Many of us want to make some cash while we are travelling the world. After all, it is what keeps us travelling. One way to make some cash is to do some busking or street performing. In my opinion, if you have looked at a busker and thought, ‘I can do that’, then you are probably right! So if you have quit your job to work and travel abroad and are wondering how you will make some cash, consider what skills you have and busk. Read on and find out how Busking can help you travel the World.
First published in June 2017, updated September 2019 and February 2022.
What is Busking or Street Performing
Wikipedia states ‘Street performance or busking is the act of performing in public places for gratuities. In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink, cigarettes or gifts may be given’.
Busking has been around for a long time and has different names in different countries. You may have heard of troubadour (French), chindon’ya (Japanese), skomorokh (Russian) and artist di Strada (artist of the street in Italian). So it is not just a new thing! You could even include a jester (English) here. They were summoned to entertain the Kings and Queens of England.
What You Can Do As A Busker
Street Performers, or Buskers as I prefer to call them come in many forms.
- Musicians – drummers, guitarist, flute, pots/pans/bucket drum kit.
- Living statues
- Acrobatics – head and handstands
- Balloon twisters
- Doing caricatures
- Reciting prose
- Drawing street art
- Sword swallowing
- Flea circus
- Martial arts
- Dressing up and engaging crowds
- Soccerball juggling tricks
- Comedy duo
Who Can Be a Busker
Anyone can be a busker as long as you have a skill you are happy to showcase. You can be of any age. Be male, female or other and work with others or alone.
Why Busk or Street Perform
Well, why not? It doesn’t matter what you do to make extra cash to keep travelling the world. But more importantly, it makes people happy. It brings a little joy to those watching and enjoying the entertainment and you can see many smiles and laughter. You might see people start to sing and dance in the street while you sing. Kids can come running up to play with your instruments or props. People might ask for a selfie! And other entertainers could be attracted to join you for a jam. And busking brings joy to buskers themselves, being able to do something that you love. Not everyone can say ‘they have found the job of their dreams’! And make money from it.
Do You Need a Visa to be a Busker or Street Performer
You are not required to have a work permit visa to busk, most are never asked to produce their passport and work permit. And busking under a Tourist Visa falls into a grey area as you are technically earning money. Some countries don’t worry about it while others do. Most buskers just set up and go for it. If someone stops you be respectful, very apologetic, stop and move one. Foreigners are usually given a stern warning.
Two Things You Need to Busk
You need two things to busk or street perform. An Act and a street performer permit. To find out if you need a street performer permit check out the local government website of where you plan to perform in to see where a license is required. And how much the license might be. Without the legal approval you will need to keep your eye out for the authorities. You may get off with a warning the first time but the second time round you may not be so lucky.
Many countries have embraced buskers and in some places it has a highly organised business. For instance, in Melbourne, Australia they have a ‘Street Performers’ Policy’ which you can download at their website www.melbourne.vic.gov.au. You will also need to apply for a permit to busk in this city.
Melbourne is not alone, most cities have a policy and require you to apply for a permit. Bern in Switzerland is another such city that has drawn up regulations that buskers must abide by. In fact, Bern has embraced street performers so much that every August they have a buskers festival. For more information to perform at this event visit www.buskersbern.ch.
Morals and Etiquette of Busking
This is a bit tricky, but everyone has different ethics and morals and when it comes to busking they also have varying views. Some people view busking as glorified begging and think you should ‘get a real job’. While others appreciate it for what it is. Someone, performing on the street being thrown a few coins for putting a smile on someone else’s face. No judgement here peeps!
Your Busking Setup
So now you know about busking and what you are going to do, before you hit the street, get yourself and your props ready. Remember, the aim of the game is to draw attention to yourself so ensure you have the right props to do so.
- Your outfit. You need to look the part, so don’t be afraid to go big. If you are playing the bagpipes, where a kilt. Doing card tricks, where a tux. Singing songs from the sixties, where some hippie gear. Doing handstands, wear pants. Being a statue, paint yourself silver. I think you get the drift, think about your outfit – it does matter. When you put your work clothes on you become a busker. It is a mindset kinda thing! Get yourself into your mindset.
- Busking Station. Your spot is your busking station, your area. Set your busking station out. Best to stand in front of something, like a monument, or a wall to stop people coming from behind and scaring you, unless you will be turning in circles to embrace a crowd around you. Then you need to have a spot where you will lay your hat or vessel for money to be thrown into. If you have CDs or other things for sale, where will they be? Your station will need to reflect you as a performer. A busking station for a singer will be different to a flame swallower. A singer or musician will stand in front of a wall or monument with a hat or vessel in front of them. A flame swallower will have a crowd around them with a hat in front of them or walk around the crowd afterwards.
- Busking Equipment. Your busking equipment will vary hugely depending on your act. You probably won’t want your $2,000 Fender as you work and travel the world. A $100 second hand guitar will probably be best for being carted around the world. And think about the extras you may need. Batteries for battery-powered amps, spare guitar strings, spare equipment of things that can break or be lost like juggling balls.
- Busking Equipment protection. Your equipment will need protecting. Keep it all together in the one place, in a carry bag that also offers protection. Where will this be while you are performing?
- Personal Stuff. Think about the weather. Do you need protection from the elements. I’m talking about sunscreen and a hat, or a scarf, beanie and gloves. Dress appropriately as you don’t want to be uncomfortable. And don’t forget water, snacks and whatever you need to keep your energy for your performance.
Select Your Venue
Selecting your venue to make ‘loads of cash’ is crucial. Some authorities may advise you specific places you can busk but if they don’t you need your chosen spot to be accessible to the crowd with enough room for them to assemble. You need to find a place that does not block the thoroughfare or traffic. Some authorities may also be specific on the times you can perform. A big ‘no-no’ is infringing on another busker’s turf so if you are new to the area, you may want to speak to other buskers first as many buskers share the same turf by allocating time slots.
When to Busk
Most buskers busk during the day however, some do at night also. Night busking changes the game though as your audience can be different. You can encounter drunk people who may be looser with their money but they can also be a hindrance by heckling you. Your safety can also become an issue at night. Anytime you busk, you draw attention to yourself and at night, there are more assholes around. Be careful out there and move on if you feel threatened.
Popular Busking Spots
Popular places to perform include shopping malls, public transport stations, outside or near tourist attractions, markets or at major festivals and events. Profitable times can be during the morning, lunchtime and evening rushes. Sundays are a good day with many people out and about and some buskers have told me that Sunday is their most profitable day.
Some Unwritten Busking Rules
There are no written rules and regulations laid out for busking. However, so you don’t come off as a tosser here are some busking runs and tips.
- Don’t Ask for Money. That’s right. Don’t accost people asking them for money. It’s the fastest way to turn people away. You have chosen to be there, in the public entertaining people and just like in a restaurant, people will tip for a great service. The same for busking, people will tip or throw money into your hat for being entertained.
- Keep your act PG. It’s a public space so keep your entertainment family-friendly. No-one wants to listen to you cussing. They may call the Police! And we don’t want that.
- If you are asked to move along, do it. If you are asked to move on, just do it. There is no point having a dummy spit because the offical asking you to move on is more likely to win the argument. Just go find another spot. Some do wait for the official to go away, but there is no guarantee they will be back. And if they come back, there will be no second warning.
- Be friendly with the local street merchants. Etiquette to other buskers and local street merchants is a must. They are trying to make a living too!
- Mind your own space. What I mean is don’t block public thoroughfares. Be respectful to noise levels. Ensure you have enough space to ply your trade without infringing on other people or property. So if you are a fire dance, have enough room not to set anything on fire.
- Leave no trace. It is not hard to pick up any rubbish you may have made – cigarette butts, drink bottle.
Tips for Busking and Making Loads of Cash
- Be set up before you start. Yep, have your busking station all set first.
- Smile and make eye contact. Look like you are having fun when busking. Smile and make eye contact with someone in the crowd. It is the perfect way to engage with your crowd and make money.
- Start your pot off. This is one of the best tips I can give you. Put some of your own money in the pot to get the ball rolling. This shows people that you are expecting coins in your hat.
- Standing vs Sitting. I haven’t heard there is a clear winner here but maybe you could experiment. Just be comfortable!
- Pee beforehand. Yes, pee before you start busking, particularly if you are sipping lots of water during your act.
- Clear your pot. Occasionally clear your pot. You’ve worked hard for the cash so clear some of it out occasionally. And have somewhere to store the cash like a belt or scarf with hidden pockets, like one of these from Amazon.
Busking or Street Performing – A Great Way to Make Cash to Work and Travel Abroad
While some maybe cleaning toilets to earn money to work and travel abroad, there is nothing wrong with making some cash through busking. So if you have some performance skills why not try your hand at travelling and busking or is it busking and travelling. You never know where it might take you – London, New York, Paris, Sydney, you get the drift!