Posts Tagged ‘busking’

Well you know I don’t encourage singing your own songs.

The obvious reasons are:
1. People tend to pay more easily when they hear a song they know.
2. A million great songs have already been written, so there’s no use to add mediocre ones.
3. Your own songs are probably too autobiographic, which means they make people sad. Sad people don’t pay.
4. You are a busker, not a singer-songwriter that can’t get a gig.
5. Your own songs sound like the songs of artists you like. So why don’t you just play their music?

If none of the 5 reasons above are enough to stop you from singing your own songs anyway, at least take in consideration the following useful hints.

1. Only play the ones that are up-tempo, catchy and loud. Introvert songs about how hard life is because that girl doesn’t notice you, may sound good in the privacy of your own bedroom at 2 am, but they sure won’t amuse frantic shoppers hunting for a late christmas present.

emo poetry

2. Easy on the lyrics. People pay for a cheerful and nonsensical “lalala”, not for a 15 page-excerpt of your diary.
3. Add humour to your songs, but don’t shock people. A song about a cow is funny. A song about sexual acts with a cow is hilarious, but don’t go there.
4. No minor scales, unless it is in the style of an old drinking song.
5. Don’t announce the songs as “one of my own”. People won’t listen to it, because they think your songs suck, otherwise you would be an famous artist and not a busker. It is far more satisfying when people say: “Hey, that was a nice song. Whose is it?”

It’s a classic sight: a busker plays a John Denver evergreen while a scruffy dog feigns to sleep next to an upturned hat.

Since the invention of the sidewalk, buskers have been accompanied by man’s best friend (or in some cases the busker’s only friend).

Though you may look pityful doing your busker thing, there is nothing more heartbreaking than a dog that has to spend it’s life alongside a street performer. And when people feel bad about something, they tend to ease their pain by donating money.

A scruffy dog by your side increases your income. In fact, if you were really honest you had to split the nickle harvest from your guitar case 90%-10%, where 90% goes to your dog.

Its all a question of talent

It's all a question of talent

Sad looking busker dogs attract more people to your performance than those fancy jazz chords no-one seems to notice you incorporate in your songs. But there’s a catch. Remember the anti-humour joke about the shaggy dog? (You can read it here The dog shouldn’t be TOO shaggy. That will just scare people away, afraid to catch a disease when they come too close.

Since Lassie got cancelled, it just went downhill for the poor dog

Since "Lassie" got cancelled, it just went downhill for the poor dog

Here are some guidelines in chosing a dog that’s a fit companion of a busker and the increase/loss of income associated with the dogs features.

This dog wont make you more money

This dog won't make you more money

– Damaged or missing tail: +10% (uncapable of wagging a tail makes a dog look sad)
– Damaged or missing an ear: +10% (looks like he’s been into a fight and lost or possibly had a rough childhood)
– Missing an eye: -10% (a gaping hole in a dogs skull won’t lure kids into throwing you money)
– Wearing a scarf: +10% (enhanced cutenessfactor “Oh, he thinks he’s people!”)
– Bad fur day: +20% (a healthy fur suggests a nice warm home with a bathtub)
– Missing leg: -25% for each paw missing
– Droopy eyes: +25% (this is really one of the best features your dog can have)
– Being able to play dead for hours: +20% (people will think malnutrition took all the life out of the mutt)
– Being skinny: +10% (this is a tricky one. A bit skinny is good, very skinny makes you look like an animal abuser and loses you 50%)
– Being of indiscernible breed: +15% (the cheaper the bastard (sic) looks, the poorer you seem)

Lets do that Howlin wolf cover again

"Let's do that Howlin' wolf cover again"


This post’s title or something resembling it, often finds its way to the Busker’s Handbook mailbox. Well, if you feel that less then 0,1% of all buskers becoming famous is scientific proof that busking is a fastlane to stardom, be my guest.

On the website (pretty fine source for buskers actually)  there’s an elaborate list of famous artists that have busked sometime in their carreer. Nevertheless: not many became famous because they were buskers, but in spite of. Very few of them were discovered on the street while doing their thing.

Don’t expect fame to grab you by the neck and drag you to a major record deal, just because you’re singing a song on the street. What really got most of them to become famous is the fact they knew people. Having a large circle of friends and acquintances, chances are that someone of them has an uncle that owns a club where you can play, or a neighbour who cleans the lavatory in the building of a record company. It’s not the busking that is your ticket to stardom… it’s the people you know that recognise your talent and circle interesting social networks.

The fact that there are famous people who were once buskers, doesn’t mean anything. Just that they haven’t always been famous. Some former presidents of the USA were great horsemen, but who would try to become president by learning to ride a horse?

It all comes down to this:
– Do you busk because it’s a fun way to earn some money? Than by al means enjoy yourself.
– Do you busk to get famous? Busk less and socialise more.

Chances are you know a lot of people as a busker. People who live on the streets, people who clean the streets, people who chase you away, people you owe money to, cops who keep asking for your ID, streetgangs, … But that’s not really the sort of network that will get you a gig or a chance to get heard by a radio jockey or A&R person.

One of the most quoted “busk-to-richess” stories is that of John Bon Jovi. Well, maybe it’s true, maybe he really was discovered while busking and now uses 100 dollar bills to clean up his dog’s poo. But do you really want to be the next Bon Jovi, when these accompanying looks are required?

In the 80s, looking manly was considered gay

In the 80's, looking manly was considered gay, hence this 'straight' rockstar look

If there is one thing al lot of artists want, it’s street credibility. Thanks to producers, songwriters, studio musicians, lip-sync and make-up artists, you don’t really need talent or be able to sing in key to become a superstar. But street credibility is one of those metaphysical qualities you just can’t put your finger on.

Buskers have tons of street credibility, they live and breath (and sometimes eat) the street! Showbizz-artists are quite jealous of this and so they steal their looks and behaviour from buskers. Remember the 90’s when every rock band started playing unplugged and thought they were buskers while selling millions of albums with acoustic covers of their own songs?

Rich and famous as they all may be, they wanna busk.
But they do it wrong…

Street credibility is not about drive-by-shooting another millionaire rapper from your limo because he dissed you in a song nobody can decipher the lyrics to anyway.

Nor is it dropping tv-sets from a five star hotel, when your tour manager paid up-front for the damage you make. (Most contracts stipulate a minimum of 5 tv’s per tour)
It isn’t flashing your genital or nipple area in front of paparazzi while leaving an exclusive club.

No, street credibility is… well like I said, it’s difficult to explain, but being a busker you know what I’m trying to say here.

Some artist have noticed this and start busking too. Check out Roisin Murphy (of Moloko fame).

What makes this not quite real busking, but a nice attempt is:

– buskers don’t bring a whole band
– buskers don’t bring a  BBC camera crew (it was broadcasted later)
Here’s another one by James Morrison busking for charity.

Yeah, the boy’s got talent but…

– buskers don’t bring mics and speakers that cost more than they make with busking for a year
– buskers don’t have press photographers lurking around

It mostly comes down to this, if an artist really wants to feel what it is like to be a genuine busker and gain the street credibility that comes with it, do it anonymous. Don’t warn your fans through your website and don’t bring the press.

When you know the feeling of being passed by uninterested people, when nobody applaudes after a song, when you really have to live from the coins in your guitar case, then you have busked. Then you’ve got street credibility.

That said, the short following clip features none-other then Paul McCartney doing exactly what I described (except I don’t think he really needs the money).

And here’s Bruce Springsteen in an unannounced guerilla street performance. Since he started out as a busker once, he doesn’t count as a busker-wannabe. He’s still got all the street cred he needs.

Being a busker is not just a job (in fact it’s not at all) but also a way of life (or a poor excuse for one).  
Here’s some advise on where to stand regadering life’s important topics. 


When the streets are crowded with people walking to and from the voting bureaus, it might be a better idea to busk instead of going to vote yourself. Should you feel the urge to vote anyway, consider these criteria before choosing a party to give your vote to.

– Vote for a party that supports art but doesn’t know an Estrukian bowl from a Tupperware. They will probably think you are a real artist too.

– Since the chances of you knocking-up a hot girl after a one-night-stand are slim, you might as well vote pro-life, unless you feel your mother should have had an abortion to spare you from a life as a busker.

– Vote for a party that doesn’t believe in the concept of a “selfmade man”. They feel good about supporting struggling minorities like buskers.


Pick any religion which says that the harder your life sucks now, the more awesome your afterlife will be. Avoid believing in any religion that promotes reincarnation. Because Karma and Poetic Justice will screw you over and make you come back as a busker every time.

Family Values

Busker family life is not your avarage happily married couple with 2.4 children (buskers are usually the 0.4’s). Regarding family values it is strongly advised you be good to your parents, for you will still live with them at age 38.


Consider becoming a vegetarian. Eating meat will give you a healthy blush and a well-fed look. That’s not the kind of busker people give money to. As a vegetarian, you become part of a large network of dreadlocked anti-globalists that can provide you with addresses of squatting houses to sleep in.

Sexual Orientation

 Although busking is not the part of showbizz that attracts gay men (try the musical scene) there’s no reason not to be.

“Well, it beats listening to a busker”

 With the little sex buskers have, it’s best to keep your options open. It’s a bit like being straight in jail: your best bet is faking to be bi-sexual.

Don’t say

Instead say

  • I try to play folk, but people say I suck at it.
  • I play anti-folk.
  • I have to embarass myself on a daily basis playing on the street.
  • I love the freedom and the possibility to express and share my art with the world.
  • I have written some songs myself, but I don’t dare to play them because they are crap.
  • Right now I’m playing covers, because it’s better to learn from the masters before I start on my magnum opus.
  • I screwed up because I don’t know the lyrics/chords/melody to the song you requested.
  • I like to freestyle and improvise on the songs of other artists to lift them up from mediocrity.
  • I still live with my parents and must busk to pay the rent for my own bedroom
  • It’s great to be able to provide for my family doing the thing I like most.

  • I actually graduating from the conservatory, but since I can’t find any work, I have to busk not to starve.
  • Yes, I’m a professional classical musician, but I was fed up with that elitarian crap and decided to busk as a form of protest.
  • I know it sounds tempting to go busking, little nephew, but just say no if you want to make something of your life.
  • Busking is not for everyone: it takes talent, courage, drive and ambition. You think you can make that kind of commitment?
  • I crave for some female affection, because I haven’t had sex in months.
  • The next song is for all you lonely ladies out there.
  • I lost all hope of possible stardom after my first 2 hours of busking.
  • I don’t trust record companies, so I try not to get involved with them, difficult as it may be in my position.