A Guy Walks Into a Bar- (Continued…)

(Walk By Busking Continued)

There are several other things to be considered when setting up your novelty entertainment busking set up in the street to attract walk by business… The street is less than ideal in the vulnerability department. You will want to set up near someplace that has a street, shop or ATM camera and logistically makes sense for your needs. (i.e. Restroom, water, food, parking, security, phone, loading-unloading, making a quick exit, visibility, clear view of your surroundings, etc…) If you have a tip bucket or some kind of contraption to collect money, it will likely get pilfered or stolen outright at some point. Kids and thugs have many, many ways to get your goodies if they want them. (More on this later) For a number of reasons, I prefer to open my hand to collect tips and put the money directly into my pocket. (I have a VERY DEEP pocket I have sewn into my pants to prevent pickpocketing- which I will also go over later…) Keep in mind that you will also be encumbered by your props, easel, signs, jacket, book bag, dog, etc… Whatever you have with you. Should you have to get up to use the restroom, get a drink or whathaveyou you will need to bring all of your things along with you, lock them up, stash them somewhere, have somebody else watch them for you or test your faith in humanity by leaving it alone for a few minutes. This is something to consider if you are vacillating about whether to work on public or private property.

Physical abuse may also be something to seriously give consideration to if you are a woman or are a man of slight build. (or even if you are a giant stud muffin like myself, who might be hassled because they are big and might pose a challenge to a punk kid looking to start a fight with somebody- yes, it happens.) I suggest ANYONE who busks in a walk by environment to carry pepper spray at the very least. A whistle and/or a knife are good too. A flashlight or a small stick is also an excellent idea for protection and do not draw attention Learn how to use these tools for defense along with basic moves to throw off the hands of an attacker in close quarters, you’ll be amazed at what you can do with a small stick, marker, pencil, keychain, etc… I wouldn’t bring a gun with me but that is just me. Personally, if I thought I would need a gun where I was going, I might reconsider my priorities.

You might consider having a few cache spots too. Someplace you can keep money or bring periodic drops to that is secure so you don’t have to walk around with a lot of money in your pocket all day. That way if you DO get robbed, you won’t be out everything you made the entire day. If you work long days and have a lot of $1 bills taking up room in your pocket, you can free up some space by ditching the wad and be more comfortable too. The first cache spot to consider is where you first put the money when it is given to you. Your POCKET.

You might keep a dummy pocket so if you are asked to give an assailant your money you can pull out everything from a partially full pocket, meanwhile you have several other partially full pockets that they don’t know about, or maybe stash your larger bills ($20, $50, $100’s) in a pocket you don’t use very often. When you have a lot of money in a wad in your pocket, you would be surprised how easy it is to accidentally pull out more money than you intended and accidentally drop it. Keep your bigger bills in a pocket (sock, shoe, bra, etc…) you are not likely to use. Better you drop a $1 looking for change than a $50. You’ll find that shallow, wide pockets easily bunch up on you and it is easy for that bunching movement to push some bills up and out also. I like to use only pockets on one side of my body to store cash. I am very comfortable with people watching me work from over my shoulder or standing on one side of me but if someone is standing on the side I put my money into I am very aware of them being there. I jiggle around subtly so that if they have slipped a hand into my pocket they cannot rely on getting it back out without being noticed. Still it is best to keep honest people honest and try to put yourself in a position within your environment where there is a wall, a table, a chair, etc… something on that side so you don’t have to worry about anyone being over there to begin with. Be weary of people bumping into you also. Classic pickpocket trick… The special pocket I have sewn into my work pants is a tube that goes down to my knee and I can push money way, way down there and make a big fat wad and nobody can see it! it is wide at the bottom and very narrow at the top so that it is very difficult to get a hand in there and even harder to get it out. Yes it is harder to get the money out to stash it but I would generally do that somewhere private.

Something to consider is that a mugger or a pickpocket will stealthily check you out for a while before making a move and you WILL NOT know they’re there. While you are busy working and doing your thing all of the people you see and meet will become a blur, but you will stick out like a sore thumb to them. If there is a thief around they WILL notice you and all of the loot you’re putting into your pocket. The best defense against them is to simply go on about your business being aware of your surroundings and making it hard for them to find a vulnerable point at which to take advantage of you. They will be watching you yes, but they will also be noticing the steps you are taking to protect yourself, that you are conscious of your surroundings and see that you smarter than the average bear. By simply taking the simple precautions mentioned above, (that will quickly become second nature for you) they will most likely determine that their chances of success is so low that it will not be worth it to attempt anything and they will likely just move on leaving you none the wiser.

(FYI- This might be a good time to point out that I THINK I have been pick pocketed twice and I have never been robbed or beat up in the 20 years I have been busking. (knock on wood!))

A cache/hiding spot in your car is a wise idea too, maybe a small, secret spot behind a rock in a parking garage? An excellent suggestion if it’s possible is to make a friend nearby. A friendly business owner or employee who you can visit to deter a creeper for instance, if there is somebody who makes you nervous. This last bit is a great idea as that person can keep an eye on you, scout the creeper for you over your shoulder while you talk, call the cops if needed and may even let you leave your cache with them. You can keep a weapon of some sort in your cache spots too. A stick in your pocket for instance… or some mace.

One of the prerequisites of busking almost unanimously in any environment is that you can’t have anything permanently set up and must move somewhere else if asked to by a nearby shopkeeper or cop. Especially if you are blocking traffic on the sidewalk, street or business front where you are set up. This means you have to load all of your stuff in to begin and out at the end of the day which can also be a pain but a lot of vendors do this. There is no end to the creativity used to solve the problem of moving props here and there! (Again, I will describe my cart in a later chapter.)

Another problem to inspire creativity is called “dipping”. Dipping is when it LOOKS like somebody is putting their hand in to give you a tip but sneaks something out instead. Any number of ingenius contraptions can be invented to ensure that earnings go in and not out of your bucket, bottle, jar or whatever. It is a fact that you will be more likely to be targeted for a crime since you (more than likely would be alone,) would be in the same general place at the same times and even park your car in the same place every day. Buskers are unfortunately easy prey for muggers… That’s not to say that they often get mugged… Good old fashioned street smarts and following your gut is extremely underrated.

Yes, the walk by method definitely has it’s disadvantages and leaves you vulnerable if you are on public property, but not just to muggers. You may be hassled by homeless people, panhandlers, drunks, cops, mother nature, parking restrictions, lighting problems and just general harassment from passers by and business owners. Not to mention the hood rats that may come talk your ear off because there’s nothing better to do than to watch you work. (They’re cute at first but they will turn on you as soon as you stop paying attention to them then they can become troublesome…) Now that you’re all scared…

Next up… Circle Busking.

(All content belongs to Adam Pate. Copyright 2013)

A Guy Walks Into a Bar (Continued…. MASSIVE INFO DUMP!)


Most styles of busking can be performed both on public or private property. The most common style of street performing is known as, “Walk by busking”. This is where the entertainer stays in one place and performs for people walking by hoping that they will stop and throw something in their tip jar or guitar case. Many musicians choose to perform in the walk by style because it’s easy, versatile, laid back, non-agressive and you can stay in the same place all day if you want to. Hopefully, people will stop for a song or two, give you some money and move on. Generally the artists set up far away from each other so they are not competing noise wise, playing for the same demographic group or block around a particular store or attraction.

It is definitely possible to set up and do caricatures or other forms of entertainment artwork (balloon twisting, face painting, hair wraps, henna, etc…), also known as “novelty entertainment” busking in the walk by style. You want to be sure that you have the means to move or pack up quickly if asked. (Personally, I use a cart -which I will describe later) It is very similar to doing retail caricatures at a fair where you have to be there all day every day and there are only a few busy times during the day with the rest of the business coming in trickles throughout the day. It is more or less steady business, depending on your expectations.

There are several advantages to busking in the street rather than paying for a retail spot at a fair. For the most part, you will have the freedom to busk virtually wherever you like, any time you like without having to pay a fee to anyone for the spot, worrying about bringing a bunch of stuff to set up like a tent, signs, etc… You will not be forced by your obligations to stay in a poor location, nor will you be stuck outside in bad weather or the hot sun, etc… You will not have to worry about “breaking even” or even make much of an investment at all in your business. You will not need any insurance, fire extinguisher, employees, etc.. you will not need a vendor’s license or pay sales tax either. Chances are if you are on private property you will need insurance and they will want to keep track of your success in some way, maybe requiring you to become a retail vendor in which case- you are not a busker. The freedom, availability of your location, hours of operation and even specifics about your general appearance may also be up to the management but you will have added security and possibly a place to store your belongings. Maybe even a stipend if you are lucky.

About sales tax… Technically, this is where I should tell you that the federal government and many state and city laws will require you to report and pay taxes on any tips you receive. Some state and city laws may require you to collect, report and pay a sales tax as well, even on ‘entertainment services’. (I don’t believe the IRS gives a damn about sales tax-but you can ask your accountant.) I think it is safe to say however that there are not many buskers (if any at all) who have ever reported any cash transactions whatsoever since there does not seem to be any standard that deals with freely given “gratuities” for those who are self employed. I have asked many, many organizations many, many times and have never ever gotten the same answer twice. In short, do what you gotta do. I’m not your lawyer or your CPA. If you keep receipts for tax purposes though, you will have to report something for sure.

Certain times and locations will definitely be more worthwhile than others and sitting around waiting for somebody to come to you to get a drawing definitely sucks no matter what… Doing novelty entertainment this way leaves you having to hustle more than you are likely to be comfortable with and you will certainly have to “bark” at people- or yell out to people as they pass by and try to talk them into stopping to get a drawing if you are not already drawing someone. People will stop to look for a moment and then move on. If there is nothing to look at they will probably not stop. When people are moving by you quickly, it is very difficult to get their attention, much more difficult to get them to stop and give you a moment of their time, even if they are expecting entertainment.

You will realize after a few short hours that barking gets repetitive and is a PITA (Pain In The Ass)… So you will want to switch up your methods to make it interesting! An experienced barker will often make funny comments or try to yell out a one liner that might prompt the passersby to laugh or come back and start up a conversation or at least stand around and watch other people get barked at. There’s a fine line between barking and heckling. You don’t want to be too harsh. As a caricature artist, part of your job is to determine how much hilarity somebody can take. Push it to be funny, but if it’s not funny to them, you’re just wasting your time… If you do choose to bust somebody’s chops a little, be prepared to be heckled right back. Try to keep it friendly. (What’s funny about being cruel to someone?) This is good practice for when you get heckled while performing. Once you get the hang of it you will have learned a few zingers to keep you in control of the conversation and keep it upbeat. Heckling happens a lot with busking and sometimes it can be fun, as long as it’s good natured. Don’t get too personal. Keep it clean and family friendly if you want to have a good experience. A smile and a friendly laugh will help you make friends rather than enemies. Most of the time when somebody heckles you and you zing them right back they will laugh and you will have gained their respect. (Though admittedly, it will try your nerves after a while…) I can only assume it works the same for females, though clearly they may have different opinions on this matter than men. If you are on private property, remember every thing you do or say will likely come back to you in one way or another. It might even be recorded.

No matter how awesome your act is, take into consideration what all goes into barking at passersby one at a time all day to perform your service for them… You will have to convince people to 1. Slow down or stop, 2. Watch and listen, 3. Justify carrying out a financial transaction with you, 4. Commission your services for a period of time, 5. Compensate you handsomely of their own free will because your handiwork was the best they’ve ever seen and 6. (Very important)- stick around long enough to help you attract other passersby so you don’t have to stand around and bark someone else in. The best advertisement is a group of people standing around watching you work. They will already be convinced and the only barking you’ll need to do then is yell, “NEXT!!”

Just to give you an idea of what it’s like to be an extremely talented “walk by” street performer, consider this Washington Post article about famous violinist, Joshua Bell playing in the subway:


At the end of the article above, Mr. Bell says that the hardest part of the experience was not feeling any sense of accomplishment after he finished a piece. There was no applause, no fanfare …and virtually no money in his tip bucket. At the end of his time playing someone recognized him and put a $20 in his tip jar, bringing his total earnings up to $36.50. He had hoped to make a lot more money but said that he realized in the end that if he worked steadily throughout the day and collected an hourly wage equal to what he had made playing for that 45 minutes in the subway (counting quarters as well as $20 bills both), it would actually be worth his while to sit there all day and play. It is easy to lose that perspective however… I don’t foresee him playing his million dollar Stradivarius in the subway again any time soon.

If you have expectations of being busy, but have just a trickle of business throughout the day it’s easy to get bored and anxious. You may eventually sound desperate to the passersby and deter them rather than attract them. You may be barking to people because you are trying to get some work, but you will appear to be barking AT them in anger for not taking you up on your offer… Remember, your job is to entertain them, not the other way around. They’re just going about their regular business having a nice day… If you find yourself losing perspective, one of the most glorious things ever about busking is that you have low overhead and it is entirely possible to guiltlessly pack up, go home or go out to the pub and get a drink, chill out, take the rest of the day off or come back later when your spirits improve. Ain’t nobody got time for that crazy stuff!

This is a fun job. If you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong. I recommend approaching people in a way that sounds like you have a secret you want to tell them or a gift you want to give to them. Try it sometime and see how it sounds. One of the best words of advice I ever got came from a telemarketing scammer who dicked me over… He was an unscrupulous asshole but he was a hell of a salesman. He said, “If you get someone on the phone who clearly isn’t interested in the offer, just hang up on em. Don’t let them waste another second of your time. There are plenty of people out there who would LOVE to hear all about it. Why waste your time arguing with the people who have already made up their mind that they aren’t interested? The time you waste trying in vain to talk them into it could be better spent with one of the people who IS INTERESTED!” I have been much happier since I took it to heart.

Once you do attract people’s attention and convince someone to make a transaction with you, you will find that there are many different types of tippers. I will go into that in detail later. One type of tipper that you wan to avoid that the walk by busker is particularly vulnerable to are families with small children. Not all of them are bad of course but at certain times and in certain locations they can be devastating… Again, not always, but they MAY pay with change and take up your time asking you to do multiple tasks for the same very low reward. You can always say no and run the risk of upsetting them, you can choose to work at a time when the low tippers are less likely to be around or a location where they are not as prevalent. If you are in private place though you might be stuck with them though… (Once again, females may have a different experience with this group.) You can fool them by “sweetening” your tip bucket by putting higher value bills on the top of the money in your tip bucket so that when somebody looks in stealthily to determine what the average tip people give you is, it will appear that most people are giving you higher value bills rather than change that will usually weigh down the bills if it is dropped on top of them. I always bring along a couple of fins especially for this purpose. Something to consider is that a person is more likely to give you a bigger tip if they have to hand it to you and watch you put in into the tip jar (or your pocket-recommended) yourself. Small children with nickels however are the kiss of death if their parents aren’t within earshot. THEY HAVE NO SHAME! Lol!

The reason I am posting more information that usual is because I want to get your ready for St. Pats!! If you are thinking about trying busking, this weekend is a perfect time to start!! Saint Patrick’s day is the weekend after next and it is on Sunday, so the entire weekend will be a good time to be out and about. Right now is the best time to scout a location and get in a little practice so that you are ready for the crazy crowds full of green beer! I’d like to hear your stories of busking if I’ve inspired you to get out there so take notes for me! 🙂

Next post on busking I will cover SECURITY. (might come in handy with all the drunks you’ll see on St. Pats)