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. 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 to the local borough council for a permit (expect to pay about £20) and maybe even audition to prove you’re not planning to burp Aqua’s Barbie Girl. Display the permit 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.
#2. Find the right busking pitch
Before you commit to a 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 licence.