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Thread: Busking! who's gone and done it?

  1. #1
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    Have you done it?

    Where'd you do it?

    Did anyone stop and listen?

    Did you make as much as Josh?

    * * *

    I've done it. SF MUNI stations. Did it semi-regularly for a month when I was unemployed (had the time and figured it would be fun and maybe profitable). I'd take in about $15/hour, but I couldn't keep it up for more than a few hours a day. So ... that ain't much. Someone gave me a$20 once. Lot's of nickels and dimes. Children always like music, and they seem to enjoy putting the money in the case.

    The Josh Bell article surprised me though. I was surprised the organizers, Josh, and the music professional interview didn't see it coming? The lack of a crowd, the lack of applause, I mean. Too many rave reviews clouding their expectations, I think.

    Josh Bell is a great player for sure, but is anyone really "World Famous" if they've never played outside for the world-at-large? I was surprised he hadn't gone busking before (or if he has, the article didn't mention that fact).


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    I did it back in college. Usually would get enough for a couple burgers and a six pack...

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    I did it for one long weekend, and we made thousands. No Joke... but the rest of the story is that we were part of a campaign for the Heart and Stroke foundation. Eight or nine musicians were revolved from shopping mall to shopping mall, and 100% of all proceeds went directly to the Foundation. It was kind of fun even though some of the locations weren't acoustically perfect. I don't recall the complete tally but the organizers said donations were up 50% from similar campaigns with no musicians. Never done it for myself though, but it makes me wonder sometimes??

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    I dunno fiddle5 ... my guess is, without the "official seal of approval" (playing for a charitable cause), you might be viewed as "just another begger", too.

    Try it, though. It's fun.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    We used to busk in New York, first in Greenwhich Village and then in Brooklyn Heights. More for fun and something to do. We'd have about 6-10 musicians playing old time string band music and would average 10 dollars each on a good night.

    The best we ever did was wayyyyy back in 1976 when we played during the July 4th weekend for the bicentennial. Not only did we do great on the street but we got offered a paying gig to play in the middle of the harbor on one of the Staten Island ferries.

    It is very hard to busk solo. Even one other person makes a big difference.

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    8 Fingers, 2 Thumbs Ken Sager's Avatar
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    I've done it several times and I've made good money a few times. Good money being $30-50 per hour. I agree with Jim. It's always most profitable as a duo or trio. Interesting instrumentation helps, too. Tenor guitar, tenor banjo, hammered dulcimer, etc, attracts more attention.
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    Registered User jim_n_virginia's Avatar
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    there is a whole subculture that busks all over the world. Some spots are better than others. One of the best places to busk, I don't know if it is still allowed without a permit was when I lived down in New Orleans for 6 years we used to play on the street down in Jackson Square.

    There were a lot of musicians down there sometimes it seemed like one on every corner but most were in Jackson Square. With the large amount of tourists visiting you could make a lot of money tax free and under the table!

    We (we had a jug band with washboard and washtub bass) used to do 5 songs, just enough to gather a crowd around and then we would take a break. Out of the 50 or so people that would stop, half would leave you a buck or more, sometimes a 5 or 10.

    We would make 3 or 4 hundred dollars and then go hit the beer joints! sighhhhh those were ther days, I was very young.

    Most recently we did a series of gigs for the city of Norfolk where bands played on the street corners and they said we could open a case for tips and we did and we filled my mandolin case with one dollar bills, probably about $75.00, split between 3 of us we went to a nearby resturaunt and had a nice dinner and a few beers.


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    Notary Sojac Paul Kotapish's Avatar
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    I busked my way across the country back in '76, and I busked regularly in Seattle from '79 to '82. At one point it comprised a substantial portion of my so-called income. Sometimes it was pretty lucrative, other times it was a bust, but it was uually a lot of fun, a good opportunity to build up strength and endurance, and there is something very direct about the connection between musicians and listeners on the street. If you can catch and keep a crowd, you know you are doing something right.

    In my experience, the best way to make money is somewhere in or adjacent to popular tourist destinations that locals also frequent, such as Pike Place Market (Seattle), Larimer Square (Denver), Ghirardelli Square (San Francisco), or as Jim suggested, Jackson Square (New Orleans). Most towns have an old-town district with some bars and restaurants where traditional acoustic music on the street seems to be tolerated reasonably well by the merchants and peace keepers, and appreciated by the crowds.

    In terms of best times of day, I always found that playign a sweet spot near a popular watering hole on payday Fridays between the end of the workday and the end of supper hour could be very lucrative. And Saturday night from about 9 PM until 11 PM was also good in areas with a lot of foot traffic. In both of those time slots folks are feeling optimistic and generous and ready to spend a buck or two for a little ad hoc entertainment.

    I still like to busk on occasion, but my sense is that it's a lot tougher than it used to be, and a lot more cities have ordinances governing where, how, and when musicians can play on the street.

    A couple of weeks ago Wake the Dead was playing a live slot on the West Coast Live radio program broadcast from the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Between sets we went downstairs and busked at the Saturday farmers market. The crowd really enjoyed it, but a few of the merchants got really cranky and asked us to move on. People were paying too much attention to the music and not enough to the organic honey and whatnot. We cheerfully packed up and split. A spot a bit further from the stalls probably would have resulted in an undisturbed session. Always good to pick your spot carefully and be sure you're not going to irritate any of the rent-paying merchants.

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    I did it in Rome with a friend once. We weren't making much until a random stranger joined us with his didgeridoo (sp?). Once he came, we pulled in about $100 USD in 30 minutes. I'm playing the wrong instrument, I guess.

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    A few years ago, some friends and I went busking for the first time. We were the rankest of amateurs. We made a couple of bucks, maybe three dollars. Suddenly this guy comes up and starts talking to our banjo player. Turns out it's the son of the banjo player's barber. The guy was wondering if he could bum a few bucks so he could go buy some beer. We gave him five or six bucks. We didn't make any more money that day. So, on our first adventure as buskers we lost about three or four dollars so that we could enable a local drunk to get some booze. We are probably among the few buskers who have ever lost money by playing for free in public.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    A few times actually, and never made more than expenses and maybe a meal. I have played more often in coffeehouses for pass the hat, and made better money, but that is not busking.

    Most memorably, I played with some musicians on Grafton St. in Dublin. Our guitar player controlled a marionette who also played guitar. Their right hands were connected by a line, so the marionette was always in time.

    The collection hat was in front of the marionette, and delighted little children all up and down the street were putting in money.

    Moments like that are what its all about.
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    Banjo players use barbers?

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    Jest passin' thru... TeleMark's Avatar
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    Here's an interesting case study in busking...

    Long, but interesting.

    Take one world-famous violinist playing a Strad, and put him (anonymously) in a DC metro station. See who stops to listen.
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    Hi Telemark: The threaded was started with reference to the article already.




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    I've done it off and on for about 10 years now, usually when I'm vacationing.

    My best experiences busking were in Scotland. I was playing fiddle and my friend was playing a Martin Backpaker guitar. We made $42 in St. Andrews one afternoon. A few days later up in Inverness we made another $30. Later in the week we tried it in Oban but didnt have as much luck.

    I've also picked up some loose change for beer playing in Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square in Philadelphia.

    Several years ago I actually sat outside my room at a Motel 6 in Baton Rouge, LA at about 2 AM and played the Motel 6 Theme song on my fiddle. My reward was a warm can of Miller Light from one of the other guests.

    In a few more weeks I will be in Key West, my brother-in-law and I plan to give it a try on Duval Street once again.

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    Registered User Chad Thorne's Avatar
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    I did it once years ago in Cambridge, Mass., with my fiddle. Made about 20 bucks an hour which was great $ then, and I wasn't even in Harvard Square.

    I'm fixin' to do it again soon and horrify my in-laws.



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    Did think about Busking the 747, on some long flights, would it tick off the Vogons?
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    Nashville, not surprisingly, has its fair share of street musicians. Last time I was there, a very good mando player was in front of Gruhn's, picking and singing Tony Rice tunes. He was a sorry site, grubby clothing, bad teeth. His case was open, not much bread in there. Most folks just walked on by. I threw in a 5. We got talking about his mandolin, a Mark Bluett F-5 as I recall.

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    The threaded was started with reference to the article already.
    True enough, but I didn't provide a link, and that's just good manners. So I appreciated the update. Thanks Mark. Thanks Steve.

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Maine Michael @ April 09 2007, 17:51)
    Banjo players use barbers?
    I don't know if it was the couple of tallboys I had with dinner, but that response got funnier the more I sat and looked at it. Thanks Michael!
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    Quote Originally Posted by (Benignus @ April 09 2007, 12:46)
    I dunno fiddle5 ... my guess is, without the "official seal of approval" (playing for a charitable cause), you might be viewed as "just another begger", too.

    Try it, though. It's fun.

    I kinda look back at it now as a bunch of fat boys doing a 20Km run, but I suspect thats the reason I don't busk for a living. It was a worth while cause. I suppose I'd do it again if it came up.

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    Still Picking and Sawing Jack Roberts's Avatar
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    25 cent on the sidewalk in front of my son's karate class. I was just playing, but I left my case open an a sweet little girl walked up and dropped a quarter in my case.

    Made my day.
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    Registered User steve V. johnson's Avatar
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    I play once in a while with a couple who, when they discovered that they were pregnant, busked across the continental US as their 'last fling' before parenting. She had a stash of cash that varied between $150 and as low as $35, but they used it only when absolutely necessary (which I think was three times, mostly for maintaining their vehicle). I hear tales of this adventure from them from time to time, and it's a very deeply cherished family memory.

    I love busking and I do it when I can, but I'm pretty much an accompanist, so I don't just go out on my own. It's not terribly common around here, but there is no good reason why not...

    Two from Ireland... In the Fleadh on the Feale (which is a river) in Abbeyfeale in the west of Co. Limerick, the first event of the fleadh (an all-weekend music festival surrounding music competitions) is a busking competition for ensembles. There is a category for 18-and-over, but most of the kids are from 6 to 12 years old. They set up all along the main street and go at it from about 4pm til 7:30 or 8pm. There are two awards, one from the judges who rate several categories, the music, the presentation, etc., etc., and the other, taken much less seriously, for those who got the most money in their cases. Of course, the second would be easier to 'fix'... <GG>

    We have run across a number of non-Irish musicians who busked around Ireland and did rather well. Most of them played instruments that fit in with Irish trad, but the ones who did the very best we'd ever seen were a Peruvian ensemble with the Andean pan pipes and stringed instruments and an Andean marimba. And some Peruvian mountain clothing also, of course. Even without the clothes, no one would mistake them for Europeans... <GG> They had hand-duplicated CDs to sell, and they said that they usually only played in one place for two hours a day (in this case, at O'Connell Square in Ennis, in Co. Clare), and that they rarely took in less than a hundred Euro. They -were- very good players, and could play a lot of other instruments and styles.

    I love busking.

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    I've done street performance on and off for the last 10+ years. I really like it. It makes for good "live" practice sessions. I've even occasionaly gotten good gigs out of meeting folks on the street. I love having the opportunity to get music in front of folks (especially kids) who might not make the opportunity to go to a club or concert to hear acoustic music. This last summer I made the most ($250) ever in a 3 hour stretch with a trio of guitar, mando and fiddle.

  25. #25
    Registered User otterly2k's Avatar
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    many years ago when I was just out of college, I busked one summer with a friend in Boston. We never made much $, but we had a lot of fun, and usually took in enough to go out for lunch or ice cream or something. I really remember clearly though, that when we were playing guitars and singing (nice harmonies) we never got as much attention as when I brought out a mandolin. clearly it had novelty effect (at the time)
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