Learning to busk

Every band has those days where they can’t seem to book a show or something gets canceled last second.  Today we will go over a way to make some side cash on days like these so you and your band can make use of these lost opportunities.

The method I will be going over is called busking.  Busking is where you play an acoustic set on the side of the road for tips.  This has been our most successful avenue for money and we are often making more money busking than we do at some shows.

For the best results while busking find a populated area in your town.  This can be downtown, by a shopping center, in a public park or pretty much anywhere that has a lot of foot traffic.

Then take with you as little equipment as possible you need to play.  If you have a singer, guitar player or bassist maybe get a little $50 battery powered amp so they can be heard well.  However, I would recommend only using amplification if you absolutely need to as it is something extra to carry.

From there just set up a case or tip jar in front of you with a sign that has information about your group and start playing.  People prefer to hear covers, but you can throw some originals in there to spice things up.

Before you go busking make sure you look up laws in your town about panhandling.  Every town handles it differently so make sure you are not breaking any laws while you are playing.  The last thing you want is a $200 ticket for loitering or permit violation.

If you discover busking is illegal in your town an alternative would be to go up to some businesses and ask them if you can set up in front of their shop.  Most of the time store owners will enjoy the added attention of having a musician in front of their shop and police shouldn’t be able to give you a ticket because you are playing on private property with permission.

Also if you ever find the police coming up and talk to you make sure you are very respectful.  From our experience most of the time the police are talking to you because they got a noise complaint and don’t actually want to give you a ticket.


This is a picture of our busking setup with Brandon manning the drums.  We have free stickers in the trombone case and we hand out shirts to people who tip us more than $12.

Another tip about busking is to make sure you have at least 45 minutes of material to play.  From there you can just loop it over and over until you are finished.  You will find most people don’t stay there longer than five to ten minutes, but for the sake of not playing two or three songs until you drive yourself insane just have those six or seven songs to keep everyone entertained.

Before you start busking I would recommend padding your case/tip jar with a few dollars before you start.  You would be surprised at how long it takes for people to realize you are accepting money.  Eliminate that confusion for them.

“Make sure to be funny and interactive. Be especially interactive when kids are around – it guarantees a tip,” said Estelle Miller, another musician who busks in Gainesville.

Finally make sure you are engaging.  Dress professionally, look people in the eyes, and have a good time.  If you do all of these things it will make you stand out from every other guy and their acoustic guitar and allows you to get new people to listen to your music.

If you want more tips on busking watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44h47j_tNRo


Creating an engaging set list

When playing a show the set list is the flow of whole performance.  Crafting a set list that engages an audience so they are dancing like there is no tomorrow one song and pulling out their lighter to wave in the air the next is a skill few bands master.

A lot of groups will just throw a bunch of songs together willy-nilly without thinking twice about the order.  However, the truth is a good set list can add a lot to a show.

When making the set list the first thing you should do is ask yourself some questions about the gig.  Who are you playing for? How long is the gig? What kind of venue are you playing at? Answering these questions can help give you some ideas for creating an order.


For instance, this photo is from a gig we did at Dance Marathon.  When creating a set list for this show we knew that our audience was fraternity students, so we played more cover songs and only fast paced energetic tracks.

Generally I like to start a set with a high energy song.  Reward the crowd for waiting for your band to set up.  Also a strong opener hypes the crowd up for the rest of the set.

Another tip would be to put different songs around each other.  If your band has songs with similar structure and/or similar tempo, make sure you do not play them one after another.  Playing similar songs back to back gets repetitive and the last thing you want is for the crowd to be bored.

I have learned from making set lists that if you are a band that plays original music, learn a cover to throw on near the end of the set. People normally respond really positively to songs they know, so having a recognizable cover near the end of your set gets people in a good mood for your closing songs.

For the last song play the best song your group has.  The ending is the finale and it is the last thing people will remember when they walk out of the venue.  Keep them talking about you by playing the song that will blow their minds.

Something else to consider would be having one or two extra songs to have if you get called back for an encore.  It doesn’t always happen, but if it does it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Obviously there are scenarios where you don’t have to follow these guidelines but most of the time these can help you keep your set stay interesting.

“My favorite set lists combine controversial lyrics with easy listening melodies,” said Shane Stukel, who is a singer/songwriter.  “I’ll usually pick more of my aggressive songs and counter act them with gentle softer songs.  I love sending a message to people, so if people listen to my words and ask me about my lyrics that’s the best.”

The most important thing you can do is learn from experience.  Experiment with your order and see what works better with the crowd.

For more advice on creating set lists check out this article: http://blog.discmakers.com/2012/03/set-list-tips/

Throwing a successful house show


One thing that any musician will tell is that playing music is expensive.  Everything costs money.  From buying new equipment and merchandise to more unexpected costs like repairing equipment and replacing lost gear.

A majority of small bands can’t earn enough money on shows alone to afford everything so bands need to adapt to make that extra money.

In this post we will be talking about house shows.  House shows are a great way for bands to play for a different crowd while making some cash.

If you are lucky enough to have your own house to use, set up your own house party shows.  Find a one or two other local bands to play and buy some ‘refreshments’ to keep the guests entertained.  Then you can charge $5 at the door and at the end of the night you can walk away with anywhere from $200-$350 (depending on turnout) of extra cash for just playing in your house.

If you do not have a house, find someone that does and set up a house show there.  I have found offering to clean up before and after the party makes the homeowner much more receptive to the idea.  You also can give the homeowner a cut of the money you earn at the door so they are getting some money as well.

Another perk of house shows is that they are a much more intimate than a normal show due to the smaller venue and lack of stage.  You are able to develop a much closer relationship to fans that turnout to house shows than normal shows because of this.

A way to improve turnout that I have from house shows is to theme the parties.  Have a Halloween party, a Christmas party or a St. Patrick’s Day party.  Give people a reason to celebrate and then they are more likely to come out.

Also make sure to alert your neighbors before the party because it can get noisy at times and the last thing you want is to have the cops show up in the middle of the party and kick everyone out.  Then all of the money and time you have invested organizing and promoting the party goes down the drain.

Once you get into scheduling normal house shows, make sure you strive for consistency.  If people know your house shows are good they will tell their friends and every time you will have a larger crowd.

If you are smart about spending money on drinks and advertising, playing a house party show is almost always a good investment for a day you don’t have a gig booked.

Read this article for more information on House Shows: http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/musician-tips/house-concerts/

Improving stage presence

One of the most important parts of being a musician in a band is performing, but the thing that separates a good performer from a great performer is stage presence.

You can be the best musician in the world and play the craziest songs but if you have poor stage presence it will take a lot away from your set.

Having good stage presence is difficult because a lot of groups form bad habits and do not recognize the harm these habits cause to the show.

The first thing you can do as a performer to improve your stage presence is to use eye contact.  Now this doesn’t mean finding one member in the audience and staring at him until he walks awkwardly off to the bathroom, but moving your graze around the room and looking engaged with the crowd.

You will find so many bands that will just stare at the floor.  Doing this makes you look nervous and embarrassed to be on stage.  You are the show.  Own it.  Look at the crowd and show them you happy to be there.  Being engaged with the audience will cause the audience to be engaged with what’s happening on stage.

Another bad habit I see a lot of groups get into is that a lot of bands get on stage and then they turn into statues.  You have to move.  These people came out to your show to have a good time, not watch you stand there and strum chords.

Your attitude is contagious, if you are having a good time so will the crowd.  If you don’t jam out to your songs what makes you think the crowd will?

The beauty of a live performance is that is adds a visual element to your music.  Take advantage of this by making sure you have a coherent ‘uniform’.  Your appearance is important, it is the image of your band and gives people a picture of your group in their minds.  If you are a punk rock band wear flannel and band shirts, if you are a jazz combo wear a suit and tie.  It is your band so you can be creative and unique.


As you can see from this photo, a different thing my band does to improve the visual aspect of our performance is we purchased a clear bass drum head and put a light inside.  I have found it to be very useful to have our own lighting to provide atmosphere for gigs that don’t have any lighting rigs or an added effect for venues that do.

Before every show you should set up a camera and video tape your performance.  Being able to watch your performance is a great way to see what you like and what you don’t like about your set and improve it for future performances.

You can also go to shows or music festivals and watch other groups to see what you like and dislike about their set.

Always be on the lookout for things you can tweak and improve upon.

Here is a video of a band who exhibits many factors which allow them to have a great stage presence:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAx8udx9azU&nohtml5=False