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.
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.
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 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.