Charlotte Campbell: life as a busker
Our alumna Charlotte Campbell lets us in on life as a London street performer…
Busking in London can be a tough, yet exciting gig but what prompts an artist to go down this path?
Our alumna Charlotte Campbell chose this route to build her audience and it’s a move which has massively paid off. She enjoyed a scholarship with us after winning the Gigs busking competition and has since won over Ed Sheeran while picking up increasing numbers of fans for her impromptu covers (watch her recent take on ‘Three Lions’).
Ahead of her biggest gig to date at St Pancras Old Church and this weekend’s International Busking Day, we quizzed Charlotte on her experiences on London’s streets…
How did you get started in busking?
I started making videos for my music and putting them on YouTube but I wasn’t getting too many views. So, it had me wondering how I could best get more people to listen. I lived in London and was walking along the Southbank and saw someone busking and thought I could do it. I started performing, then around the same time, found this organisation Busk In London, who run International Busking Day, they’ve been running these competitions for buskers since 2009. It’s called Gigs now and I ended up winning a scholarship through it to study at ICMP via the competition. After finishing my studies, I carried on busking and ended up pursuing it full time.
It seems like an interesting way of sustaining yourself as a full-time musician?
I really enjoy the gigs on the streets themselves. Even if the money isn’t that good, it’s really fun and enjoyable.
How does social media help you as a busker?
People can find me on social media. I advertise on there so people can find out where I’m playing and listen to my original material. I started uploading my music on there, so it helps new fans who see me playing on the streets connect. As a busker, it also helps me find out if some pitches are too busy or they’re not open as well as meeting fellow buskers.
How do you pick what goes in each set? Do you tailor it for different locations?
Yes of course. At some places you get more drops more if you play classics by The Beatles or Ed Sheeran. At the same time you don’t want to be boring and play all the same material for every show. So I have a set list of songs that I play for different places.
How can you make sure you stand out?
Great songs – it’s important to play the best ones as it’s getting busier on the streets of London so competition is getting stronger.
I love writing songs and performing - that's why I do it - and you need to show that when you’re playing. it’s not all about making money so I think your passion needs to come through."
Do you collaborate with other buskers?
It’s very much a community. Although it is competitive because there is money at stake but it’s still very supportive and collaborative. You’ll help each other out when it comes to pitches and the likes but at the same time, there are more and more people doing this and saturating the market place.
If I was going busking for the first time, what should I take with me? Are there any essentials?
I guess a sign helps. It’s a bit obvious - I used to have cards but a sign will help - you can include your social media links on there - it’ll mean people passing remember you and will hopefully try and connect with you on social after they’ve seen you play. It’s a great way of expanding your fan base.
What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned from busking?
It’s given me hope for the music industry as it shows that people are willing to pay for music in its rawest form. As a songwriter, the way that the industry has changed with digital can be worrying and some have claimed that there’s no hope for the industry. There’s been a lot of talk about not making it as a songwriter as people don’t pay for music anymore.
Busking regularly has shown me that there is demand, people are more than happy to pay for music."
Busking gives the artist control: you have to work harder but it’s all about you. You just need to put yourself out there.
How has this shaped you as a songwriter?
I meet so many more people, so it means it’s changed how I see the world around me. It’s taken me out of my box - it means I write less love songs, my music is more about different mindsets, paths and journeys. Without wanting to sound too much like a hippy, it's definitely expanded my horizons...
Visit charlottecampbell.co.uk to find out more.
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