Some songs are made for busking
There are so many great busking songs out there that fit so great for busking that they almost seem as if they were written for the purpose of street performance. Simply put, great busking songs are those that most people know and can instantly recognize. People love to hear the songs that they know and they can sing along. If they catch the song that they know very well, it will instantly catch their attention and it is a good chance that they will stay for a while.
Other thing that is very recommended for great busking songs is that they have a good rhythm to them, and create an uplifting feeling, because people (usually) don`t want to listen to a melancholic sad emotional music on the streets. They are on the move, and a song that is moody and sad will not fit their momentary state.
There are SO many great songs that are great for the streets, but there are also what I personally found out to be the ultimate great busking song hits to be played:
- Tom Petty – Free Fallin`
- Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues
- Chuck Berry – Johnny B good
- Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have You Ever Seen The Rain?
- Bob Dylan – Mr. Tambourine Man
- Ritchie Valens – La Bamba
- Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl
- The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
- Cheap Trick – I Want You to Want Me
- Jason Mraz – I`m Yours
- Radiohead – High and Dry
- Mungo Jerry – In the Summertime
- Moody Blues – Nights in White Satin
- David Gray – Babylon
Of course, these are only a few of the great busking songs to be played at any show, but these are the ones that work really really well and often get audience to stop by and sing along. Be aware though, that the choice of songs is only a part of a good show, because your performance is also quite important. The way you are playing and singing – are you having fun while doing it, or just “going through the motions”?
Your Repertoire is Important, But not as Much as Creating a Valuable Performance
You want to always be focused on making yourself better and better, and to think about how can you create more value for your audience. An example of creating a value for your audience besides simply playing well is to dress well, or to even have a some kind of unique outfit. Who do you find more interesting – someone who is wearing a completely unique outfit or a typical busker – a guy with a checked shirt?
You want to stand out from others and attract attention from people as they walk by. The last thing that you want is to make people walk by and not even notice you. Well, this is exactly what happens to most buskers simply because people got so used to the guy with the acoustic guitar playing typical songs in a typical way…and yeah, the guy is dressed almost exactly as every other busker.
One thing that really surprises me is that so many people go busking dressed almost as if they are homeless. I am not talking right now about real homeless people, which are simply unfortunate and do not have a way to dress better. I am speaking about guys who just don`t give a damn and they show up on the street with their hair grease and just looking…well…almost like bums. I see this all the time. This guys regularly, without exception, attract far less audience and earn far less money.
Do People Reward Your Performance, Or do They Feel Bad For You?
It is all very simple – you can be an awesome player, but it is the people`s perception of you that matters the most. If the people perceive you as “just another busker” or even worse – “just another bum busker”, your playing will fall short. People will in this case stop and give you money simply from a standpoint of charity than if they think that you deserved it. They might feel bad and want to help you.
This is definitely not an ideal situation, because if people stop and give you money because of their altruistic reasons, well then you are not going to be having a cash flow that will be enough for your existence, really. People want to give money to other people if they think that it is VALUABLE. If they find something valuable, they gladly give money and the more they think it is valuable, the more money they want to give. What is going through their minds is something like – “Oh, wow, this is so cool, I really feel like this guy deserved my money. I want to give him and support him more.” Well, something like that. 🙂
So, ideally, you want to create a situation where people want to give you money, NOT from an altruistic reasons, but from a real, authentic desire to reward you for your show. And this is done by thinking and focusing on your audience and on the question – What are all the ways that I can create a value for my audience?
What if you not only dressed better than others, but went a step further, and showed dressed really smooth, really cool. What would happen if you wore a black suit, and a pair of black sunglasses? Well, I can tell you from my experience what would happen – your audience would triple instantly, and they would stay longer, listen more carefully to what you are playing and, ultimately, give you more money.
They also want to speak to you about your music more…if you are selling your CD`s, they will buy or visit your site much much more likely. Other musicians that pass by will stop and if they like your playing, they will talk to you and you might find a band (if you are into that).
Basically, people will perceive you in a completely different way – they will perceive you as someone who is there to create a show and entertain people instead of someone who is sitting, playing guitar and begging. As harsh as this might sound, many people do perceive it in this way…and that is exactly why they don`t even stop to look at many buskers.
Performing for an Audience, or Playing for Yourself?
Other thing that buskers typically don`t pay nearly enough attention is that they kind of “play for themselves”. They sit around, play the guitar, sing, but don`t do anything to connect and engage with anyone. Maybe if someone throws them money, they will politely nod, but that is all there is to it. It is like they are just playing, and not caring what people think. Well, that is cool, if you want to keep it that way, and if you like it like that. But if you want more people to stop, watch you for a while and eventually give you money, then you have to:
- Get their attention
- Make them have fun
The way you do it is by being more active than just sitting down, playing guitar for yourself and not even watching people that pass by.
Stand up, make eye contact, smile and – MOVE! Yes, move around while you are playing. You know how the great band`s performances look like? They are always moving on stage. Surely, you don`t need to throw yourself all over the place :), but simply move accordingly to the music you are playing. I mean, it is really boring to see a guy wearing the same old outfit, sitting down looking at his own guitar and playing the same old songs.
Busking is all about making people have fun…so one thing that is awesome is to learn tricks, or even invent your own.
These tricks will make your performance more exciting, unpredictable and different from all the others. If you are an electric guitar player – can you learn how to play with your teeth? When Jimi Hendrix invented that, people went crazy for it…everybody thought it was the most awesome thing that they saw. Well, even though that was a new invention back then, it is still super exciting to see a guy playing guitar with his teeth.
Can you play a guitar behind your back? That is ridiculously cool. 🙂
If you are an acoustic player, you can learn to play percussive drumming on your guitar, or learn how to play a harmonica and a little foot drum, such as a kick drum or a tambourine or even a whole backpack drum kit! Those are awesome ways for you to create a lot of value for your audience and to differentiate yourself from other plain buskers.
There are so many different little tricks that you can learn…all it takes is that you stop and think about what can you do to create more value.
A Great Amplifier Will Make You Sound Great
Besides all of the above mentioned, one thing that will quickly differentiate you from most of the buskers out there and instantly make you earn more money is to have a good, solid equipment. I am not talking about having an expensive custom made Gibson or anything like that. Actually, you really don`t need an expensive guitar at all, like really at all. What I am referring to is a great amplifier. If you do not have a solid amplifier, you want be heard properly, and even if you did all the things from above, you would not be as nearly as successful as you would with a great portable amp.
With a good amp, not only will you be heard clearly, but you will also have an option to amplify your guitar AND the voice, while playing over a backing track, and a bunch of other awesome things that will add enormous value to your audience compared to a typical busker sitting down and looking at his acoustic guitar. If you want to read about how to choose an amp for busking, click here for an extensive guide on the subject.
The amp is really a key to be differentiated, but there are other parts of the equipment for you to look at, even though they are more of the optional character, but can still add a lot of value if used properly.
One awesome cool little gadget is a looper pedal. What this little guy does is that it loops back everything you played until you click the switch. So, for example, you can play a chord progression and then click the switch, and the chord progression will keep on playing and it won`t stop until you stop it yourself. In this way you can create a “backing track” on the spot. While these chords are still playing you can add a bassline to it with your guitar and a few of the catchy melody notes. All of that can play in a loop while you improvise an epic solo over it with a huge distortion and fat delay. If you have a great amp, this will sound absolutely awesome.
Other pedals or processors can also be very effective, if they are a part of your style…or at least interest you so you can incorporate them to your style. A drum machine can prove to be really worthy if you can imagine yourself playing over it and programming it.
Basically anything that will grab your audience`s attention and make them have more fun will help you a lot with you yourself enjoying performing even more, having more fun and earning more money. All it takes is to think a bit about what can you do to create that additional value for the audience. If you start to think like this in general, you will naturally over time become a much much better street performer and people will enjoy it and prove it to you by stopping by, staying to watch you and rewarding you abundantly.
Anyway, hope this helps, have fun, add value and if you have any kind of question or you want to add your opinion, feel free to comment below.