You may feel at home on stage, but busking can be intimidating even for seasoned performers. So what makes a good act, and how can you maximise the cash you get? Becky Brewis asks three very different performers – a singer, a human statue and an interactive theatre-maker – for their busking tips...
Busking may be fun and informal, but you never know who might be watching. Singer-songwriter Kristyna Myles won BBC Radio 5 Live's Busk Idol competition in 2005. Since then she has been nominated for a MOBO Award and signed a deal with Decca. She gives her advice: “It sounds silly but make sure you have all the right equipment with you. My guitarist and I take a caravan battery and an inverter, which we connect the amp to. It's important to have your battery charged and all the bits and pieces you need to perform with.” Remember to maximise the exposure you are getting too: “If you have any CDs that you own the copyright to then take them with you to sell. Make some leaflets or business cards and put them by the guitar case.”
Be there at the right time...
Entrepreneurial Sorin Ionescu, who developed his “Windy Man” human statue act in London's tourist districts, thinks that 4pm to 7pm is usually the best time for busking. But he points out that weather is an important factor: “When it’s too sunny outside you won’t have people, because everybody is in the parks or [away] in Brighton. The best weather – and London is very good at this – is when it is cloudy outside.”
Choose your spot well. “Mostly, the busiest places possible are best: corners or junctions or at the exits of shops or supermarkets but not right in front of them,” Sorin says. Keeping relations good with local businesses is pretty important if you are looking to make busking a regular stint, and Kristyna adds: “Find a good volume level on your amp so you're not annoying any shops with being too loud as they can legally tell you to go away.”
In her experience, Manchester is a busking-friendly city: “Market Street and St Ann's Square are fantastic places to busk. I would bear in mind other buskers so you're far enough away from them so you're not competing with their sound and you're respecting each other's space.”
In general, the rules on busking are a matter of common sense: don't be too loud, and don't do it on private property. Especially in London though, you may have to get a license if you want to busk in certain places. It is worth remembering that busking is not permitted in Oxford Circus, and that while it is possible to get a licence in Covent Garden there are a lot of people after the same few spots. A better plan, rather than travelling to the centre, may be to find a good spot closer to home. Check the rules with your local authority.
Keep it loose
At times this might mean swallowing a little pride. IdeasTap member Marion Deprez, a Brighton-based performance artist, explains: “You have to accept that there is a lot to be said for making a show that will give you some kind of income. It is good to have different versions when you are doing street theatre, as people are more likely to give money for something more traditional that for something one-to-one and really weird.”
If your act has any kind of plot, it is important to draw an audience, especially if you are using busking as a chance to try out new ideas. Marion does this by keeping her act flexible, lengthening the build up and only moving to the climax when she feels she has gathered a large enough audience: “You might have people stopping for 10 minutes but unless they’ve seen the whole loop then they will miss the essence of the show.”
Never ask for money
Sorin: “Even if people ask you, 'how much for a photo?' never say a price, just say 'whatever you want'. You don’t have to ask for money. And sometimes you don’t know where the money is going to come from. Sometimes when you are on a break a guy will come up who you haven’t even seen and give you a £20 note, and what you don’t know is that he's been watching you for half an hour from a cafe window.” So it's worth sticking around on your breaks.
Visit the National Association of Street Artists for some useful links for buskers.
Kristyna is currently busking for Centrepoint.
Image: Kristyna Myles performing with guitarist Ben Williams. Credit: Harriet Armstrong