Advice Clinic

The BIMM Guide to Busking

22nd March 2021

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All the world’s a stage, wrote Shakespeare, and that includes the pavement outside Greggs. Busking is a great way to make quick cash, polish your live chops, top up your suntan, and get spotted by a Sony A&R on his lunch break. Get it wrong, though, and it’s also the fastest way we know to get robbed, ridiculed, and arrested. 

So here at BIMM, we have put together a guide to help you really understand what is Busking?, the definition of Busking, the laws + regulations, and all you need to know about getting a Busking license. How to decide where to busk, how to get along with fellow buskers in the community, earn some money, and most important of all, kickstart your career.

So here goes, here’s how to boss the busking circuit.

#1. Know the law

You have to be at least 14 to busk in Britain, but the small print varies from town-to-town. Occasionally, you can just set up and start playing Lego House, but more often, you’ll need to apply on the GOV website for a Busking License (expect to pay about £20), you’ll also have to remember to check with your local council about any other special restrictions or bylaws in place. Display the permit/license in your case to avoid being interrupted by a jobsworth, but lose the ‘Please Give Generously’ sign: actively asking for money is technically begging and you’ll have the police on your back.

Also in current COVID times, it’s important to make sure you are abiding by lockdown legislation in your area. At the moment, the Government is permitting busking from May 17th, but the musicians union is pushing for earlier reinstatement, making sure you’re keeping up to date on current permissions.

#2. Find the right busking pitch

Before you commit to a busking pitch, go on a reconnaissance mission around town. In an ideal world, you’re looking for a busy stretch with a steady flow of punters, but also some shelter, so you won’t get caught in a downpour and electrocuted. Don’t block access to shops or you’ll get screamed at by the manager of Ann Summers, and beware of indoor shopping arcades, as these are generally off-limits and will wipe out your day’s takings with a fine.

#3. Follow the rules

There’s unspoken etiquette on the busking circuit. When it comes to your fellow minstrels, give them some space and don’t hog the best pitch all day. As for sweetening the public, don’t crank up your amp (the guideline is that music should only be heard within 50 metres) and vary your repertoire to avoid enraging market traders and other captive audiences. If a shopkeeper tells you to move on, do it – arguing will only mark your card as a troublemaker.

#4. Be prepared

Just like any other gig, pack your rucksack obsessively, remembering the usual spares and paying extra attention to batteries if you’re rocking a portable amp. Famously, the British weather is a fickle mistress, so bring a water bottle, raincoat, and suncream – plus a snack and some coins to put in your case to warm up the crowd. Empty your bladder before you leave home and remember your sense of humour: you’ll need it to laugh off the abuse of the assorted thieves, psychos, and skinheads who will be your fanbase for the day.

#5. Promote yourself

Of course, busking can put some shrapnel in your pocket – but don’t miss the bigger picture. This is a great chance to win new fans and raise your profile, so make sure you’re ready to talk shop with local promoters and bring some business cards along with all your social media handles. Just remember that to sell CDs, you’ll need a street trading license.

 

Author

Henry Yates

Henry Yates is a freelance journalist who has written for music magazines including Classic Rock, Total Guitar, Guitarist, NME and Metal Hammer, and brands including V Festival, Download, Epiphone, Yamaha, Roland and Universal. His proudest career moment was meeting Jimmy Page - and his toughest assignment was interviewing Pharrell Williams."