Part 3: How to Actually Busk
Written by Matt Sokol - www.weirdodrummer.com
This is a guide to performing music for tips in the MBTA stations through Boston’s official buskers program. Part 1 covered why busking is a good way to make money and improve your skills through music. Part 2 covered the steps you need to take before busking (don’t skip it). In this article, we finally discuss the first busking session.
How to Actually Busk
Now that you have your permit and music worked out you can go ahead and busk.
What do you do?
Choose Your Spot
The first step is to find a spot. There is a list of T stations you can busk at on the MBTA performer permit webpage. You should to print this list out and keep it with you.
Some spots are great, others not so much. A good starting point is the red line stretch from Davis Square to South Station. Pretty much every spot along that way is good to busk, other than the MIT and Mass General Hospital stops.
T spots can be competitive to get. There are only a few of them and a lot of people like to busk. You should either grab a spot first thing in the morning or plan to go in the afternoon for when the early buskers leave.
If you’re going in the morning, trial and error is the only way to learn. Start by showing up at 10:00am at a spot and see if it works. If not, you can adjust from there.
For afternoon busking, 2:00pm may be a good time to start looking. Feel free to ask buskers how long they think they’ll be there as long as you respect whatever answer they give you.
Remember: Nobody owes you anything. If you don’t get a spot, put the blame on yourself and try not to feel angry at people. I make a point of tipping other buskers to show respect.
The Busk Session
The actual busk is mostly common sense. Set up your instrument, get tuned up, and put your tip jar or whatever in front of you. Play music. Leave.
Here are some other ideas to think about:
Stay out of the way.
Make sure your set-up is up against the wall wherever you are and that you aren’t impeding foot traffic. An annoyed T rider is not going to tip you.
You Are Background Music
Make sure your music is at a comfortable listening level. You should be heard by people within a reasonable distance, but don’t turn up if they aren’t paying attention. Keep it at a good volume and anybody who wants will come closer to listen or tip you.
The first time you go busking, it doesn’t hurt to bring a friend for the first ten minutes to help you soundcheck. Someone else’s ears will be more honest than your own.
Start with a few bucks in the jar
People are afraid to go first. If your guitar case or other tipping container is empty when you start, the first tip may not come. It seems arbitrary but having a few dollars and some change to start with will encourage a lot of early tippers.
You should also pull money out of the jar every now and then. If it gets above $10, pull a few dollars out. This keeps you from having a bunch of money sitting out in public, and it looks more like you need support.
Respect the T workers
The T workers have a lot of difficult jobs to do in a noisy and chaotic environment. Be friendly and respectful to anybody who is working while you busk.
Performing for a long time without breaks will hurt your body. You are human. Aim to take a five minute break every 25 minutes. It seems like a lot but it is very important.
Taking breaks will make it easier to do long sessions.
Drink Water Conservatively
Most T stops don’t have bathrooms. Enough said.
In next week’s final article, I’ll tie up the odds and ends of the busking process and talk about where to go from here. If you’ve got any questions or suggestions, please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.