The Struggling Musician Part 6: Busking

I have just finished my second year at university. Contrary to what most people think university students aren’t loaded with disposable income (My bus pass costs £700 for the year…ouch!). To supplement their student loans they get part-time jobs. Since I am a musician, actually I consider myself a songwriter who happens to sing and play guitar, I gig and busk to earn some beer money.

This post isn’t about my gig experience as I have already spoken about that (See Struggling Musician Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). This post is about my experiences busking.

Public perception
Sadly the public perception of buskers is that we are either homeless, druggies, jobless and/or everything else that is wrong with society. Since busking I have had former work colleagues and friends who I have not seen for a long time speak to close friends of mine and offer statements like “He’s really fallen on hard times hasn’t he”
“What do you mean?” My friends reply.
“I saw him busking”
Some have even thought that I was homeless simply because I was busking. Why do we as a society have such a negative view towards buskers? Buskers don’t badger people for money, they simply play their instruments and hope that people will like what they are doing enough to put some change into their receptacles.
One could even go so far as to say that they provide a service. I know that hearing music certainly makes me happier. And who cares what they spend the money on…they have earned it right?

Now believe it or not buskers can make good money. Some days I have made no more than £10 but other days I have made up to £60 for two hours. If I could guarantee that sort of income I would busk for two hours every day.

Other buskers
I have seen many buskers in my travels. Some have been poor and some have been outstanding. It is unfortunate that the poor ones add to the bad name that buskers already have. They tend to be inexperienced musicians or, in one man’s case, mentally ill judging by the fact that he hasn’t any strings on his guitar and strums wildly while never forming any chords with his other hand. I’m not saying that only “proper” musicians should busk but I am saying that you will only be doing yourself a disservice if you are not practised enough to perform in public. People will ignore you. If you are that bad people may even heckle you.

I have had two negative experiences with homeless people whilst busking. On one occasion I had literally only sung a few songs and had £3 in my case (Which I had placed there to “prime” as they call it) when a homeless man approached and asked if he could borrow some money to get something to eat. Naturally I said no and suggested he ask people walking by rather than someone who has £3 in their case. He then began to insult me suggesting that I had money from mummy and daddy to which I retorted if I did then why would I be busking. He then sneered at me and walked off.

On another occasion, one sunny, Saturday afternoon, my home town of Folkestone was heaving with homeless people. Literally in every doorway and on every bench they were either huddled up or sunning themselves. I set up my guitar to what I thought was a reasonable distance from them and began to play. No sooner had I strummed a few chords then I was approached by one of the homeless guys who aggressively asked me to move elsewhere as I was ruining his business, which I thought was an interesting turn of phrase. I decided not to argue as there were more of them than me and went elsewhere.

For the record I am sure not all homeless people are disagreeable like these two gentlemen.

What are you experiences busking? Have they been positive or negative?


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