10 Stressful Problems Only Busking Musicians Will Know
By Lars Mullen
As if the council’s strict rules and legal policies aren’t enough to contend with, there are many bug bearing, stressful everyday problems that buskers are all so aware of.
Busking adds colour and vibrancy to any town or city wherever the location. Many councils and local businesses recognise that street performers and musicians are all part of a city’s cultural life and encourage buskers of most musical genres.
Unpaid buskers rely on contributions from the kind public to pay their wages. It’s a shame though, that busking itself is often seen as a form of begging and oh so often, people do not recognise the talent on the pavement.
That’s just one of the frustrations buskers run into every day. Here are 10 stressful problems only busking musicians will know...
Grabbing the Prime Busking Spot
Many towns and cities have dedicated performance areas (some better than others) and prime spots often have a queue of artists, or even auditions, before giving out a license or a permit.
Whilst local shops encourage a live music atmosphere, there’s always the chance someone is going to complain about the volume, or holla “play something else!”
Keeping the Material Fresh
It’s essential not to repeat songs in your slot, be it a prime patch or otherwise, and have at least 2 hours worth of material as, again, shop workers and also the residence in the flats above can’t run and hide from the third rendition of what you may consider your best song.
So don’t overstay your welcome, even if you are in a popular area.
Disrespectful Fellow Buskers
A willingness to compromise on selected pitches is all part of the busking community working together, a violinist playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major isn’t going to work if the guitarist on the other side of the street is hell bent on playing Iron Maiden speed riffs. If the latter, work on the solos and get them spot on, busking isn’t the place to rehearse, go out into the fields to do that.
Gig Equipment Overload
Many a talented busker will perform a stunning set on a solo instrument, whilst others indeed need guitars, amps, mikes and floor effects to perform complicated songs… the likes of Pink Floyd are often favourites.
It’s imperative all gear is in top condition and everything’s charged up, there’s no turning back on a flat battery half way through ‘Brick In The Wall’ and trudging a 12 volt car battery around is not for the faint hearted.
Holding Back the Urge
Training your water works to hold back between sets is not so easy. Drinks, hot or cold, are essential to lubricate the vocal chords and help dehydration in the summer, whist hot drinks are of course a comfort on cooler days. Ha, yeah, but you can rest assured that your current location will be a million miles from the nearest loo.
You have a great crowd now, and it’s not financially beneficial to stop, but if you have to, what would you do with all your gear when you get the ‘urge to go?’
Every busker is completely dependent on the weather. For the UK, the weather app is essential, is it going to be warm or cold, windy, wet or dry? Best to check as it probably won’t be the same tomorrow. Unlike brass players, buskers with stringed instruments can’t wear gloves in the winter, you may just get away with fingerless gloves if that makes sense though.
Tuning For the Elements
Most buskers play to backing tracks that are in a fixed tuning, but as the outside air temperature fluctuates, and you know it will, guitar strings or any stringed instrument for that matter, are going to expand and contract.
Playing in the cold is more of an intonation challenge, especially for brass players, as a cold horn is not cool, and an out of tune trumpet will reverberate for two blocks and come back even worse.
“Can I Have a Go?”
Remember what we said, folk watching are thinking about paying your wages, but patience is a virtue when the smart arse or drunk shuffles in your space lurching at the mike or guitar to have go, or a dog peeing in the guitar case of hard earned change, even worse all over your merchandise! It happens.
We are back to the authorities on this one. Some say the councils pay the PRS (Performing Rights Society) only for the dedicated busking areas. It’s a grey area, it’s highly recommended you check before playing a note.
Selling your own CDs will top up the voluntary contributions, but you’ll need to pay for a street trading licence from the local authorities, they do say though that, if you are feeling generous, you can give them away….hmmm!
Looking The Part
Busking in a minor key whilst staring at your boots mumbling depressing lyrics is not what the passerby wants to hear. They’ve just missed their bus or got a parking ticket, they want to be cheered up.
A lot of people assume buskers are down on their luck, so make a good impression, look smart, smile and be happy (it may be hard sometimes), work verbally with the crowd.
Give Your Busking a Boost
There are definitely some downsides to being a busker, whether that’s dealing with the weather or your fellow buskers. But all of these problems are worth it for the chance to do what you love for hundreds of people, right in the heart of the city.
What better way to brighten up everyone’s day and add a little life to your town?
For the die hard busker, protecting your instrument from the elements is a must. You need to be able to pick up, carry and head out of the door with everything you’ll need for your set safely on your back, whether that’s a violin or a guitar and amp.
By Lars Mullen