Printer-friendly version weekend vote: Which tunes work best for busking?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: September 26, 2014 at 4:48 PM [UTC]

london buskersJosh Bell is not exactly doing the same thing next Tuesday as he did eight years ago -- he's giving a performance at the Metro station. But he's not busking incognito.

But what if he were busking? What if YOU were busking? How do you get a crowd to gather around, and how do you actually make money at this? I'm specifically wondering what kinds of music work best in the busking scenario. I've assembled a list of tunes that loosely represent different kinds of music: classical, bluegrass, movie/musical, jazz or folk/gypsy. Pick the one you think would work best, and then share with us what other tunes you think play best for busking. I welcome any busking stories, too!

From Daniel Huston
Posted on September 26, 2014 at 7:56 PM
I do most of my busking in the public park across a street corner from my apartment building. I usually earn the most from playing 1960s rock & roll or pop tunes or traditional American folk.

Recently though, I’ve been besieged by little kids coming up to me wanting to hear “Let It Go” from that Disney film. I guess that I need to learn it. Although I really don’t care for Disney films, little kids do & they won’t let the busker in the park forget it! Besides, I’ve learned that parents out with their children are good tippers & are just as likely to drop a $5-bill in my case as a $1-banknote. Another behavior that I’ve observed, very important for us buskers, is parents teaching their children to tip.

The most important part of this for me, though, is that often I’m introducing a child to the violin. The child may never have seen nor heard a violin before. I may ask the child (or the parent) if he/she has a favorite song. As risky as it may be, I sometimes let the child touch my violin and/or the bow, just to have the experience that the instrument is a real thing. To see a child wide-eyed & jaw-dropping at such a discovery is heart-warming. To be the very first violinist in a child’s life is a privilege & a responsibility. And there’s always the possibility that if I do it right, that child will seek to learn the instrument growing up.

From Marco Brancalion
Posted on September 26, 2014 at 8:21 PM
Daniel is right:
there's nothing like showing a kid what a real instrument (like a violin) can do from a short distance ....... :)
(i experience it regularly, in my informal busking at the park ... :) )
It's invaluable ....
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 26, 2014 at 8:39 PM
I have only busked in the Farmers' Market for community service and market coupons, not for money, so I don't know what works in that sense. However, I've gotten the best feedback for some hornpipes and other fiddle tunes, and string quartet arrangements of Ashokan Farewell, the Entertainer, and a modern version of Londonderry Air. People also seem to like it if you have a child with you.
From Henry Butcher.
Posted on September 26, 2014 at 9:41 PM
I voted for Turkey In Straw because it never fails to get people tapping their feet. But *anything* goes when you're busking, you play what you know how to play..I dunno whats gonna draw a crowd, J.B. didn't have much luck with that in the subway..? Play what you know and play it well....that will get the coins dropping into your case...
From Adrian Morris
Posted on September 26, 2014 at 11:49 PM
I've busked in Chicago for a living for years, it's quite an adventure. I do mostly MMO with string quartet, piano accompaniment, and orchestral back up tracks. I own about $900 worth of MMO music. I play amplified through a Behringer EUROPORT MPA40BT-PRO battery powered speaker that is quite loud, great sound quality, and whose battery has lasted me as long as I could play (about 6 hours, but is supposed to last up to 12 hours. It allows me to mix in with the digital back up tracks perfectly. IME, it is the pop classical pieces that bring in the most money - John Williams movie tunes, Eine Kline Nachtmusik, Pachabel's Canon(I know, I know, shoot me, right?), The Four Seasons, Brandenburg Concertos, Any classical piece played on a popular commercial, TV show theme songs, etc.. Beatles and Michael Jackson tunes also do well. There is only so much of this a player's sanity can withstand, so I mix in more serious repertoire like the Mozart and Haydn Violin and Piano Sonatas, Beethoven Sonatas, and some funky 20th century pieces from little known composers. Mozart and light classical pieces go over well, and darker, baroque pieces and Bach's unaccompanied stuff usually does not. I'd usually play for about four hours and pull in about $150 on weekday evening that includes the rush hour, and between $200-300 on a weekend day near downtown shopping. I hope any of this helps, and good luck!
From Paul Deck
Posted on September 27, 2014 at 1:52 AM
It really really matters where you are and who your listeners are.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on September 27, 2014 at 5:32 PM
I voted Bach, which ranks 3rd of the 5 choices at this writing; but having heard all of these selections before, I'd say a good mixture of them in one session would grab a lot of passers-by.

The nearest I get to busking right now, since I don't get paid, is playing the evening session in the garage most of the year. It's generally warm enough for this here from late March through early November.

I don't doubt that, in this offbeat way, I've introduced some kids to the violin. Some favorite memories are times when a child riding through the neighborhood parks a bike in the driveway -- and then walks up to the garage door and knocks. You guessed it -- one of the first lines is, "Can I try it?"

For me, it's like watching a replay of my preadolescent self. BTW, kids seem to take quite readily to Bach.

Posted on September 28, 2014 at 11:14 PM
Fly me to the moon. People actually know that tune.

I suspect that most readers here are afraid of playing anything jazzy which would account for the low score.

Posted on September 29, 2014 at 5:28 PM
How much do you buskers make? As a freshman I had to busk to raise money for the freshmen party and I made about 90 BRL (~40 USD) in 40 minutes. Note that's more than the average musician earns in Brazil.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 29, 2014 at 7:23 PM
I like "Fly Me to the Moon," too. It's an interesting case -- the famous Frank Sinatra version of it is in 4, while the "Real Book" version, I believe, is in three. Probably the one in three is more authentic, but I kind of like the jazzy in-four version! But that is the beauty of just improvising all by yourself, you could even switch off, if you wanted to!

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