Busking: an essential guide with Busk in London

Busk in London Programme Director Kate Jones presents her top tips for aspiring street musicians…


Busking in London is not quite as simple as just walking out onto the streets armed with your instrument and some songs.

Depending on where in the capital, you may need a licence while you also need to think about the kind of sets you want to play.

Ahead of International Busking Day which took place on Saturday 21st July, we caught up with Busk in London Programme Director Kate Jones to learn her essential advice when it comes to taking to the streets...

As an aspiring busker, before I go out and play, is there anything I need to do - do I need a licence to play certain spots?  

Busking is legal on public land. The only exceptions in London are the London Borough of Camden and Uxbridge Town Centre. 

Both of these areas require a performer to apply and pay for a licence. The difficulty in big cities like London is that land might look like it is public, but is actually privately owned but has public access – a good example of this is the area by the river in front of the Southbank Centre. This looks like public land, but in fact it is owned by the Southbank Centre and they run their own busking scheme.

How should I choose my spot?  

With the above advice not withstanding, look for locations that have good footfall, have space so if you draw a crowd they do not block the pavement and are not too close to shops or residential blocks - sound can travel in mysterious ways (particularly in the hot weather) and while you may think you are not playing too loudly, the person living in the flat above your location may have something different to say!

Are there any promotional tips you have around busking? What should I take with me? 

Always have a sign with your name and social media handles on it - people who like you may want to find you later, particularly if they can’t stop to talk." 

How can I best utilise social media when it comes to promoting my busking?  

Post your busking locations, live stream your performance, connect with other performers and support them.  

As a first-time busker, are there any essential items you'd advise me to take?  

Be prepared for everything and anything. A battery powered amp, mic and mic stand (if you are a vocalist), you need to cut through the ambient noise that is present in busy London locations. Make sure you have spare strings if you are a guitarist - nothing brings a performance (and earning potential) to a standstill quicker than a broken string, a battery if you rely on a tuner, have business cards/postcards or flyers with your details on so people can take one and look you up on social media. Don't forget water or suncream (or gloves in the winter!) 

How should I choose my musical material?   

Be as flexible as you can - if your set list of heartwrenchingly sad ballads is not winning you any fans or money, you need to be able to change the mood quickly. You want floor fillers, not floor clearers!"  

Think about adapting surprising covers to suit your style/instrument or tackle repertoire not usually played on/sung in your style. For example, a rock version of a musical theatre number, Beethoven on rock guitar or a Bon Jovi hit played on the violin. Make people stop in their tracks!

Have you any other tips for first time buskers?   

Read the Busk in London Buskers’ Code at buskinlondon.com - lots of practical and helpful tips to help you avoid any problems. Be engaging - no-one stops for the miserable looking performer who doesn’t look up from their instrument. Write down a few lines of “patter” you can use to talk to the crowd (remember they will move on after a short time, so you can repeat a line!) compliment your audience, talk about your location, make a joke, be polite, be friendly.

Find out more at buskinlondon.com 

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by Jim Ottewill
July 16, 2018
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