The day was cooler than normal and there was an arts event downtown producing foot traffic, so I decided to go a busking. For those unacquainted with the term, busking is street performing. Singers, find a spot, open the case, take out the guitar and sing for tips.
There is an entertainment district with mapped out locations for buskers and times of the week when this is allowed. Before these districts were established busking was considered pandering and a performer could pay a fine or be arrested, To boost foot traffic for the sake of businesses such as restaurants, busking was legitimized. It is Free Entertainment for the businesses who used to pay performers. Oh boy, but ok. Couldn't be simpler.
1. Location Location Location. Where you setup makes a difference. There are sweet spots and of course, if you need a PA (and you do), you have to plug the electron hose in. The best spots are near the restaurants where there is a seated crowd. The next best are the spots away from the entrances. The why is people entering or leaving are focused on getting somewhere and they usually do not pause. So even though you will be seen, tips are thin. Caveat vendor,
2, May Be Hazardous. If it was all foot traffic, it would be ok but these are streets with cars driving along them slowly. You are singing and inhaling a not inconsiderable amount of car emissions. It won't take long for your throat and lungs to notice. So just as rooms are eliminating cigarette smoke, the cars are there to put the carbon dioxide back.
3. Trolls. The "I Have Taste and I Matter" folk are everywhere and like web trolls, they are there to tell you about that. Smile and nod. Or ask them if you can come to their job and tell them how to do it. Your choice.
4. Crazies. They can get quite physically close and you don't have the slight advantage of a club manager or bouncer, This is an open carry environment meaning they have had time to down a few brews and if combined with other substances, they can be very dangerous. Ninety nine percent of the passerbyes are fine folk but there will always be at least one wasted I Just Got Out Of Prison wacko wandering in. Stay cool, nod, don't engage, You can be hurt and very fast. This is the one undeniable risk.
5. Material. Some of us are screamers, some of us are whisperers and some are a mix. You are outside and unless you have a PA, the traffic both auto and human will drown you out. Choose wisely. Some acts are not suitable for the street and no one is that interested because they can walk a half block and listen to another act,
Understand the environment and prepare and busking is great fun. You can try out new material without wounding the business of a club owner, you can meet people, you can do what you love to do. Unless you pick the event the money won't be that good but if you pay for gas and a meal, you've helped yourself better than practicing alone. You can check out your brother and sister performers (aka, competitors), see what is working for them, maybe make a few contacts. Is it begging? Sort of but that's ok. Name a job of any kind these days that isn't. Remember if you sell merc you are not busking. You are a street vendor and you will need a license for that.
Entertainment opportunities change with economies. I've seen times when singer songwriters could fill stadiums and times when they have to give it away, These times are more like the latter but these are opportunities to play if the money isn't the main objective. And remember this isn't just about the solo artists, it is also the problem for the B-list and former A-list bands who are having to play strip malls. So no matter how good you think it is for others, everyone is scrambling. It gets competitive and you have to smile, play more and get by with less. Adapt, innovate and keep at it.