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Busking With a Guitar - Got Any Advice?

 
pollinator
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So, I have played at firepits and weddings and churches. I know a few hundred songs, and pick up new ones quickly.

So if I plunk down outside a local farmer's market for a couple of hours, with my old six string and gravelly voice, and a guitar case "salted" with generous tips (the float), is it worthwhile?

Thing is, I've noticed that live music makes anything an event. Canned music, on the other hand, makes it a mall. Or an elevator. Everybody and their cat has Spotify at their fingertips - yawn.

Is this only for students and starving musicians? Or can anyone take a strum at it? And if you play the game, how do you win?

You may say that getting there costs more than the tips you make. And yet, if you can time this with your weekly run into town for food, gas, beer, garbage, recycling and deck screws, then the transportation cost has been paid by the "never drive empty" trapline.

It would be fun to try anyway. Any advice?
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Just came across this -- pretty cool.

https://priceonomics.com/the-economics-of-busking/

Curiously, it's saved in my downloads with "How to Skin and Gut a Squirrel in Less than a Minute." Could be an unique schtick?
 
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have you talked to the farmer's market folks? around here the organizers usually have different musicians as part of the market weekly.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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There's nothing that organized for the small local markets here. I have yet to see a live player at all. So it's wide open.
 
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Douglas said You may say that getting there costs more than the tips you make. And yet, if you can time this with your weekly run into town for food, gas, beer, garbage, recycling and deck screws, then the transportation cost has been paid by the "never drive empty" trapline.



We had a friend that had a band that we followed for many years.

At some point, a musician can ask for part of the cover charge if playing where there is one. This is especially appropriate if you have enough of a following to bring in more customers.

 
greg mosser
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might still be worth talking to organizers. you'll probably get better tips if you're seen to be part of the event rather than sitting out front trying to horn in. they may even find a good central spot for you.
 
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Back before The Current Bad Times there used to be a busker in a place we used to go out to for day trips. He was an impersonator and was a great hoot. What I think worked the best for him (besides sounding EXACTLY like the guy he impersonates and knowing all his work- the best equivalent to the musician in the US might be Frank Zappa, sort of wacky but always fun) was having lots of signs and snarky things around, and he is very responsive to the audience. (he has an old boot to throw money into, with a little sign that says something to the tune of "could be a coin, could be a bill, but for pete's sake put something in here"; he drives an old hippie van, he is super distinctive. Anyone who puts something in the boot gets to pick a song or... gets integrated into the song!! It's great fun. We occasionally see his van somewhere and really enjoy seeing him (rather than tiring of seeing him every single time).
 
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Hi Douglas,

Try it and find out.  You should know within the first hour.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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John F Dean wrote:Try it and find out.  You should know within the first hour.


My thinking exactly. I play just about every day to stay in shape, so whatever happens it's not wasted time.

Local produce is in season now, so the local farmer's markets seem quite busy.

And Greg is right --  it would good manners to chat up the folks who run the market. I would have to be outside anyway, because I can't help singing moistly.
 
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in my teens I used to play on the busy streets carried my six string everywhere, not for money never even thought of that at the time, I would play at the movie theatre Friday nights before the show started again not for money, just what I did what I enjoyed doing, theres nothing quite like a crowds approval of your art, worth much more than any gold or silver, that was forty something years ago. more recently ive been thinking of trying out my newest songs on the streets of Nashville . if it wasn't for this covid virus I probably would have a report about it to share.
go for it. anywhere theres a crowd they will Let you know very quickly if they like what your doing but I wouldn't go at it looking to make any money if its what's in your heart and the masses like it there will be financial opportunities you can find, Anne spelled it out quite nicely.
 
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As a vendor at a farmers market for 4 years now,  I will say that the musicians coming in make all the difference in the atmosphere of the market. I hope you do it! I also know that as long as the tip-container is readily visible and you help plant the idea by laying a couple of dollars and some change in to start, you should be able to make a nice little chunk while doing something that you clearly greatly enjoy. I once helped a rather shy musician and set up the tip container for him by bringing over a basket and laying a dollar into it to get things started, only to have him leave at the end of the market without the basket! So I quickly emptied it, counted it (I was curious), and brought it to him while he was walking to his car. He got about $80 in just 2 1/2 hours time. It adds up quickly! Like others have stated, I would try to be in the market and be more a part of it, rather than in front of it somewhere. It's a wonderful little community - be a part of it!
 
John F Dean
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Hi Douglas

Please keep us updated as to the outcomes.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Stopped in and talked to the head honcho. They had a guitar guy last year but he stopped coming (bad tips? lousy player? crunchy playlist? who knows). It's a small venue but it's handy for me. He said to be in place half an hour before opening -- people line up. Next Thursday, if the stars align. Guess I'd better get to work on this so's I don't stink up the joint. It'll be fun.
 
Annie Collins
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Stopped in and talked to the head honcho. They had a guitar guy last year but he stopped coming (bad tips? lousy player? crunchy playlist? who knows). It's a small venue but it's handy for me. He said to be in place half an hour before opening -- people line up. Next Thursday, if the stars align. Guess I'd better get to work on this so's I don't stink up the joint. It'll be fun.



Good for you! Let us know how your first session goes! Hey, maybe a little video even? Would be fun to hear you play and sing!
 
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Seconding what Tereza said. When I was thinking about busking, I asked a circus friend who had done some street performances and he said the same thing; you need a hook - something to get them to stop and actually listen - whether that’s an attention grabbing outfit or a whacky personality/act. Then your art will speak for itself. Though this was more geared towards being out in the street and not at an event where people will already be gathering, so you may not have as much need to stand out and be interesting.

I’m also looking forward to hearing how it goes!
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Mission delayed due to a sore throat. Singing in a public venue would be  irresponsible in these times. Dammit, I was all fired up.
 
bruce Fine
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I have to disagree with cam about or gag or whatever
like Joe Perry/aerosmith said, let the music do the talking. the hook is in the music that you play
play your music. if people like it they will listen
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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I think it's true that many types of street performers use a dramatic hook to draw people in from the passing stream and hold them. Especially at large events and festivals.

Musicians perhaps don't need to go to such lengths, but it's still good mojo to engage with your audience. I think my choice of a playlist is pretty important. Not too crunchy, more fun than gloom, that sort of thing.
 
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for me it can be hit and miss but usually a hit. I have busked my way across most of canada with great results. farmers markets are great, as are busy downtown corners and liqour stores on a weekend or holiday. I'd say on average it would work out to 40-60 dollars an hour. that said sometimes you make near nothing and sometimes 400-500 dollars (downtown on a friday near some bars).
the other great thing about busking is that it gets your foot in the door. while travelling when people see you have an instrument they want to talk to you, invite you in, give you a ride , feed you ect.

anyways i think go for it!
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Jordy, that's amazing. What sort of material gets the best response?
 
jordy blackbird
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hey, sorry wqs out data. I play mostly banjo and play lots of oldtimey folk bluegrass,but pretty anything gets a response. people do like songs they know, I just dont know very many of those.
 
bruce Fine
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so, how's the busking going? its getting that time of year, leaves will be falling before you know it and farmers markets will be gone for the season.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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I had to cancel last week due to a sore throat (which requires the covid isolation protocol). But I'm on the mend and planning on this Thursday. It's late in the season, but it's high season for local produce -- and a good way to test the waters.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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So, I did it! First time busking, ever, at a small town farmer's market. Forget the tender throat and plugged ears, the show must go on!

Results: I earned $10 and a nice fruit basket from one of the vendors.

Lessons learned:

1. Location, location, location. Mine was the worst possible.

2. Markets have a rhythm. The early line was for the outdoor fruit vendors (far away from me). The later line was to go indoors.

3. Small town: Some dig it, others are weirded out and avert their eyes. Apparently only homeless drug addicts busk in small towns, hahah. And seniors pinch every penny.

4. Amplification may be worth the hassle.

5. It was fun, and an opportunity to learn. I'll do it again. However, I will delay giving up the day job. :-)
Guitar-Busking-1.png
[Thumbnail for Guitar-Busking-1.png]
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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This was the playlist for my first busking adventure. It's a challenge to hit a broad audience, so I chose material that crosses over well -- a little folk, a little country, a little blues, a little rock-and-roll. Any suggestions/requests?

Proud Mary
Hit the Road Jack
Call Me the Breeze
King of the Road
Five Days in May
Give Me the Beat Boys/Drift Away
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
I've Got a Dog
City of New Orleans
The Gambler
End of the Line
Sixteen Tons
Six Days on the Road
Stray Cat Strut
Down and Out
My Maria
Old '55
Tulsa Time
Folsom Prison Blues
Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head
Horse with no Name
Heart of Gold

There was also some subtler stuff I wanted to do, but nobody would have heard it without amplification, unless they stopped in the middle of a busy walkway to listen (the location issue again).

Superman Song
Desperado
Harvest Moon
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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I was short on time but stopped in at the market anyway.

Changed my location, so people could stand and dance a little. Catchy beat seems to  appeal. (Doesn't help that my voice is still not in great shape.) Market was pretty quiet overall; I guess that's a fall thing.

The take: $8.00 for 35 minutes work. Plus 2 peaches and a pear from the fruit vendor. So I'm making minimum wage anyway, plus bonus points from DW.

(I also did this as part of my "trapline" so the gas covered many errands. And on the way I sharpened kitchen knives for a lovely granny for $5.)
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Thanks everyone. I probably wouldn't have tried the experiment without this community's encouragement.
 
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