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The Art Of Busking


Street performances are a valuable promotional tool for your music – says Craig Anthony

There is more to busking than meets the eye – or ear.

After all, how often can you say you’ve played to hundreds of people in the same day, that you’ve reached listeners from all walks of life with your music and, most of all, that you’ve got some money for doing so!

I believe that if we are to fully embrace the true potential of street performance we must move away from the idea of ‘busking as background music’ and instead see it as a valuable promotional tool for our own music.

This is exactly what Devonshire born Tristan MacKay did.

After moving to Yorkshire in 2001 to study, Tristan first took to busking to pay his bills and it was to this pursuit he returned after university to promote his music.

With his energetic performances and trademark-crooked Stetson, Tristan soon became a staple of the Leeds High Street, his open guitar case filled with flyers for his latest gig or E.P Launch.

With a faithful army of followers behind him Tristan was soon discovered on MySpace by Grammy award winning producer Martin Levan.

Together they went on to produce Tristan’s chart topping debut album ‘Out Along the Wire’.

Of course, not every budding-busker with a guitar on their back and a suitcase full of songs will enjoy the same fairytale success as Tristan.

But in a world where promotion is everything this almost seems like to good of an opportunity to miss.


The Big Five Tips

So here’s my advice on how to get the most out of your busking performances.

1. Location, Location Location. In my experience it’s best to be somewhere people can see or hear you BEFORE they actually walk past you, it gives them chance to enjoy your performance before they decide to pay for it. Obviously the amount of passing trade is essential but it’s also important to play where people have a reason to stop, city landmarks, parks, cafe’s etc.

2. Look The Part. As a busker, the street is your stage, you need to look like a performer, not a pedestrian. Consider a trademark such as an unusual hat or jacket, something that draws attention to you but also communicates something about your music.

3. Be Your Own Band.
People are used to dulcet tones of the acoustic busker so you need to make them glance up from their morning latte. Break out your electric guitar for a solo, add beat-boxing to create some rhythm – do something musically unexpected. Look at Tristan catching attention:

4. The Stranger, The Better. People are always intrigued by new textures. Introduce them to something they haven’t heard before and there’s more chance they’ll stop and listen. Use your imagination, try to incorporate unusual instruments into your songs; ukulele’s, whistles, percussion. This will be especially effective if your using live looping. Check out how ‘Dawson Music’ uses a melodica for this synth line.

5. Know The Rules. Different cities have different regulations regarding busking (permits, curfews) so do your research before you go somewhere blind.

We’re always looking for new and imaginative ways to entice people to our gigs. With busking, we take the music to them.

So go on, take the leap and try it for yourself. Make each passer by a new fan.


Craig Antony Headshot1 copyCraig Antony MA(Dist) is a professional Singer, Composer & Educator. Currently lecturing in vocal performance at Leeds College Of Music, Craig is also gaining attention across the UK as a singer-songwriter whose music has been described as “driving, engaging and passionate”. www.craigantony.co.uk




Tristan Mackay Started out playing his songs on the streets of Leeds in West Yorkshire; his music has since been featured on a plethora of TV shows across the UK, including BBC 3’s ‘Don’t Tell The Bride & Skins for C4. His debut album ‘Out along the wire’ was released in Feb 2012 and went straight to #1 on the I-tunes Blues album chart. www.tristanmackay.com

  • alex carter

    Don’t play guitar unless you’re either really good, or using it to back up a really good voice. I’ve seriously considered putting the words “ONE LESS GUITAR” on my trumpet somehow.