Busker Tips and Etiquette for buskers, friends and audience

by: Dave Harris
– Victoria, BC, Canada

Smile! It’s amazing what a difference this makes. Part of the role of being a busker is bringing some joy to the grey world of the street.

Meet people’s eye! It helps if you connect with your audience. It makes people feel included. If you’re shy it can be overcome! I know because I am!

Say “Thank you” when people tip you. Common sense really but many don’t. People appreciate the acknowledgement. Many have told me they get a kick out of me saying it after every tip, in the middle of lines, harp solos, whatever. I may be extreme but it does work.

Don’t advertise your busking income! It is nobody else’s business. If someone has the temerity to ask (someone will!), just turn it around on them and ask what they make. Country Dave said he then said, “Well, you make way more than me!” But seriously, it is best to keep that personal info personal.

I put papers in my cases. These are useful for more than one reason. When it rains you can turn them over so as not to put your instrument on a wet case. They also can be flipped if you think there’s too much money in the case.

An umbrella is a valuable thing to carry – for rain obviously but also for shade and maybe most importantly to keep bird droppings off of you!

Case signs do get read and can slow people down, which can help in getting tipped. I post a sign saying “Photos and videos by donation.” It does work sometimes. Gigs can be posted too or online sites, CD info etc.

Fold down the latches on your cases when they’re used for busking. People can catch a pant leg and trip or spill the case.

Put your case in front of you or prominently displayed. Obviously you don’t want people tripping on it so not too far in front, but you want to make it easy and comfortable for people to get to it.

Always be aware of where you’re setting up; not too close to other buskers. Rule of thumb: One busker per block. It amazes me how, as time goes by, this rule seems to be more and more ignored.

Location is very important! Find a place that feels good and suits what you do.

Try to put your back to a wall, it reflects sound forward. Alcoves are great too.

Don’t leave garbage for others to clean up. Put your butts, coffee cups etc in the garbage. Just common courtesy really.

Don’t swear or spit where you work (not to mention drinking or drugging). It just gives us all a bad name. Again, common sense, but you’d be surprised!

Try not to be jealous of other buskers; what works for them won’t necessarily work for you. We’re all different; embrace that!

A large diverse repertoire can be helpful. Appeal to as wide a spectrum as you can. This isn’t for everyone but it does help from a financial standpoint.

Volume is helpful too. If people hear you before they get to you they’re more inclined to stop. If you’re quiet, find a quiet spot.

Respect your elders or those who were there before you. Nothing worse than a “newbie” trying to call the shots. Take the time to learn how things work in a new city or place.

Written by Dave Harris
Victoria, BC, Canada

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