Working for an appreciative audience
"The Stringbeans" ready for business
'Busking' is another term for 'Street Performing'
Some people find busking too much like begging, but it is the entry level of performance and it is very easy to start, and once you become accustomed to it, it can be quite fun.
There is a lot of freedom with this form of performance - especially with a fiddle. The fiddle is one of the most ideal instruments for busking - there is such a large repertoire of such varied genres of music: Old Time, Movie Themes, Norwegian, Classical, Klezmer, Jazz. The fiddle is a very mobile instrument you can simply set up and play at a moment’s notice. You can operate without any electricity. You can stand and play, heck you can even dance and play. In fact, you might consider dancing as you play as part of your shtick because movement catches people’s attention, and you are not constrained to play into some dreaded microphone dangling in front of your face.
Busking really helps your confidence, though it is so very scary to do the first few times. At first you will feel very exposed, but the more you do it the more confident you will feel. Look at the reaction of kids. Consider that you might be the first fiddler that a little kid sees. Have a small repertoire of kid-friendly tunes (She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain or the theme from Sesame Street). If you know a few fiddle tricks like having a fiddle make the sound of a train whistle, or the sounds of a sea gull – this is a great time and place to use this.
Keep in mind you are not playing to a captive audience. People will walk past you and go on with their day without even looking at you. Don’t let this intimidate you. Use it to your advantage. Get used to playing in the presence of other people. Since you have new clientele walking past you constantly there is no problem of repeating your playlist multiple times. If you make a mistake - don’t sweat it. You will get it right the next time through.
Here are some tips for busking:
1. Location, location, location
a. It has been argued legally, and very successfully (see here), that busking is a form of expression which is protected by the first amendment of the constitution. However, a busker is only protected constitutionally on public property, not on private property. Also note that some city ordinances have rules limiting busking (i.e. Chicago) but this is not too much of a problem here in Minnesota.
b. Pick a location which is not too close to other buskers
c. Pick a location which has a large number of people who have cash available (a number of buskers work farmers markets - its busy and there is lots of cash changing hands).
2. Create your own space. This may mean just opening your case, but perhaps you want to stand on a blanket to better define your 'stage'.
3. Have a varied repertoire which matches the clientele. Remember: people like to hear what they already know. You can play something different but make sure to mix it in with well-known pieces people might recognize – like movie themes (Pirates of the Caribbean or Last of the Mohican’s themes)
4. Make eye contact. This means you play from memory - no sheet music. The point here is to interact with the clientele. Say “Thank you” when someone drops a dollar in your case - or take a bow while continuing to play – but by all means: acknowledge your audience!
5. To seed or not to seed. Some buskers put an initial dollar in their case, just to let people know what is expected. Some buskers feel they need to earn that first dollar so, they will not seed their case. The first dollar is the hardest one, after that they come easier.
6. If you do play at a farmer’s market, it is good form to spend some (if not all) of your earnings at that farmers market and return home with the makings of a healthy meal. Some farmers market vendors are known to tip musicians with fresh produce.
7. Don’t forget to wear a hat or have sun-tan lotion, especially if you don’t have a shaded place to play.
8. Bring some water to drink.
9. Be a good neighbor - If you are going to play at a farmers market, it's important to be sensitive to the nearby vendors. Do not crowd them or impede the traffic in front of their stand. Some vendors have expressed preference for all acoustic music. Some other musicians, often paid, use small amps, and vendors have said it can make it hard to converse with customers. Another advantage to play all acoustic is that people who are interested in hearing you will come closer. That's good, because...well... it means that they'll be closer to the open case. Check the website for the Mill City Farmers Market. They have a music policy which makes a lot of sense--paid music at certain hours, buskers welcome at other times.