happy Busking!

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