I often get messages from buskers who are visiting London from other parts of the UK or even further afield. Busking in a new place requires a bit of research and often the rules aren’t clearly outlined anywhere so the best thing you can do is get the inside scoop from a fellow busker who knows the ropes.

When I hear from buskers visiting from out of town I always feel a pang of jealousy for their bravery. I have grown so comfortable and safe in my London bubble that I rarely stray from my one spot that I know so well. I make resolutions to be brave and go out busking somewhere new, but it’s hard to tear yourself away from the comfort of familiarity.

Today I hit the road for Germany and I’ll be visiting 3 German cities and briefly popping into Switzerland. While I won’t have much time between travel and gigs I am taking a small busking amp (a Roland Street Cube) with me and I will be trying to do some busking while I’m there!

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few buskers from Hamburg, briefly busked in Cologne and got some info from locals in Bern, so I feel confident to give busking a go in these new places.

A few things that are important to check before you travel to a new city to perform on the streets:

  • Where are you allowed to perform?

    Most cities will have areas that either welcome street artists or are especially strict. It’s a good idea to check before you go, especially for the latter as being arrested in a foreign city is not ideal.

  •  Where is good to perform?

    It’s great to know the places that allow busking and making sure you have permission to perform there, but if that spot has low footfall or a lot of other performers and noise to compete with then you’re mostly wasting your time. Look online or ask locals for popular spots but also little known places that are hidden gems for buskers. Open spaces with lots of restaurants and cafes or near a market are always good. But remember to check the rules first as local traders can be less than welcoming to street art when they’re trying to run their own businesses.

  • What time can you perform?

    There is some common sense involved, for example maybe don’t crank your amp up at 5am. But as well as sociable busking hours, there may also be specific rules for the city. I have found in the past that Cologne in Germany has a half hour rule: you can perform for the first half of each hour but the second half you must stop performing. eg. perform from 14.00 to 14.30 and then be silent 14.30 to 15.00. This is to stop repetitive noise constantly being played and to give those working nearby a break from the noise, also supposedly it encourages performers to move between spots in the break to create variety. In all honesty though, I think it is mostly to discourage people from street performing at all; it’s quite an inconvenient rule that doesn’t benefit buskers much. It’s good to know though so you know why you’re being told off at 14.31!

  • Can you use amplification?

    Every city is different and while some do seem to encourage street performers, they don’t always want any amplification; this can be a killer to acts that rely on amps for their shows. Being diligent with volume wherever you are is always important but double check the rules about amps if you want to use one.

  • Can you sell CDs?

    Selling music on the streets is often a very tricky subject as it is technically street trading which requires a license pretty much everywhere. Always be careful of this in a new place and be aware that street trading illegally can carry a hefty fine or arrest. Often a good loophole is displaying CDs but no price and allowing people to pay by donation rather than advertising the CDs “for sale”.

I’m giving all this advice but please note that I’m actually about to embark on this adventure myself, so I still have a lot to learn.

I have busked in the odd new place over the years but my expertise is really in London and even in my own city I haven’t properly explored all the spots available. I’m hoping this week will inspire me to go on a lot more busking adventures. I will let you know how it goes!

I will also be gigging out here and then returning home for a big gig next weekend.

Upcoming shows:

2nd October – Pony Bar – Hamburg
3rd October – Helter Skelter – Hamburg
5th October – KulturCafe – Cologne
6th October – Cave 54 – Heidelberg
8th October – ONO – Bern
13th October – St Pancras Old Church – London

 

Photography by Aaron Sebright

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4 thoughts on “Busking In A New City

  1. Hello,

    My name is Xan, and I am a self taught musician. I currently live in Heidelberg, and will be here through December to do an intensive German language course. Over the past 18 months or so, I have started actually writing my own music, and am interested in performing it, but I have no idea where to begin. I don’t have any experience performing, and just finding a starting place seems like such a daunting endeavour. Moreover, I’m skeptical that most local venues are eager to bring on an untested amateur that might affect their drink sales. Beyond that, busking in a country where I have an OK understanding of the language also seems like a high hurdle. Do you have any advice as to how to set out?

    Many thanks, and good luck on the rest of your tour!
    -Xan

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    1. Hi Xan 🙂

      I was just in Heidelberg, such a pretty city!
      I would advise that you check out some open mic nights in London, while you’re here. They would be a great place to test out your music on an eager audience and it’s a great way to meet people too!

      As for busking in December, I’d always advise giving it a go if you’re keen to but if you don’t have much experience busking in your own home town then it could be a bit of an undertaking, especially with a language barrier. Busking at all needs a lot of confidence in your performance ability and communication skills to navigate around the different spots and the various buskers using those spots. So while I encourage anyone to try busking in a new place, I think it’s a good thing to be comfortable with busking itself before venturing out to a foreign place to do it! But that’s just my own personal advice and it you do decide to give a go then let me know and I can advise some spots in London!

      Hope you enjoy your visit to my favourite place in the world!

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      1. Heya,

        So, earlier this week I went out and busked on the Hauptstraße. (Turns out I was in a busking forbidden intersection the whole time, but no worries!) I met some really interesting people, and had a lot of really positive feedback. As someone who has never really been part of the musical community, or really any community, I have a couple other questions if you’d be willing to answer them.

        1. How did you go about organizing venues in Germany while still in England?
        2. Of purely my own music, I have over 35 minutes worth. With a couple instrumental covers, I can easily get that above 45. Is that sufficient to secure a gig?
        3. Do most places want you to bring your own amp, or do they have a system of their own they prefer?
        4. I only have songs in English, but will be here in Germany. Do you think that might be an issue?

        Again, many thanks for the reply!

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      2. Hello 🙂

        I’m glad it went well for you! Good thing you got a good busk in before anyone told you it wasn’t permitted there!!

        To answer your questions:

        1. I built up a following in Germany from busking around London and a little bit in Germany over the past 5 years. With that in mind, someone who saw me busking and had some contacts offered to organise the gigs for me and since I had built a good following the venues were willing to book me because it was pretty certain that I would have a fair few people coming to the shows.

        So basically it takes time and patience and graft and a bit of luck to get a string of gigs the way I did.

        But that said, you can find gigs there without already having a following. I have found Germans particularly welcoming to new music!

        2. I think 35-45 minutes is a good amount of music for a set.

        3. Depends on the venue but most venues have their own equipment.

        4. Most Germans speak English and they listen to English music so don’t worry. Although be aware when you’re speaking and singing to articulate well as Germans speak brilliant English but prefer you speaking slowly and singing clearly so they understand the words 🙂

        Good luck!
        Charlotte x

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