How to Effectively Dominate and Achieve Success while Busking

The top tips you need to be successful at busking!

A busker sits in front of a colorful wall playing their guitar.

Busking is defined as the activity of playing music in the streets or another public place for voluntary donations. This means that busking is not a reliable source of income, as it completely relies on the actions of others. That being said, it can be a great form of self expression, and if you do make money from it, it can be validating and exciting. Busking is also a great way to get social interaction, practice your skill, and spend time in the great outdoors. It is a great side hustle for people looking to make a little extra cash while doing what they love. Here are the best tips to increase your success in busking! 

Choosing your look to be unique can help you stand out as a busker. 

Be Different

How many buskers playing acoustic guitar have you walked past in your lifetime? The number is probably a lot higher than you’d think. This does not mean you should drop your acoustic guitar in favor of something else, it just means you should think about what unique attributes you want to put on display when you hit the streets. Putting your focus on your look before busking can help you stand out when you actually go to perform. 

Think about what kind of outfits and appearances would grab your attention if you were walking down the street, and gravitate towards those. This might mean selecting outfits that feature bright colors, or maybe fun patterns. Whatever stands out to you, make that your look. Remember that you are looking to engage with and impress people, so try to stay away from outfits or clothing with offensive language, unless of course that is the statement that you want to make. And do not forget to prioritize comfort, as you will be standing outside for hours in your outfits. 

Observing who and what goes on at the area that you would like to busk in can help you tailor yourself for increased success. 

Do Your Research

Knowing the demographic of potential listeners can be incredibly helpful in earning attention and tips from busking. Spend some time on the street corners you would like to play at, and observe who walks by. How old are they? Are they alone? Couples? Families? Study your surroundings and use that experience to decide what types of songs you are going to play. If there are a lot of kids in the area, it could be to your advantage to learn and play children’s music to attract the attention of kids who will pull their parents, and subsequently, their parent’s wallets, along with them.

If there are a lot of elderly people, playing songs that were popular when they were younger may help you grab their attention. Lots of couples? Cue up a setlist of love songs. No matter what, it will be to your advantage to master a repertoire of songs and genres so that you can mold your performance to fit the people you are encountering. 

Creating signs and business cards to distinguish yourself and have at the ready for passerby can help you continue earning success even after you go home. 

Market Yourself 

In the age of social media, it is incredibly important to market yourself. Create signs that clearly state your name, allowing passersby who do not have time to stop in the moment an opportunity to still observe your work and connect with you. Display any social media links you have that you would like to see more foot traffic on, whether it’s your Instagram, Linkedin, or Spotify account. 

Make business cards with all of your information and keep them at the ready. Think about placing them by whatever you are using to collect tips so people can grab them with ease. Also think about how you can appeal to your public audience with signage. Some artist’s display things like “pay what you think it’s worth” on display to not put too much pressure on potential new fans. Approaching busking as a long game with delayed gratification rather than expecting large amounts of payout right off the bat can be helpful in keeping up motivation and morale.

 There will be hours or days where you see no profit, but by providing signage and business cards, you’re giving yourself the chance to build a real base of supporters who may provide you with income in the future. There are tons of success stories of musicians and performers who started as buskers. You could be one of them. 

Talking to your supporters and expressing gratitude for their tips can help you build a loyal base. 

Smile and Express Gratitude 

No matter what size tip you receive, whether it is $20 or ten cents, thank the tipper profusely. Smile as they are approaching you to nonverbally show your gratitude and encourage them in their decision to support you. Maintaining eye contact with the tipper will also show them that you acknowledge them and their generous donation. 

People are inherently social, and they will feed off of each other. This means that as soon as you get one donation, it is likely that other people will follow suit. Your chances of getting multiple tips increases if people see you being kind and gracious to others giving donations, taking time out of your day to connect with them and make them feel good. This will encourage them and even potentially make them want to connect with you. This is the most important with kids. If people see you being generous and grateful and enthusiastic towards kids, they will become even more likely to want to support you. The opposite is true as well. If you are rude or unenthusiastic towards tippers, especially children, you will drive away support. A simple smile and “thank you” goes a long way. 

Making sure your volume is just right, not abrasively loud or undetectably quiet, will earn you fans and favor. 

Make sure you’re being heard… but don’t be too loud! 

You want to master the impossible: be loud enough to catch people’s attention and pull them out of their personal lives, but not so loud that you are becoming a source of annoyance or abrasion. You want to be heard over the inevitable street noise, but you don't want to burst potential donors' eardrums. You also want to come off as assertive. You are not just playing to play, you are playing to market yourself and build an audience. Mastering the right sound and volume will make you stand out as a real performer. Being too loud and obnoxious could ruin the image you’re trying so hard to create. Find that balance, and prioritize it. 

Be yourself. Play off your natural energy. People will be drawn to you if you’re not putting on an act, but performing from the heart. 

Be Yourself 

Busking is all about getting to do something you love for the world. Do not try to change yourself in any way before you perform. People will be able to tell if you are not giving your most authentic self, and they will be less inclined to support you or enjoy your show. People want to support an artist who is unique, who has fun doing what they love, who is real and relatable and easy to look up to. 

It’s such a cliche, but there is only one you. Being someone else will not earn you fans in the long run. You’ll also have way more fun if you’re not putting on an act, and fun is one of the only things you have control over as a busker. You can’t control who walks by, you can’t control who feels generous, you can’t control who will like your sound. But you can control your experience and make doing what you love fun. Besides, if people see you having a blast by yourself, that energy will be infectious and they’ll want to join in on the good vibes. 

Remember that busking is all about putting yourself out there. You are building an image and brand for yourself through whatever form of self expression you feel passionate about, whether it’s drums or singing or the guitar or a keyboard or a combination of all four. You are giving yourself the chance to make positive connections that have the potential to benefit you in the long run. You are also setting yourself up to become a role model or someone that people can turn to. 

Performing in public takes a ton of courage, and you will be gaining respect even if that is all you take home for the day. Busking can be an incredible way to spend your time, earn some cash, meet people who could change your life, and practice your craft. Besides, everyone loves a good street show. Music is infectious.

Macie Gelb

Macie Gelb is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh studying english writing, gender studies, and legal studies.
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