July 7, 2022
The “where and when” in busking is really what sets it aside as a truly unique performance, especially in a city like London where busking is such a longstanding tradition. The great gift is that the world is your stage and you are the only act. The only downside is that your shows are essentially free, and you must rely solely on the audience’s reception. There are, however, some things that you can take into consideration before you perform. You can be strategic about things like time and location, even trying to perform in multiple busy locations throughout the day can mean the difference between an “ok day” and a “great day”. Here’s some great information for buskers in London ahead of International Busking Day.
London is very accommodating to its buskers as you’re free to busk on almost any public property in the city provided you’re over the age of 14. Some places have their own set of laws; for example, playing music in Camden or Covent Garden requires a specific licence (see below), and there are only four locations where busking is allowed in Hillingdon. To avoid any legal issues, do not assume that you’re on public land – it’s not always easy to tell. You can ask any fellow neighbourhood buskers or shopkeepers if you’re ever confused as to whether you’re playing on public or private property. In London, there are a variety of fantastic places to busk, but some of the greatest are outside tube stations or near tourist attractions where there will be high volumes of commuter and public traffic. And if the tourist and commuter areas are not your scene, try going to a public park to escape it all.
Pitches are the designated areas scattered across the city and are the most popular sites for buskers in London. Different schemes run these pitches, each with their own set of rules to follow, so get in touch with your area’s scheme before asking for a licence to play. Busking pitches will assign you a time and location depending on your act. As a musician, you’ll most likely have access to medium-sized pitches, and you’ll be able to play them for up to an hour. The Queen’s Walk on the Southbank, Covent Garden, The London Underground, and the Camden pitches are some particularly popular busking locations in London.
The London Underground stations are definitely some of the most profitable places to busk. The benefit of the tube is that you get a large audience as every day about 5 million individuals tune in while on their commute. As a result, there are a large number of buskers trying to perform on the Tube, even though there are just a few licences and even fewer pitches available. Securing one of these pitches is difficult; you’ll need to audition months ahead of time with a fantastic act.
The London Underground Busking Scheme is dedicated to assisting buskers in becoming licensed performers. They also host auditions, competitions, and events for buskers. They only issue a limited number of busking licences for the Underground, and as you can expect, competition is strong. For a permit, buskers must perform an audition. Entrants are assessed on their creativity, skill, and overall performance in front of a panel of music industry professionals in public venues across London. Licences for busking are typically renewed every two to four years. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 auditions were postponed, thus current licences awarded in 2017 have been temporarily extended. You can email the underground busking scheme directly here.
The weekday rush hour is always a lucrative time to be busking in London, so try busking from 7:30 am to 9:30 am or 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm, as these times are the best option for attracting the largest crowds. Just keep in mind that many of London’s commuters are often in a hurry, so some may not be as interested or intrigued as they would at another time. However, due to the high footfall, this is still a good time to busk.
Lunchtime is another great time to catch people on their break. You’ll still be able to play in front of a large crowd, but they’ll be on their lunch break and considerably more inclined to listen to you. Consider performing between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. near offices, restaurants, or even recreational areas. Trying to attract frantic commuters is significantly more difficult than encouraging a leisurely crowd to appreciate your music.
The spread of the COVID-19 virus has affected society worldwide in many ways. Music professionals suffered due to the resulting shortage of work, wiping out 69,000 of 190,00 industry-related jobs. In pre-COVID times, the UK music industry contributed £5.2 billion per year to the economy, but this fell to £3.1 billion in 2020. While the pandemic ended almost all gigs in London and left musicians with nowhere to play or practice, this has pushed many musicians to play on the street for the first time as restrictions were lifted, which has led to somewhat of a busking boom.
International Busking Day is set to be held on 16 July 2022 in Wembley Park and is a great opportunity for buskers and street performers to showcase their talent. It’s a family-friendly all-day festival that’s free to attend, and it highlights the homegrown talent of the UK’s busking culture. Known as the world’s largest street performance celebration, it combines music, art, entertainment, retail, and dining to support busking in the UK.
Check with your local council or scheme to determine whether you need a busking licence or check out this link. When you apply, you may be required to pay a charge. You might be able to apply online through the website of your local councils. Take note that even after obtaining a busking licence, however, there are still rules that must be followed:
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