Make Money as a Street Musician
By Eric Hammer
are unfortunately a dime a dozen. Thats why so many musicians,
when facing hard times decide to earn some extra money as a street
musician. Street performing is usually well accepted by society,
especially in tourist areas where there are long lines of people
waiting to get into an attraction (New York City street musicians
for example tend to work at the entrance to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis
Island tour because the line to get in is so long).
(Flicker photo by Tony the Misfit)
The catch with being a street musician is that some cities
have made it illegal to do it while others allow a limited number
of licensed "buskers," (aka street performers) and
require that they obtain a license as well as permission from
the owner of the buildings they will be performing in front of.
However, even where street performances are considered completely
illegal, the crime is considered a misdemeanor, not a felony
meaning that you will likely be slapped with a fine and a warning
but will not be sent to jail for your performance.
How Much Can You Make?
Most buskers dont make a great deal of money from their
art. In good locations, you could take home a few hundred dollars
a day, however many street musicians report playing for an entire
8 hours and walking away with no more than about $20 to $30 for
One of the best ideas for making money as a street musician
is to get licensed by a specific location with a lot of tourists
and passerby. Not only will you have exclusive rights to a location
with a license, but you will also be able to bring in more equipment
and potentially earn more money. For example, New York Citys
subway system licenses a limited number of street performers
to work in the system and allow them to set up with all their
equipment, including a complete band rather than just one guy
with a guitar.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
If you are able to stay in a location for some time, consider
bringing along CDs to sell of your music (if youre constantly
getting hassled by police, it can be a problem since people may
be holding your CD when you need pack out in a hurry). You can
easily make the CDs yourself after recording your songs in a
studio and then sell them on the street. Consider also working
as an opening act at various fares and shows. Some music halls
for example will allow you to set up outside, serenading the
crowd as they enter and selling CDs of your performance.
No matter what you do to earn your money as a street musician
however, remember that you are there to give people a show. You
need to perform in a way that makes people enjoy themselves and
relax. Therefore, if you have a terrible singing voice, dont
try to sing. Just play the guitar or whatever instrument you
play. But be animated and make sure the crowd enjoys your performance.
At this point, we want to share with you some of what not
to do. Some of the worst advice weve seen for street performers
was on a video on YouTube about how to make money as a street
performer. They recommended having a friend be a lookout for
the police without mentioning that many localities allow you
to legally perform on the street and recommend being obnoxious,
throwing your hat or whatever you are collecting with in peoples
faces and jiggling it loudly.
While its appropriate to walk around and jiggle your
hat to ask for donations, making a point of getting in peoples
faces, especially because they happen to look wealthy is more
likely to turn people off and cause the police to be summoned
after they complain about you. Keep in mind, you are in a service
business and you are offering your skills without guarantee of
payment. No one likes to be hassled by street musicians when
they are standing in the street watching a performance.
Yet another bit of advice we saw on that video that seems
ridiculous (to us at least) is to stop the show and demand a
certain amount of money be collected before youll continue.
While a handful of people may be so enamored of you that theyll
want to pay whatever it takes, youll also turn off a lot
of people who will think you are being greedy and obnoxious.
Qualifications / Requirements
Needless to say, you need to know how to play an instrument
in order to be a street musician. It also helps to have a good
singing voice (ask impartial strangers and not close friends
for their opinions of your singing voice just because
your mother and your girlfriend want to be encouraging doesnt
mean you have a good singing voice).
Beyond that, you need to have confidence in your art so that
you can stand around on street corners to earn money. It takes
a certain amount of guts to do this work and you need to have
nerves of steel in order to succeed.
You should also find out about licensing requirements in your
city before going out to perform just in case.
Start by scoping out likely locations for your performance.
Check with city hall to find out if you need a license and what
the requirements are for obtaining said license. Then, practice
your act. Make sure you have it down perfectly before you go
out and perform in front of crowds.
Central A good resource on how to be a street musician,
this offers some excellent tips.
BBC News: My Busking Tips for Badly Drawn Boy
This was actually a part news item, part bit of advice.
Badly Drawn Boy, a professional musician who regularly sings
to large crowds in London theaters decided to secretly try being
a street musician for a day. He didnt do very well in his
earnings (a little less than 5 British pounds or around $7.50)
and so BBC News found a professional busker who offered tips
on how to do it right.
Arts and Buskers Advocates This web site is designed
more to advocate for street performers, however it does have
some useful information for your career as a street musician.