Busking in London: where and when is best?

Rod Stewart, George Michael, Ed Sheeran… A lot of internationally famous musicians got their start by jamming out some cover songs and original material around London. Unfortunately, busking in London doesn’t come with a guarantee of superstardom, but knowing when and where to busk can certainly help you to broaden your audience.

As a city of nearly 9,000,000 people, London can certainly be a daunting place to begin playing your music publicly. Once you’ve conquered any performance anxiety, the city becomes a bountiful busking paradise. Everywhere you turn, London offers up another opportunity to musicians looking to get a headstart in their careers by playing to a crowd of millions. But first, there are a few regulations that need to be covered before you start busking around the capital.
 

How does busking work in London?

While busking in London may seem daunting on the surface, there is, fortunately, a “Buskers’ Code” which you can find here. The code outlines all of the rules and regulations required to perform in London and is a useful resource for every busker in the city.

Fortunately, a quick read of the guide reveals that there are actually very few regulations on busking in the capital. As long as you’re over 14 years old, you can busk almost anywhere on public land in London. Specific rules apply to some areas, for instance, a special licence is required to play music in Camden and you’re prevented from collecting any money for a performance in the City of London.

Knowing if you’re on public land isn’t always straightforward. If you’re ever unsure as to whether or not you’re playing on public or private land, try asking some local buskers or shopkeepers. You may run into legal troubles or a hefty fine if you’re found to be performing on private property, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Certain areas with high footfall such as the London Underground or tourist-heavy attractions will have their own guidelines. These areas offer busking ‘pitches’ that are often highly attractive to buskers thanks to their increased reach. You need to be aware of any regulations concerning a busking pitch, so always read up on the rules and guidelines.
 

Where to busk in London

The question of where to actually do your busking isn’t as obvious as you might think. Of course, certain areas such as Covent Garden – which is more or less the centre of London’s busking scene – will see you performing for far more people. Because of this, your time slot will be smaller and you’ll have to stand out from the dozens of other buskers. When considering where to busk in London you have to think about all of the available options.
 

Public


As we’ve mentioned, any public land is fair game for buskers in London. Just set up your equipment and start jamming for the crowd. Remember to bring a battery powered amp, as very few places suitable for busking will have access to any mains electricity. You’ll also need to be sure that you and any audience you’ve garnered aren’t blocking a street too much. Even if you’re giving your best performance, not everybody will want to stop and hear you play.

There are a number of great areas to busk in London, but some of the best locations will be those outside Tube stations or near tourist attractions. Once again, you should talk to local buskers to be sure that you aren’t moving in on their territory or causing any unnecessary competition. London is big enough for every musician to set up shop and find success without interfering with their fellow buskers. So make friends with the veterans – they can help you out.

If you’d prefer to avoid the tourist and commuter hotspots, try heading to a public park. As the summer months roll in you can look forward to exposing your music to even more people. Rather than gangs of tourists and rushed commuters, you’ll likely be playing to locals who will take interest in your music and appreciate a summertime ditty or two.
 

Pitches


The most popular spots for buskers outside of the Underground are the designated pitches dotted around the city. These pitches are run by different schemes each with their own regulations to follow, so get in touch before applying for a licence to play them to know what you can and can’t do.

Particularly popular pitches include the Queen’s Walk on the Southbank and a total of nine separate pitches in Covent Garden. With so many pitches in one of London’s most popular tourist areas, it’s easy to understand why these busking spots are so sought after.

At busking pitches you’ll be assigned a time and spot based on your act. As a musician you’ll have access to medium sized pitches and can play them for up to an hour. The larger busking pitches – such as the one opposite St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden – are reserved only for large (and somewhat ostentatious) acts that are more likely to attract and retain a large audience. This includes magicians or fire eaters and the like.
 

The Underground


The stations of the London Underground are easily some of the most lucrative locations to busk. With an ever-changing audience of 5 million people every day, you’ll never be short of new people to expose your music to.

Because of this, there are a huge number of buskers looking to play the Tube, with only a few licences to go around. Tube station busking pitches can be identified by the semicircle on the floor and wall-based advert positioned behind the busker. Securing one of these pitches is tough – you’ll have to audition months in advance with a great act to be able to perform in the Underground, so start practicing!

If the concept of auditioning to play the Tube is just far too daunting, there is another option. London busking also offers licences to play at Network Rail stations. Although you won’t be playing to as many passengers, the application process is more straightforward and you have a better chance of getting a licence.
 

When to busk in London?

The best time to busk in London is, quite simply, when you have an audience. On the weekdays, rush hour busking – from 7:30 am to 9:30 am or 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm – may seem ideal when you want to play for the largest audiences. Unfortunately, many of London’s commuters simply want to get where they’re going and might not pay as much attention as they would at another time.

Instead, try performing between midday and 2 pm close to office buildings or recreational areas. You’ll still be able to play to a lot of people, but they’ll be on their lunch break and far more likely to willingly listen to your performance. Encouraging a relaxed crowd to enjoy your music is far better than attempting to attract rushed commuters.

At the weekend, almost any time of day is ideal for busking, so location is far more important. However, playing in the late evenings near bars and pubs will expose you to a substantial amount of punters. Plus, they have had a few weekend drinks, you may find people are a little happier to tip you.

 

If you’re ready to leave the streets and start recording, pay a visit to Kore Studios. We offer a large live space and two control rooms, backed up by a mixture of high-end and vintage gear, brought together by experts in producing and mixing various different styles of music. Get in touch to arrange your tailored studio session.

Studio Shopping 101: what to look out for in a recording studio

Consider the following scenarios. A full swing band dressed up in classic Rat Pack regalia, crammed into a recording booth the size of a bus stop, with the drummer getting smacked in the face with every pump of the trombone and a huge double bass pinning the singer to a wall. How about this: an experienced vocalist struggling through the 43rd take of their song after the red-faced producer once again “forgot to hit record”. And finally, picture an up-and-coming band struggling to drum up the funds necessary to go on tour because they rinsed their entire budget on a studio with plush velvet seating and a chocolate fountain. What’s the common denominator in all of these situations? Well, namely, it’s that each of these musicians could have probably done better research when deciding on a recording studio.

What these scenarios also show is that recording your music in a professional studio is only rewarding when the studio you’ve chosen is suited to your individual needs as a band or artist. This can be tricky territory, especially for new artists who don’t spend their entire working lives either bundled up in a recording booth or sweating it out on a stage. It may be tempting to look solely at the usual ‘wow’ factors such as famous clients, luxury amenities, sleek interiors, and mixing desks ripped straight out of a Boeing 737. However, as you’ll see in the following points, the value of a recording studio lies more in how well it works than how impressive it seems.

In other words, musicians need to pick a studio which perfectly suits them in terms of factors like workflow, environment, sound, and equipment. Only then can they guarantee the best use of studio time and the best possible recording – a recording that captures both the tactile qualities and the emotional character of their music.
 

Staff

Perhaps more than anything, a recording studio is characterised by the people at its heart. Indeed, a great engineer will make all the difference when it comes to the quality of your record, the speed and flow of your session, and even the synergy between you and any bandmates. Even if the artist has a clear vision of their record and the producer has all the tools to realise it, neither party will be able to perform at their best if they don’t have that all-important connection. For instance, Malibu’s Shangri La Studios has the reputation it has not because of its facilities, but rather because of Rick Rubin, the experienced and acclaimed producer in charge.

As such, artists should mainly be looking at the producers and engineers they will be working with when choosing a recording studio. Every producer is unique in their approach and style, working better with some musicians than others. It’s therefore your responsibility to find a recording studio staffed by people who you can rely upon to bring structure, creative energy, efficiency, and personality to your studio session. Try taking a people-first approach to studios, and start asking fellow musicians who share your musical ethos for their best recommendations!
 

Space

When we talk about ‘space’ in the context of a recording studio we’re talking about its facilities, its size, its environment, and its location. On the whole, a studio space should give your session balance of function and inspiration, bringing out the best of your musical abilities while guaranteeing a professional recording. Let’s take a closer look at the main aspects of a space:

  • Facilities - A recording studio will usually consist of a control room and a live space, both of which are instrumental in the quality of the music produced within their walls. Does the space have suitable acoustics for your desired sound? Are the rooms properly organised and equipped to your standards? Consider listening to samples of music previously made in the studio and perhaps tour the space before you book in a session.

  • Environment - Beyond the technical specifications of a studio’s individual rooms, musicians should also be considering the immeasurable feel of the studio at large. Whether you’re looking for a chilled-out atmosphere or a more fast-paced one, environment will influence the way you work and the character of your finished project. So opt for a studio that opens up the right headspace to help your music flow better.

  • Location - Ideally, the studio is based in a location convenient to you or your band. Remember that you may have to transport some cumbersome equipment to the studio (such as instruments, amplifiers, stands, and pedals), and its therefore best to keep studio sessions as local as possible. You might also want to look at local amenities: restaurants, pubs, shops, and parks can all provide deserved respite from studio time.

  • Size - The size and capacity of a recording studio could make or break its suitability, especially if you’re part of an orchestra or big band. Before you book a studio session, make sure that there’s enough space to accommodate your musicians.
     

Sound

Ultimately, it’s important not to lose sight of the real reasons behind all studio sessions: creating a record that sounds professional and accurately capturing the essence of the music. Achieving the sound you would expect from a recording studio comes down to a few things, namely the standard of equipment being used and the expertise of the producer who is using it. We’ve already looked at the human side, so now let's consider the machines!

Using a studio with high-quality equipment is a must if you want a record to sound professional. While not every musician should be expected to tell high-end gear apart from low-end gear, there are a few basics to keep in mind when scouting out the best recording studio for you. (Hint: take a look at our own equipment list for a good idea of what high-quality gear looks like). Microphones should be available in a range of types (condenser mics/dynamic mics/tube mics), manufactured by industry-standard brands such as Neumann, Shure, AKG, and Sennheiser. There should be a diverse selection of gear for compression, distortion, reverb, delay, and EQ, as these pieces give you the option of layering in effects and mixing your sound properly.

Likewise, research the console at the centre a studio’s control room. Does it have sufficient inputs and routing capabilities to handle the type of recording you are doing? If it is an older model then enquire as to its service history. Is there a maintenance guy on hand or an inventory of spares should channels go down? Does it produce a sound in keeping with the style and aesthetic of your music? Listen to some samples of music produced with the console in question to get a feel for its qualities and capabilities. If you want an analogue sound,

for instance, consider using a recording studio with a 2” tape machine. On the other hand, studios that rely predominantly on digital computer based systems may be better suited to contemporary pop recordings. Once you have a basic knowledge of how recording equipment can influence the overall character of a particular piece of music, you will be in a better position to know what you're looking for in a recording studio.
 

Spend

Recording studios can get expensive, and its crucial for musicians to set a budget and stick to it. As such, the cost of studio time should factor into your final decision. In many ways, musicians should approach the recording process from a business perspective by thinking mainly of the end product while keeping an eye on cost and efficiency. If all the big studios are too pricey then look for the unique qualities in smaller and more intimate studios. Remember, keeping the costs low does not mean compromising your creative vision. Expensive production does not a good song make!

 

Kore Studios is a recording studio in West London run by experienced producer/engineer, George Apsion. We offer a large live space and two control rooms, backed up by a mixture of high-end and vintage gear, brought together by experts in producing and mixing various different styles of music. Get in touch to arrange your tailored studio session.

Api Console install

There has been an extraordinary change at the Kore Studios in the last month and we are hugely excited to share it with you. As we approached our ten-year anniversary we decided it was time to upgrade our console.The desk we have chosen is a beautiful 32 channel Api 1608.

I took quite some time over this decision. First and foremost in my mind was a desire to maintain and protect Kore’s strengths and appeal. Clients know us as a studio where everything works and sessions run uninterrupted. The 1608’s modular design and stunning build quality play into this. But as well as reliability we wanted a desk with the pedigree and ability to ensure Kore’s reputation as a destination studio. A place where you just have to make your record. 

The combination of our live spaces and microphones with this console has been nothing short of astonishing. As well as its 32 mic amps, the console is loaded with eqs by Api & chandler. The sound is huge, with detail and depth, and is a joy to work on. We honestly can’t wait for you to hear it.

Drum Recording at Kore Studios

A lot of the work we do at Kore revolves around drum recording sessions. On this basis we thought it would be useful to provide visitors with a few samples to showcase the variety of sounds and set-ups that can be achieved. Our live room provides enormous flexibility, with the possibility of using the main space for an open sound, the booth for a tighter feel, or adding in the adjoining corridor for big ambience. 

All of the below samples were recorded into Pro Tools at 24 bit / 96 kHz by Kore's owner and Chief Engineer George. We have provided the patch sheets to show the mics and outboard gear used, and for the drum enthusiasts amongst you, a breakdown of the kit elements. Many thanks to our good friend Elliott Henshaw, who was kind enough to provide us with his kits and incredible talent for the day.

Modern Rock

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The above samples were recorded with a traditional multi-mic set-up. The kit was set-up in the main live area, with the adjoining corridor miked up for ambience. We used a variety of dynamics for the close mics, with ribbons for the overheads and ambience. The Mic amps used were mainly Neve and Api. We have also included a version without the ambience to demonstrate the difference that adding in the corridor makes.

70's Rock

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For this sound the kit was set-up in the main live area, but miked using the Glyn Johns 3 mic approach. The ambience mics were moved to the far end of the corridor, and the tape delays were added in afterwards with our Roland 501 space echo. The three close mics we used for this set-up include the very rare AKG D30 on kick, plus a pair of Neumann U67s over the top and side.

60's Pop

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In order to achieve the dry sound we were going for here the kit was set up in the back drum booth. The room was then further dampened down using our taytrix stackable gobos. Only two mics were used, a vintage AKG d12 on kick, plus another AKG, the d19c, over the top. Both mics were compressed using our custom Fairchild 670 compressor.

Soul Kit

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We went right back to basics on this one! The kit was set up in the main live area and mic’ed with an old 1940’s ribbon mic, the extremely rare Melodium Type R. This was recorded with a tube pre-amp into our custom germanium eqs for grit and character. The plate reverb was added in at the mix.

Ribbon Microphones

This week’s blog post is about Ribbon microphones. We will be discussing both their merits and uses in the studio, and concluding with a selection of audio files of some of the models we offer.

First off, the science! Like its counterparts the dynamic and the condenser, a ribbon microphone is effectively a transducer, i.e. it converts one form of energy into another. In this case, a sound wave into an electrical current. In order to do this it relies upon a thin strip of corrugated aluminium, suspended within the magnetic field created by two magnets. The sound waves that arrive at the ribbon cause it to move within this electro-magnetic field, and this in turn creates an output voltage to be passed onto an amplifier.

(For a more detailed summary of these principals, the Royer labs website is worth a visit)

In recent years ribbon microphones have enjoyed a surge in popularity. There are a number of reasons for this, but the obvious one to start with is their sound.  If we do away with all the usual superlatives, the qualities that people are drawn to in a ribbon mic are: reduced high frequency response, excellent handling of transients and a well defined low and mid range. All of the above characteristics make them well suited to modern production aesthetics. Many of todays engineers / producers are looking for ways to introduce some character into the perceived ‘cleanliness’ of digital recording. Sources that might be perceived as brash or harsh through other mics can easily be tempered and rounded off with a ribbon. Drum cymbals, horns and electric guitars are all good examples of this. Many ribbons offer an increased bass response when placed closer to the source. This is known as the proximity effect,  and can be used to great advantage on vocals, guitar cabs etc.

Detail of Altec 639 'Birdcage' dual element dynamic / ribbon mic.

The ribbon’s appeal has been further enhanced by a number of dedicated modern manufacturers, looking to stretch the boundaries of the original designs and build upon the history. Both Royer Labs and AEA typify this approach, and have produced amazing products to advance the ribbon’s standing and relevance in modern production. Active electronics & improved impedance matching, higher output and better spl handling all mean that many modern ribbon mics are being employed in situations that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. The Royer 121 is a great example of this, and is probably now widely considered a ‘go-to’ mic for recording loud electric guitar cabs. Older ribbon designs would not have enjoyed these volumes!

Kore Studios Melodium Ribbon Mics

Kore keeps a large stock of ribbon mics, viewable here. These range from common studio standards like Coles , Royer and AEA, to some more exotic finds that have been exhumed from the depths of ebay! Some of the more esoteric makes we offer include models by Melodium, a French manufacturer who produced mics for their national radio broadcasts in the 1940s, plus models by B&O from Denmark, Altecs from America, and Phillips from Holland. All of our mics are serviced and looked after by the fantastic Stewart Tavener of Xaudia Elektrik. He is one of the countries leading authorities on ribbons and his website is well worth a look. Another excellent resource for further research is Dr Coutants exhaustive directory, viewable here.

We have prepared a sample of 8 of our ribbons for you to check out at the bottom of this post.

They are as follows:

AEA R84: Data Sheet / Website.
Melodium Type R:  Link.
Royer 121: Data Sheet / Website.
Melodium 42B: Data Sheet / Website.
Coles 4038: Data Sheet / Website.
Cascade Fathead 2: Data Sheet / Website.
B&O BM5: Data Sheet / Website.
Altec 639B: Data Sheet / Website.

The mics were placed as close together as possible on the horizontal axis, about 4ft in front of a drum kit, at level height to the top of the kick. They are recorded at 24 bit / 44.1 through Tweed c515 mic amps and level matched as closely as possible. It is interesting to note some very marked differences between them, specifically with regard to HF response between the newer and older models. It is also worth noting that distance to source plays a big part here, so you could expect an even more pronounced low end had we moved them closer in. Either way, we hope that this ‘level-playing field’ will provide some insight into the subjective qualities of each. We hope to see you here soon to plug them up in earnest!

Many thanks to our friend, drummer Geoff Dugmore, for providing us with sound.

Tweed Audio Console

I wanted to shed some light on the Tweed console we offer in our Studio B. This vintage broadcast console was built in 1978 and was originally used at Radio Forth in Scotland. Very little is known about the Tweed company, except for the fact that they share a connection with the well-known Neve boards of the day. For those in the know, Tweeds are very special, with all of the character and quality of their better-known cousins, except without the hefty price-tag! Tweed consoles have been put into service in great studios all over the world, with Delta Lab in Denmark and Mad Oak in the USA being well-known examples.

Tweed was started by Kursheed Mustafa, the former production manager of the Neve module factory in Kelso, Scotland. It is also rumored that David Rees, Rupert Neve’s cousin and designer of the 2253 / 2254 limiter compressors, had a hand in the design of their products. The company closed at some point in the early 80s.

We were lucky to find our Console on ebay a couple of years ago. It was in very good shape, but received a thorough service to ensure reliable use from our friend and well-known vintage gear specialist Pom. What is unique about this particular Tweed is that it employs Marinair transformers on the input channels, as opposed to the more commonly used Sowters. The desk is split in half, with 8 x c515 mic/eq modules on the left and 6 x c570 stereo modules on the right. The additional two mono fx returns allow for a total of 22 inputs to the mix buss. A handy producer desk, perfect for a screen, mouse and keyboard, forms the centre section.

The desk has four groups, and is configured such that Groups 1&2 are cascaded into Groups 3&4. This allows us two master faders. The first of these feeds the mix buss, while the second is patched into Pro Tools for mix printing. Like many vintage consoles, overloading the output allows you to add further character to the sound. This configuration allows us to achieve this whilst attenuating the (hot!) post mix buss signal feeding Pro Tools.

Mixing on this desk is a real pleasure, with a very obvious vintage character imparted to anything that passes through it. This acts as the ideal counterpoint to the cleaner Audient console we offer in Studio A. Pom was also able to build us an 8-way rack for the C515 mic-pre/eq modules, which means they can be called upon if more input channels are needed downstairs. I have included an old factory spec sheet of the c515, a gorgeous class a/b module, here.

Having used them on many occasions side-by-side our Neve 1081 /1073’s, I can comfortably say that I always favor the Tweeds. To my ear they have a grittier, bigger sound that is perfect for drums and guitars. Forgive the clumsy metaphor, but if the Neve were to be described as a heavy weight fighter, then the tweed would be a gypsy bare-knuckle boxer!

Below are a couple of audio files of a re-amped guitar signal, fed through a Neve 1081 and Tweed c515. You can let us know what you reckon!