Busking

August 28, 2008 at 05:32 PM · Yesterday I went busking with two friends at the local Farmer's Market. We played for about 3 and a half hours, and raked in no less than $113.

Has anybody else here gone busking, and if so, how much did you make?

Please share your stories.

Replies (36)

August 28, 2008 at 05:56 PM · I spent two or three years busking in the London Underground, around 1986-9. If I were to tell you all the things that happened down there, I would clog up the V.com server!

So, here is one of my favourites:-

I used to play with a guitarist from time to time, and one of our best earners was "The Girl from Ipanema". Now I love this tune, but not the way that Stan Getz plays it, nor Astrud Gilberto sings it (though she is growing on me). No, I like the Joao Gilberto phrasing.

Inspired by that version, I would mess with the time, stretching it across the good firm bossa nova that the guitar would lay down.

One time, at Piccadilly Circus an interesting looking dude, black hair, tanned skin, in a very expensive overcoat, stood in the corner, listening. While we were playing (which we did for a good 15 - 20 minutes) he put some money in the case, and went back to his corner.

When we finished, he came to me, and said in a strong accent, "You know, the composer of this song would be very pleased to hear it played this way." I asked him how he knew, to which he replied, with a little twinkle, "Trust me. I know."

A couple of years later a friend of mine gave me a cd for Christmas, "Tom and Elis", Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Elis Regina. I turned it over, and exclaimed "That's the dude!" There was a photo on the back of Tom Jobim and Elis, and that was the man, "the composer of this song". That was how he knew.

gc

August 28, 2008 at 06:18 PM · Can you imagine being in his shoes then? Wow. You made the day of a worthy guy.

"I love this tune, but not the way that Stan Getz plays it, nor Astrud Gilberto sings it"

I'm sure you know Astrud didn't claim to be a singer, and it almost didn't get released. I love her delivery on it though - It's just so deadpan cool and cute-sounding. Real appropriate. I also love Getz's playing on it, breathy and slobbery. Also appropriate :) I rembember the first note Getz plays is when she sings "He watches so sadly." Getz plays a low sound that's like a sigh. Totally cool record.

August 28, 2008 at 08:15 PM · I just just prefer Joao's timing, and Jobim's own, too. They move me, while Getz doesn't. These things are not in our control.

I am pretty sure that Astrud's timing is pushed into its box by the English words.

I have the 3cd set "The Man from Ipanema". There are four or five versions on that, including the Getz/Astrud one.

gc

August 28, 2008 at 08:08 PM · My students "rake it in" at the farmer's markets in Orange County, CA.

August 28, 2008 at 11:19 PM · Hmm, that's less than 12 dollars an hour for the three of you. My kids have discovered that the fewer who busk the larger net yield, since the amount they earn seems to remain the same. So it makes sense to stick to solo or duos. One of my daughters once made over $300 in an hour, but that was an all-time high. Usually they make about $40-$50/hour, depending on weather and time of day, regardless of how many participate. Last weekend they were busking on a fine evening near an ice cream parlor. They thought it was extremely touching when our local homeless man, Laddie, came by and put some coins into the open case.

One problem with busking is that passers-by frequently stop them to chat: where do you go to school? Do you do weddings? Instead of waiting until the end of a song or set they just start talking over the music. The kids are sensitive not to be rude to adults who address them, but they consider this a problem, since it stops them in the middle of the performance and also causes the crowd to disperse. Any tips on how to handle interrupters?

August 28, 2008 at 11:56 PM · "Any tips on how to handle interrupters? "

Ignore them but push the case toward them with your foot?

August 29, 2008 at 05:16 AM · Jim,

Sounds like you've "been there & done that".

August 29, 2008 at 01:34 PM · Maybe it's a good suggestion then. Actually I've never gone busking. I've never needed to, and if I'd wanted to do it for fun, in most of the places I've lived it would have been perceived as begging or weird. It would have been like poor E. Smith was taking her kids begging. If they knew she wasn't poor, it would have been like she was making a spectacle of herself. Sophistication and anonymity are two benefits of a large city.

August 29, 2008 at 02:20 PM · Haha, Jim, my kids are old enough to go busking by themselves, but they do act as bodyguards for one another. I got off a train the other day and and old guy was playing flute. He was playing "When the Saints Come Marching" and not very well. I put a dollar into his case and he looked mortified. "I'm not busking. I'm just practicing."

August 29, 2008 at 02:23 PM · During a small violin camp in the middle of winter in Florida, we decided to go into the town. I brought my violin, as did some other friends. I did not get any money, but I gained an experience that is more valuable than money,

While I was playing some Bach and such, a tall, white wannabe gangster strutted up. He was talking in street talk into his cell phone. All of a sudden he heard me playing, and said, 'Hey, Reg, gotta call you back, bro." He turned to me, leaned against a lamp post, and said, "Hey, you! Nice violin playing."

Then he did something utterly unexpected. He asked me to play the last movement of Scheherezade, when the violin solo comes in with a bunch of triple stops. I was taken aback. I played it from ear to the best of my ability, then he nodded and said, "Nice. Now do the third movement of the Tschaikowsky Concerto." Again, I did the best I could. He then phoned up a bunch of his friends, and told them to hear me. Then his friends told me to play such pieces as Vivaldi's Winter, Bruch Concerto, Conus (which I couldn't do, cause I hadn't heard it before), and Mendelssohn Concerto.

He then hung up the phone, gave me a thumbs up, and left. I was left on the street with my mouth open, wondering how such people have such a knowledge of the classical repertoire. After that, I have not really gone busking again, but, I hope that I can experience something like that again.

August 29, 2008 at 03:00 PM · I like that, Brian. Lovely story. Mind you, "such people" have the same access to recordings and radio as you and I have. Don't be so surprised.

It reminded me of another time, down the Tube, I was playing along to some be-bop backing tracks, my "Charlie Parker" practice tape. After a while, a Japanese man was loitering about ten paces away. At one point, he cam over and asked me what I was playing, was it "some kind of American Folk music?" I laughed and said I suppose Be-Bop was a kind of American folk. He walked away again, and listened for a bit longer. Then he came back, and said, "I have to listened to you for a while, now I would like to play for you." On this, he produced a small ivory flute from his inside pocket, exquisitely carved, and played a piece for about 7 or 8 minutes. It was an extraordinary piece. I believe it was an improvisation, and it was beautiful, ending on a long high note. He had finished, I applauded, he bowed, I bowed, and off he went. He also left a £10 note in my case.

Who was he?

gc

August 29, 2008 at 03:30 PM · E., that shows us that even the insane have their dignity to uphold.

August 29, 2008 at 03:45 PM · I make tons of major money busking. I threaten to play and they shower me with money to leave the fiddle in the case.

August 29, 2008 at 06:24 PM · Best hour I ever did (1987 ish) was £80

Worst day, £0 + £10 fine

gc

August 29, 2008 at 06:49 PM · I have a question about busking - do you need some kind of permit to do it, or are people allowed to play/earn money wherever they want on the street? And then for anyone in Germany - do you know if you need a special permit to play on Subways and S-bahn in Germany? Thanks.

August 29, 2008 at 06:57 PM · When I used to do it in the London Underground, it was against the by-laws of the London Underground system.

Now, there are licensed pitches. Wrong: it should have stayed illegal.

gc

August 29, 2008 at 07:25 PM · "If people are going to break her majesty's laws, we're bloody well going to get our share, wot?"

"Jolly good, old bean."

August 29, 2008 at 07:31 PM · LOL

August 29, 2008 at 07:54 PM · Do you really want me to respond?

Coz, I'll win!

;)

gc

August 29, 2008 at 08:07 PM · you may win for awhile

eventually,someone will cut you to shreds.

music is tons of fun

every time

every place.

August 29, 2008 at 09:39 PM · The cops usually chase my students away from the beach. They mostly play at the Farmer's Market where they have permission. I have a few students who play on a regular basis and it is not unusual for them to make $25-$50 per hour. Not bad pay... especially if you are 5-15 years old!!! The littlest kids are the ones who bring in the big bucks. Sometimes they put up a sign that says, "I'm saving for music camp" or "Youth Orchestra Tuition."

August 29, 2008 at 09:54 PM · When I was a teenager in the 70s I used to make £10 an hour then, more on eg Xmas Eve. One time I was interviewed by local radio and the woman asked what I spent it on, I said "Booze and fags," at which her face fell as it was live. A school friend said he was listening in and had wet himself laughing at that.

When I lived in Oxford in my 20s and early 30s I very occasionally was skint enough to need to do it but I never made more than a couple of quid an hour (f***ing snotty tight c***s in that part of the world). I did once busk to the Tchaikovsky Music Minus One played over speakers in a shopping centre there, though the tempi are insufferably slow. The father of a professional quartet player (can't remember who) once introduced himself when I was hacking through the Brahms 1st mvt on a £50 fiddle, he said it did sound a bit scratchy though.

If anyone needs music I uploaded some here

August 29, 2008 at 10:04 PM · Mr. Hoyle, nice story.

However, I don't appreciate the cursing and inappropriate references, even if it is blotted out, for the most part. I can still tell exactly what you are saying, and little kids sometimes read these posts.

I am sorry if I seem to be overreacting, but I believe that this forum should be clean, and if anyone believes that I am overreacting, please tell me and I will apologize.

August 29, 2008 at 10:37 PM · At the motorcycle riding forum I read, one poster had asterisked out the word "hate", which I thought was interesting. The sentence began something like "I h*** it when..."

August 30, 2008 at 01:24 AM · well, according to some people, :hate is a strong word. Lol

August 30, 2008 at 04:49 AM · I went busking a few times in the city. The best place I found was in Little Burke street in an alcove outside the Myer’s Flower shop. I enjoyed it so much I’m looking forward to this spring.

I can remember the permit inspectors coming to check me out the first time I busked. They stayed and listened for quite a while so I must have been alright. Unfortunately, so I discovered later, that the flower shop is next door to a chemist shop ( drug store ). So I quickly learnt that you best not continue busking in the late after noon so to avoid certain people who awake at this hour. Yeah, I felt sorry for him and he only needed a dollar. At least he asked, not like that other guy who I saw crouching, eyeing of my takings. Yeah, there was a mirror on the other side of the lane and he didn’t see it. So I kept him in view until he gave up; he was sussing me out cos I was walking up and down leaving my case unattended from about 5 metres away. One time there was an accordionist who set up down the street a bit, very good playing, but why is amplification needed with such an instrument? I packed up and called it a day. And the man with his child; it was late and I came into town on the train, or rather a shuttled bus service cos the trains were out so I was keen to get home cos I knew how long it was gonna take. Anyway, he was standing there listening for quite awhile and when I finished the tune and started to pack up he asked me to play some more for his child who was learning the violin. I obliged, but I think he noticed my rather wry expression, I suppose that’s why he didn’t throw any coins. Not like the Asian Lady who rushed me, after I had finished playing Liebesleid, with a 5 dollar note cos she didn’t want it to blow away, thanks. And the Hungarian man, well I presume he was cos I was playing a gypsy tune and he said “that’s nice”, but the suit was a dead give away’ sky blue with a RED tie. But he didn’t stop long, he looked like he was in a hurry, but I think it was the spot where I was standing, narrow path right next to the road, so I’m not going there again, the flower shop for me..!! There’s hardly any traffic there and also not a lot of people. Fifty bucks is OK for a couple of hours and you get heaps of practise..!!

August 30, 2008 at 07:39 AM · Elizabeth, it's regionally regulated, in some areas like Essen or Köln you can play without permission for 20 minutes, then you have to change your location. In other cities like Bremen you may have to pay a few Euros for a permission, in some cities like Duisburg it's just forbidden - the best is to ask at the public order office or the town hall how it's regulated in the town you want to play in.

The rules for subways and S-Bahn are locally different as well, in Berlin you can play for instance, in Köln it's forbidden both in the trains and on platforms (and believe me, it's the last place on earth where you want to open your violin case anyway). Check it twice whether you might play there, those traffic companies can charge you a lot if it's forbidden.

Take in account: busking in train stations of "Die Bahn" is generally not allowed.

Maybe a few tips:

* play in smaller cities

* do not play in front of churches unless you have the permission (there're some nasty local rules concerning churches)

* intersperse some local popular folk songs in your program, for instance improvise a bit about miner songs in the Ruhr area etc.. People like it.

* have mercy with street cafes

* make yourself a bit distinguishably (stuff like a small sign in your case saying Nebraska greets Münster (seriously))

Most of the cities and traffic companies will have announced their rules on the web, just look up the cities you want to play in. If you need any help finding informations, just ask.

I busked a lot in my study, great fun and you can earn quite a lot of cash. In that time there weren't so many regulations, but seriously: I doubt the majority of buskers has any idea of how annoying they really are (me included). It's understandable that shop owners become nervous when a guitar player starts tuning his instrument in front of his shop. And once you have made that "Salvation Army/Kalinka in D/Hare Krishna/Pachelbel canon/Puffy the clown/Break dance" - slalom just to get a pair of socks, you know what I mean.

August 30, 2008 at 11:34 AM · I used to go busking at Covent Garden market in London with a string quartet. Covent Garden is famous for it's buskers, and it has a great atmosphere. The most we ever made was £230 each (there were two collectors on that day).

I think my local town used to forbid buskers, but within the last few months they've started to appear. Some are very good, some are not so good, but I think they really brings the town centre to life. I think (quality) busking should be encouraged.

August 30, 2008 at 11:54 AM · I have to say, i wouldn't dare busk in my region, i'd probably get stabbed and my violin stolen. North England... Not too good a place at the best of times... =)

August 30, 2008 at 12:07 PM · If you were to go to Leeds city centre Aysha I'm sure it'd be ok, and probably quite lucrative too. Best to go with other people, and find somewhere pedestrianized. Some undercover shopping centres will let you busk there nowadays if you get permission 1st.

August 30, 2008 at 12:11 PM · I'm going to university there soon, i shall look into it! Thank you sir

August 30, 2008 at 01:32 PM · Jim Hoyle- Thanks for the l*nk to the Sh**t Mu**c!

Lot's of opprotunities to Busk in Laramie. Students love it! Several open mic opprotunities also.

August 30, 2008 at 01:52 PM · Haha, Mr. Faina. Hey, how have you been? It's been a while.

August 30, 2008 at 04:26 PM · Mischa, Thanks for all of the information! I never knew where to look before to find out regulations for busking in Germany.

I see you are from Köln. When I was there last year, I saw a guy busking on a grand piano with wheels near the Dom. I had never seen this before and to think of the logistics of getting a grand piano onto the street...what if it rains??? Have you ever seen him playing?

August 31, 2008 at 06:48 AM · There're at least two pianists who play regularly in Köln: the first one is fairly fit, he uses to teach some kids a bit, if they ask, usually he plays piano's greatest hits (Liszt, Addinsell, Mussorgsky etc.). The other one is more into soft pop, the video might answer some of your questions concerning logistics and rain. ;)

Talking about violin and busking here: should you busk in Köln you might meet Klaus der Geiger, he's a legend! He studied violin with Igor Ozim before he went for a while to the US and got lost (or found) in the hippie-movement, very funny guy! Ask him to play Bach or Shostakovich, if you meet him...

August 31, 2008 at 07:25 AM · Aspen is probably the best busking place on earth. Seriously...

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