Busking in Sydney

Walking around the area where the cruise ships dock in Sydney, Australia, there are a good amount of street performers. Lots of ambient, music acts and a couple of them were cultural acts. I’ll talk a bit more about the acts in a bit, however the thing I noticed was all the acts with amplified sound used the Roland Street Cube EX. That’s the same one I use for my street show PA, so I guess I’m part of the “cool kids”.

One of the first acts we came across was this kid who was playing guitar. The sign he has in his case says that he’s deaf and he’s actually playing.

I’m not a guitar player, but to my untrained eye, his hands didn’t really match up with the sound. I could totally be wrong, but if I’m right, it’s a solid hustle!

Then there was this guy with the drum.

For the little while we watched him, he didn’t really do anything remarkable. I’m sure that he’s great, and that’s simply based on his sign boating about how many social media followers he has.

That’s the take away, signage is a lot more important now to busking than it was when I was a teenager and did it for money.

Then there were two cultural acts. The first one was just guy singing and making music.

It was really an ambient act with no engagement with people (that I saw).

However the second one was a group and the guy had some showman ship flair!

Of all the acts I saw, he was the only one that built a crowd. He did little talks and call and response things, like “we call this a ____…everyone say ____” and talked to the audience.

With a big cruise ship in town and it unloading and loading passengers, doing something cultural is smart. Ship passengers want to feel like they’re learning about where they’re visiting, and I think this was the act that connect with the audience the most because of that.

Also, while I’m not knocking the other cultural act that was using a percussion instrument, I’d bet 90% of the tourists want to see the digeridoo. Sure there’s a lot more to aboriginal culture, but honestly are you busking to teach people or make money? Yes, you can still teach people and if that’s in your heart, you absolutely should do what’s authentic to yourself and goals. However if you’re going to try to convince people to give you money, you need to figure out how to deliver that message in a way that will reach them (and their wallets).


To Lure With Spectacle…

To lure with spectacle by jimmy talksalot

A while ago I got the book To Lure With Spectacle by Jimmy Talksalot at the recommendation of my buddy Skip Banks. I was having an issue with my street show and he said the book might help me.

The issue I was having was mentally I was getting upset at people that would stick around for one trick and then leave. It’s a small percentage of the audience, and it really bugged me. In the book Jimmy writes about audiences “doing you a favor” by watching versus you doing the audience a favor by performing for them. This is a huge mental shift and really helped me out. I’m no stranger to performing for a transient audience, but sometimes you forget things and a refresher course is needed.

If you are thinking about street performing or want to make your street show better, I totally recommend this book. I don’t busk, I perform street style shows at fairs. The huge difference is at the end, I don’t ask for a tips. If you’re in the fair market, this book is also very worthwhile!


To Lure With Spectacle!

When I was performing in King City, CA a few weeks ago my buddy Skip Banks let me read his copy of To Lure With Spectacle by Jimmy Talksalot. I mentioned to Skip that there was a couple of things about my street show that I didn’t like and he brought in the book for me to read the next day.

To lure with spectacle by jimmy talksalot

I was a great read and it really helped me solve some of the problems I was having with my street show. I like it so much I bought one for myself!

The current edition looks different from the previous one, it’s got a lot less frills, but the same great information. If you’re interested in doing street shows, I highly recommend it!

When Not to Busk…

What’s wrong with some people. This was posted in a magicians group on Facebook:

I hope that the guy was just trolling and not serious. It’s insanely unethical, it’s like busking for tips in a hotel lobby or inside the gate at Disneyland.

Here’s my replies:

As for consequences, the cruise line can absolutely ask you to stop. If you don’t, they can disembark you any port. The bigger picture is that at the end of the every cruise passengers fill out comment cards and rate things like the entertainment. There could be some confusion as to whether or not the magician who decides to busk works for the cruise line, in which case they may mark the magician down or leave negative comments about the magician hustling tips. This isn’t good for the guy who got hired to work there.

If you’ve ever thought of doing this…don’t.

Extreme Street Performing…

In Seattle one of the spots that people street perform is at the Pike Place Market. The challenge there is there is a permit system and a lot of rules. However if you cross the street you are still in an area with high tourist traffic and there are no rules.

I was just down there and across the street from the Pike Place Market on the corner, there was a crazy set up for a band doing a street show!

The band didn’t even fit on the corner, they spilled out onto the street. The have their own power supply, five speakers and even a giant umbrella! This is some next level street performing, you can hear them blocks away!

One of the things with most street performers is the ability to be mobile. The time it takes to set up is time you could be performing, I’m going to imagine this set up is a pain to unload from the car and build before you start performing, then you have to take it down at the end of the day. Then you factor in that there are 3-4 people involved and everyone gets a piece of the hat. I’m curious how long they can do this and still be profitable AND how long before they get a ticket for being in the street. They’re set up at a busy intersection.

I do like that they’re doing what they need to do to bring their art to the people!

Street Performing 101…

When I was a kid starting out, I used to take a bus into downtown and street perform. I still ocassionally street perform, but not usually in the normal context of plunking a table down on a street corner. When I perform at fairs, sometimes I will do a “found space” show. These shows happen on the fairgrounds and are pretty much street shows. The main difference is that the show doesn’t end with a hat pitch. I don’t ask for money.

Yesterday I performed at a busker festival, and I was one of the paid acts, so I didn’t have to ask for money. I did after my first show, but the second show I couldn’t because there was a presentation after me and they wanted me to hold the crowd and introduce the guy that was going to talk.

From the one show I did where I did a hat pitch, I remembered how important it is to actually have a hat pitch. My non existent hat pitch didn’t really work. There are essentially two elements to a good hat pitch. First is the plea, you tell them why they should tip you. Usually these start with, “This is my job…” and then tell about how tips are your income. You then do your final big trick and go into the call to action, where you tell people to put money in your hat. There are a million stock lines for this, like “Remember Tipping isn’t just a city in China…” Things like that. It’s the running lines of patter during the hat that fill the awkward, empty silence and while people are digging out their wallets.

In my opinion, having a strong hat pitch and a good show will make you more money street performing than having a good hat pitch and a strong show. If you’re thinking about street performing, be sure to work on the hat pitch!

Subway Stradivarious or Bucket Drummer

A few years ago the Washington Post did an “experiment” where they had a concert violinist play a Stradivarius for people in the subway  (You can read the article here).  This recently popped up again on my Facebook feed and and I have some thoughts on it.   Here’s the video: You can be the best … Continue reading “Subway Stradivarious or Bucket Drummer”

A few years ago the Washington Post did an “experiment” where they had a concert violinist play a Stradivarius for people in the subway  (You can read the article here).  This recently popped up again on my Facebook feed and and I have some thoughts on it.


Here’s the video:

You can be the best musician, play the best instrument, but that doesn’t mean you are the right person for the job.  Street performing is a skill, just like playing in a theater is a skill, and those skills don’t necessarily translate.   I bet the guys paying drums on a $2 bucket were making a lot more than him.


So why didn’t the violinist build a crowd?


Years ago I was told by Tom Frank that before picking a spot to busk, you look the people’s feet.  Are the fast or slow?  The violinist picked a commuter spot.  Not a good choice and any experienced busker probably wouldn’t line up for that pitch.


Look at the location, you really can’t build a crowd without completely blocking the foot traffic.  It’s essentially between two doors.  If someone wanted to stop and watch, it wouldn’t be comfortable. They’d have people walking in front of them, or into them.


They also picked doing it at “rush hour”…guess why they call it rush hour?  People are in a rush!  You’ll do better before or after rush hour when people have more time.


Based on a Q & A I read from the author of the article, that place normally doesn’t allow street performers, so they had to get special permission for it.  So the place didn’t have a street performing culture, which is another big factor.


Look at the successful street performers, where do they go?  Do they go where business commuters go, or do they go where tourists go?  Spoiler alert, they go where tourists or people not on business are.  Those  people have more time.  I’m very curious how well the violinist would have done if you put him in a place with a street performing culture?


Even if you gave him a good time at a good spot, he wouldn’t have done as well as the guy playing the bucket on his first time out.  He’s playing “ambient music” versus “interactive music”.  Ambient music people walk by, stop for a bit, toss a buck in the violin case and go about their day.  Interactive music would be he says hi people, has little “bits”, sees a guy wearing a band shirt, calls attention to it and  plays the hook from one of that bands songs.  It’s a different style of performing, you can’t do you “theater act” as is on the street and expect the same results.


I guess the takeaway from this is that if you are moving venues as a performer, you should expect a learning curve!