This article will cover all you need to know about busking, from busking meaning down to responsible busking and how to abide by the law.
Make sure you read on to discover everything about the art of busking.
Put simply, busking is the act of singing and/or playing an instrument in public places. Some musicians do this purely for fun, while others do it in the hope of making some money from donations from the public.
Of course, it’s also a great way of getting your sound out there.
Street music and the street performance itself dates back thousands of years, but the term busking wasn’t invented or heard of in the UK until the 1860s. It was used to convey the term street performer. So as you can see, busking meaning has not changed over time.
The great thing about busking is that you only need to bring equipment along that’s essential to your act. If you are playing a musical instrument you will obviously need to bring that with you. Let’s say you play the guitar, for example. You will need to make sure that it’s practical for you to carry around with you.
You could also take along equipment like pedals, battery-powered amps, and a microphone if you want your sound to carry. But this is not to say that you need anything but your instrument or your voice. So if you’re on a tight budget don’t go spending your money on equipment that you don’t necessarily need.
However, we recommend that you bring along a set of business cards or flyers, as this is a great way of getting your name known. Plus, if they like what they hear, they can then go home and research your music. We recommend that you include your name/band name and any links to your social media accounts.
This is a good promotional tool for you. If it’s a free flyer making program you’re after, then look no further than Canva. Not only is it easy to use, but they offer thousands of completely free templates for you to choose and edit to suit your needs. It can take as little as five minutes to have your completed flyer in your hands!
So are there laws surrounding busking? Or can you just go out onto the street and begin performing? Well, the rules vary from country to country. It is important that you follow the laws your country has set out, or you could face a hefty fine or a permanent ban from busking in the future.
Let’s take a closer look at the rules in place.
As long as the busker is aged fourteen or older, busking is not illegal in the UK. However, this can vary depending on what region you live in and what rules the local council have in place. You should always check whether you need to get a busking licence by going onto your council’s official site and entering your postcode. Prices will vary, as some councils will request you pay a fee and others will be free of charge.
If you do require a licence you will always need to busk with it visible, in case council workers are conducting inspections and checks. You can accept money in the form of donations from the general public, but if you want to sell your CDs then you will need a Street Trading Licence.
As far as getting a crowd together we recommend you find busy street corners for maximum foot traffic.
What’s more, don’t think you can just head into the London Underground to perform. You will need to attend specific auditions and hold a certain number of licences.
The USA is similar to the UK, but some places have specific anti-busking laws in place. However, if there are none and the public place does not require you to hold a permit, you should be fine to perform. If you are unsure of the law, and you are asked to move on by the police, then it’s best that you do.
If you want to perform on private property then it goes without saying that you should not only ask permission but check out the laws so you know your rights. Lots of towns will want you to audition and be a permit holder.
Cities like Chicago will need you to hold a permit for every performance that you do, and there are noise restrictions and set times in place for when you can perform. Boston goes one step further and actually requires a criminal background check as well as an audition. New York is a bit more relaxed; as long as you are busking without an amplifier then you can perform anywhere apart from within 50 feet of monuments.
Laws surrounding busking vary from city to city in Canada, meaning that you will need to do your research before you can begin your busking career. Smaller places like Stanford, Ontario don’t need you to possess a permit but you will still need to respect their rules regarding selling and noise level.
But the larger Canadian cities such as Montreal and Vancouver will need you to have a busking permit otherwise it’s against the law for you to perform there. The penalties for not following the laws are strict, you could even have your equipment confiscated.
So what about Europe? Well, we’ve already covered the UK but what about Belgium, France, Germany and others? Cities in Belgium will require you to purchase a busking permit, and so will some of the smaller towns.
Brussels will require you to have a permit and you are banned from performing on the weekend. Bruges, however, offers free permits but you would only be allowed to busk on three days out of the month.
France will require you to hold a permit, and these can be costly. Some of the bigger towns will have time limits and slots for you to abide by. In comparison Germany is a bit more relaxed, however, you will still need to apply for a permit if you want to play in the bigger towns.
If you want to busk in Austria you will need a permit for pretty much anywhere you go. There are also time restrictions in place. Switzerland has completely banned amplification through the country, and you will need permits for some of the bigger towns. Mainly, though, you just need to abide by their set rules.
Busking in Italy depends on the region, and the South seems to be a bit stricter than the North, with police patrolling the area in places like the Amalfi Coast as busking is completely banned. To busk in Rome you’ll need a permit but the smaller towns can be a bit more relaxed, especially if they like what they hear!
Despite all these rules and regulations, the benefits of busking far outweigh any stress they might cause!
Many famous artists and performers have cut their teeth on the New York City subway and in public spaces such as Rod Stewart, BB King, Tracy Chapman, Ed Sheeran and Rodrigo Y Gabriela.
Let’s go through the main benefits that busking can offer.
Earning money is a great benefit of street performance, as it can be put into furthering your music career. For example, you could save up the money you earn busking to purchase a new studio kit or to book valuable studio time.
Of course, you don’t have to busk just for money as you can simply do it for the experience and fun.
Busking can be a huge help in developing your confidence as a performer and it gives you an opportunity to hone your skills. It also opens up the opportunity for you to try out any original songs or material you might have up your sleeve.
No doubt you will receive feedback from the public, both positive and constructive and you can put that to good use.
There is a huge army of buskers out there, and instead of feeling the competition between you and them, it’s best to embrace them. This way you will get to meet like-minded people who may be able to impart their wisdom, tips and experiences with you.
This can improve your confidence no end, as well as helping you to make new musician friends that you may want to collaborate with in the future.
This can also lead to you being offered gigs, whether that be for weddings, a one-off performance or for festivals, all will lead to good exposure for you! Plus the more gigs you get from busking, the more likely you are to be offered new jobs. This could simply be from word of mouth and different people recommending you, or through the growth of your social media channels.
We acknowledge that you may have to pay for a busking licence depending on where you live, but it is money well spent as after this you can cash in on the free publicity it can give you. You can gain a whole new legion of fans from your time spent busking because if you do it right your music will get you noticed.
You could get a friend to come along and record your performance, that way you can use it to boost your social media platform. This can also work for photos, you could get a friend to take pictures of you in action or go that one step further and hire a freelance photograph if you have a bit of money to spare. This way, you will be guaranteed professional quality pictures for your website or social media.
If it’s increased engagement that you’re after, then we recommend you cover a well-known song or flip the arrangement. This garners people’s interest no end! Popularity on the street can definitely translate into online growth for your music.
We hope that we have provided some context behind the busking meaning. Busking is a brilliant way for musicians to hone their craft and skills in a live and exciting setting. You get the pleasure of entertaining people and revelling in satisfaction when you make them stop and take time out of their busy day to listen to your music.
You don’t have to buy that expensive Street Trading Licence, you could always hand out copies of your CD. This way, people get to take something away with them that will remind them of your talent! Who knows what this could lead to? A donation, another follow on social media and more fans to support you.
We strongly recommend that you do your research before you begin your busking career, as you should never just pop out to play without knowing the rules. Just a simple Google search will do, and it will pull up all the information you need. It’s simply not worth the risk to ignore the law regarding permits or not abide by the timing or equipment restrictions as punishments can be severe.
There may be a fine that you can’t afford, or it may result in your precious equipment being taken away from you. You should always take your permit with you when you perform, as you never know when someone from the police force or local council will be checking things out.
What’s more, it’s always best to follow the unspoken rules of an area. Busking may be legal there, but the local residents or businesses might not appreciate it. And why would you want to play in a hostile area that will offer you nothing in the way of engagement or money?
This is where making busking friends comes in, as they will be able to advise you with their inside knowledge and experiences. Just stick to the rules, and you will be fine.
Busking can open up a whole new world for musicians, and we whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your permit and kit and get busking!