Words by Annie-Mei Forster.
Buskers can be memorable for several reasons, although sometimes not for the right ones, and many musicians have got their big break busking. You hear stories of the head honcho of a record company walking past a no-name and signing them to a deal. It’s not a myth. International artists like Ed Sheeran and Tracy Chapman started their careers busking on the street. Locally, Tones and I is the latest Australian artist to make it big after busking from Melbourne to Byron Bay.
Saskwatch is another band given a regular spot at Cherry Bar when they were discovered busking outside Flinders Street Station. The thought of busking can be daunting. What if no one wants to listen to you? What if you only make $5 for the whole day? All these thoughts may go through your mind, and they can happen, but the key to achieving anything is perseverance. Here are some handy tips if you want to try busking but haven’t yet given it a go.
Although not a musician, one of the most memorable Melbourne buskers is the guy that wears a fluoro-green Lycra suit, and the head inflates and looks like a huge balloon. It’s a gimmick, but no one ever forgets him and the number of people with their phones out snapping away can attest to that.
Now, we’re not telling you to put on a Lycra suit (unless you’re already doing that!) but consider how your favourite music acts draw your attention when they perform onstage. Although you’re at street level, you can still attract people’s eyes as they pass. Think about Monte Morgan’s (from Client Liaison) mid-set outfit changes or Bluejuice’s eye-catching matching gear.
If you’re a solo artist, you can be just as effective. Write down a list of strengths that you have as an artist. If it’s your powerful voice, invest in a quality microphone and sound gear, so you compel people to stop and listen. If you’re a classically-trained pianist and know your way around the keys, then use it to your advantage – you didn’t take all those piano lessons for nothing. Instead of performing a thirty-second solo, play a minute so you can display your skills.
Not only does performing get you attention, but people might give you some sweet, sweet cash.
Not everyone is born to stand on a street corner belting out a tune and feel entirely at ease, so don’t worry. To begin with, organise a music night at home and play in front of your family. Hopefully, they’ll be a lot kinder than the general public. With every opportunity you take to perform, your confidence will grow. Think of all the Eisteddfods and choir performances you took part in at school.
Take any opportunities that are available to you, such as scouring pubs and music venues looking for people to perform. Also, hop on Muso to find gig opportunities and ask people to record you while you play. No one enjoys watching themselves on camera (or maybe you do), but it helps build your stage presence.
No one’s going to promote you better than yourself, so use busking as a chance to get your name out there. If you’ve ever walked down Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne, you’ll notice most buskers have CDs on display; usually inside their guitar case which doubles as a place to deposit coins.
If you haven’t recorded a CD, then think of more creative ways to promote yourself. Here are a few ideas:
- Draw the Instagram logo, with your account name, on the ground in chalk so people can follow you.
- Have a QR code for people to scan. They can download your track for free.
- Make sure you advertise if you’re on Spotify or iTunes so that people can listen to your music.
There’s plenty of other ideas, so get creative!
Know the laws of the area you want to busk
Before you even think of stepping out to busk, check what the laws are in your state or territory because you might need a permit. You don’t want to cop a fine before you even start your career, so check the laws in your area as local councils may have their own rules.
For example, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) you don’t need a permit to busk, and unless you’re blocking passers-by, you’re not doing anything wrong. However, in Melbourne, you require a licence and to play as a duo or band; all members must apply for a separate one. In Brisbane, it’s a different story, as you are not allowed to busk with a mic or use an amp. You can’t even use fire (but hopefully that won’t affect you too much!)
Hopefully, these tips help when the time comes for you to brave the streets. Don’t be disheartened if your first few attempts at busking don’t work out well, as persistence is vital, and everything becomes easier with practice. You might be pleasantly surprised at the number of people who stop to listen, and the amount of money you make doesn’t necessarily determine your ability.