Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Most effective busking repertoire
Most effective busking repertoire
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MichaelAndrewLo
543 posts
Dec 14, 2011
12:24 PM
I have been living in Toulouse for about 2 months now busking most days and experimenting and really trying to learn the ins and outs of busking. Most of this experience has been with a harp player who is a relatively new busker as well. We have averaged around 40 euros and hour and have made and sold homemade cds as well for around 10 euros (depending sometimes of course!). I am writing this post because I am looking to strike it out on my own and am having difficulty replicating these busking successes on my own. I have been playing simple christmas melodies on harp (jungle bells, deck the halls, merry christmas, silent night, etc.) as well as some popular melodies and pieces including: The entertainer, super mario theme, beat it, la cucaracha, tequila, and moon river. I haven't played any blues really. I am wondering for those who have experience what is your most effective repertoire for busking with only YOU playing harp. No looping or any extras. I am considering using a stompbox for rhythm but nothing else. Any tips are well appreciated ;)

Andrew

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Andrew Larson, R.N.
shanester
452 posts
Dec 14, 2011
12:42 PM
When doing it solo, I think more than ever to get the tips you need to interact with the crowd, getting in their world, and pull from your repertoire little ditties that speak to them.

I think suggesting tips would be a good idea, like, "I'll play you lovebirds 'Let's get Lost' for $10 bucks '.

I learned operating a pedicab that the $ goes to those who interact with people and request it. Young couples out on the town drinking are a great place to focus!
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Shane,

"The Possum Whisperer"




Shane's Cloud

1shanester
waltertore
1765 posts
Dec 14, 2011
12:49 PM
I have been playing the streets on and off for almost 40 years both here in the USA and Europe. I have found the people that make the most money play the most tired songs known to mankind and make more if they have this stuff going: ones with physical disabilities that are obvious to passerby; ones that have dogs that are dressed up or as one guy in san francisco whose minature dogs were dressed up and danced in costume on their hind legs; ones with trained monkeys; ones that are so animated you can only stand to listen for a minute, but that will get a bill in your case. Plus if you are amplified and have backing tracks your earnins will be higher. If you are not singing, your earning goes down to next to nothing. Do originals, unamplified, with no electronic gizmos and you will probably not even earn enough to cover your gas, let alone the harps you flatten out.

You have to figure the average person will at best hang out for a song. It goes in waves. Once you get a few people stopped, more stop. Once you stop, most all will leave and you have to build that crowd again. The streets are a tough gig, much harder than any club gig especially if you are trying to earn money. You are not in a safe, protected place like a club. You are liable to run into anything on the street. The best times I have had is when I found a merchant that wanted me in front of his shop. I played most everyday in the summer in front of a music store in Santa Rosa, Ca. Their business went up and I made enough money to be satified. The less dependent I am from music money income the more fun the streets are. I have some of my best times playing on the streets.

I love this video of Neil Young busking. this was done at a time before the handheld camera was common. Just the sight of a camera back then would attract a crowd. Barely anyone stopped to listen considering this factor. I wonder how many who passed him by had big dollar tickets to his show that night??



Here is a guy, TT Fingers, that many europeans and SF bay area people may remember. He has been a full time street performer around the world since the 70's. Many major music industry people tried to get him signed but he refused, prefering the freedom of the street musicians lifestyle. Here is a link to his last lp that is worht listening. It features indiana slim on guitar, who played with me on and off for a decade in the bay area.
TT Fingers shakin snakes

I think he is still alive and living back in the Tenderloin of SF. Alcohol has really taken a toll on him. In his day he was hard to top. He had a voice akin to the Howling wolf sound and played one of the meanist slide guitars you ever heard. I played with him for 2 years while I lived in Brussels. We were good friends. He had a very generous spirit. He was a king then. We would easily make $100 an hour playing on the Rue Nerve walkstreet.

T.T. Fingers-street musician-SF- rough edit from shootsandleaves on Vimeo.




TT, me, and his girlfriend Anita from france on bass, at a small club in brussels circa 1981

Photobucket


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walter tore's spontobeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing. I record about 300 full length cds a year.
" life is a daring adventure or nothing at all" - helen keller

2,800+ of my songs

continuous streaming - 200 most current songs

my videos

Photobucket

Last Edited by on Dec 16, 2011 3:53 AM
BronzeWailer
340 posts
Dec 14, 2011
2:37 PM
I have been only busking for a bit over half a year, so am still learning, but getting out 2-3 times a week when the weather permits.
I started out using backing tracks on some songs but decided it would be better for my playing not to rely on them, so play through either the little Pignose with the Green Bullet for a light busk or get the Big Roland out if I want to rattle a few windows.
Some key things for getting tips: #1: Good groove. If it sets their hips swaying or toes tapping, it's a winner. Sonny Terry style chugging is good (although mine is a pale imitation). Adam has a couple of lessons on how to do it. Peter Mad Cat Ruth has what he calls a John Lee Hooker style groove on his Ins and Outs of Rhythm Harp DVD which is a good base too. #2. Something "sexy" sounding. E.g. Rock Me and Hoochie Coochie Man. The ladies love this. So do the gentlemen. #3. Singing. As Walter says, you've got to sing. I have been forcing myself to sing and it usually goes down well. "You've got to Move" seems to strike a chord. Also SBWII songs like "Let Me Explain" and "9 Below Zero". "From Four Till Late" also goes down well. I even sing a capella sometimes, partly as vocal training. Singing seems to connect with the audience in a way instrumentals just can't. #4 Familiarity. People like to hear something they know at least partly. "Crossroads" for e.g. Final tip is let yourself go and have fun. If you aren't, then the audience won't be either. At the end of the day, I view it as a kind of paid practice (especially when tips are scarce). Good luck!
isaacullah
1699 posts
Dec 14, 2011
3:00 PM
Great to hear from you MAL! This doesn't have necessarily anything to do with repertoire, but when I was in Spain this summer, buskers in Santiago would post up near outdoor cafes in the various plazas, play a few songs, and then would very purposefully (but politely) walk around the tables of the cafe with a tip bucket. Every time, they got at least half a Euro from every table, and usually quite a bit more. I'm not sure if that's acceptable in France, but it was so in Spain. I'd say they typically played three songs or so, usually a couple of American pop or classics, and one local Spanish song... The buskers in Santiago seemed to be making in killing... Good luck!
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== I S A A C ==
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jbone
704 posts
Dec 15, 2011
5:03 AM
in good weather we busk a couple times a month at least. we've found a store owner on a main drag who likes us and lets us play for no fee even though this is a permit-required city. the $$ is of course a factor, but if you go out obsessing on dollars you may not see so many pile up for you.
we busk because of what walter referred to, the freedom. we can play what we want, for as long as we want. when we do the farmers market we can turn around and buy some fresh veggies and stuff with our earnings.
when you get totally involved in whatever material you're doing- and i suggest something that allows you to make some noise- people catch the fever, they will hang out for a few minutes, drop a tip, buy a cd. we have found evenings to be best. weekday lunchtimes seem like everyone is en route and in a hurry. mornings at the farmers market are sometimes good but i think a lot of people are out to buy for their homes or restaurants and they are in more of a hurry. the best times seem to be when families are out during the day at the market and the kids notice us and want to come watch. a lot of times the tips are small from the kids but the parent will drop something better sometimes.
this dovetails into why we do this. our primary purpose aside from the rehearsal factor is, we just want to share the joy with anyone who walks by. the money is nice but it's definitely not the first reason we do this.
fortunately i have a day job. our bills are pretty well taken care of. music is an avocation for us. we're both dedicated to playing as long as health allows.
if you depend on all of your income from busking or music in general, my hat is off to you.
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kudzurunner
2881 posts
Dec 15, 2011
5:54 AM
My hunch is that if, as a harp player, you're able to come up with a plausible echo of a song that is currently on the radio--something with a recognizable melody--you will get people to stop. Hit people where they live. Make them smile. Make them do a double-take. Make them nod in recognition. And make sure that you make it easy for them to identify the place where you'd like them to put their tips. Big hat or box with a "Thanks for your tips!", in the local language.

A little comedy doesn't hurt. It breaks down the barrier between you and the hand that gives.
kudzurunner
2882 posts
Dec 15, 2011
5:57 AM
@Waltertore:

Amazing! TT Fingers--and I didn't know his name--is a guy that I saw in the spring of 1980 when, as a 22 year old, I was working at 100 Bush Street in downtown San Francisco. I came out of the office one day, immensely frustrated with my new corporate law job (paraleagal). I walked down the block to get some cash from an ATM--a very new thing at that point. And I saw a guy on the street playing slide with his mutilated hand. I write about this in MISTER SATAN'S APPRENTICE. I was amazed by the sound. But I never knew his name. I'm sure it's that guy. Thanks for clearing up that mystery, Walter! It's a small world, indeed.

Last Edited by on Dec 15, 2011 5:58 AM
LSC
122 posts
Dec 15, 2011
8:16 AM
I lived for a short while with a rockabilly band called Kat Squire who got their start busking on holiday in Spain. They were so successful they carried on back in the UK. They were offered so many paying gigs while on the street they eventually came off unemployment to become a full time band and release a CD. In one day, just before Christmas, they earned over $3000 busking. They taught me a few things about the craft.

1) Walter is right, the streets are dangerous and if you're on your own you've got "Victim" stamped on your forehead. All kinds of idiots out there. Be aware and streetwise, especially about where you set up.

2) It helps to be loud. Not crazy loud but more than just acoustic. Get a battery powered amp, a Maxi-Mouse is great if you can find one but don't pay stupid money for it. I think Roland does a good one as well, albeit larger.

3) Again, Walter is right about the interaction thing. Figure out a patter if you have that personality but say something, especially to the kids. Interacting with kids will always get you cash from Mom/Dad.

4) If you do get good enough at it that you attract a bit of a crowd it's really good to have a shill, someone to actually pass the hat. It's weird. People are reluctant to break from a crowd and step up to the hat but will happily fish out the wallet with someone standing in front of them. BTW, this is true for bands working for tips as well. Also, the mere fact that you're not alone really helps with security.

And finally, in the UK I have known people who were professional buskers. "Professional" in every sense of the word including making a more than decent living out of it. Like anything else, they learned how to do it and had an act. I knew a sax player who recorded his own backing tracks of soul and jazz instrumentals, dressed in a zoot suit complete with wide brimmed hat and shades, and stalked around his pitch in a demented way while playing "Minnie the Moocher" and such. He'd done two mixes of the recordings, one with and one without the sax, giving him CDs to sell as well. If he was taking less than $100 and hour he felt it was a bad day. Dude, drove a one year old Golf GTI-16 valve, purchased new, and owned a really nice 3 bedroom house.
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LSC
waltertore
1769 posts
Dec 15, 2011
8:47 AM
Hi Adam: It sure is a small world! That was for sure TT Fingers. His main place to play use to be around the cable car turnaround. He always has lived in the Tenderloin area and it was just a short walk for him. When I talk to him I will mention your story. I'm sure he will get a kick out of being in a book!

He left for Europe shortly before I did, which was right around the time you saw him. Indiana Slim, a great guitarist, use to play in my band and he has been friends with TT since the 70's. He connected us up over there. Luther Tucker was also in our scene there until he got deported due to no working papers. I never had mine either but managed to dodge the law for 2.5 years. It finally wore on me and we came back home. TT never had them either and the way he lived life, it was a miracle he never got busted. Red Archibald, an often overlooked bay area harpman, was in our scene as well as Derek Walker a good saxman. I think he married a Norwegien woman and relocated legally there. A bunch of other american musicians whose names I forget, married Belgian women and got their papers. I was married already to Judy so couldn't play that angle. We had a pretty darn cool scene going there for awhile. I tended to stay to myself outside of playing because many of those guys had herion and or alcohol problems. I would play with TT daily, depending on how he sounded from a block away as I approached. I could tell if he was in a workable or leave alone mood. We would often argue over who sings the next song but other than that he was generally easy to work with and we did a 50/50 cut on the money. We were all mouse powered then. If he was in a bad mood I would do my own thing or get with King Solomon, another of the bay area guys over there.

Here is a link to TT playing with Slim and some great musicians. TT never could hang with any kind of organized thing and the 2 records he did with slim went nowhere because of his lifestyle. He had tons of big wigs after him and I experienced him dealing with the company that managed bo didly and chuck berry. They wanted him and saw him as a bluesy rock creedence thing. He told the guy to f off and never bother him again unless he came bringing liquor and no talk of tours and recordings. His slide playing and voice combo made for a sound that I have not heard before or since. Playing the streets with him was very unpredictable. He would have tabs in dozens of cafes around the Rue Nerve walk street. The problem was he was alway playing catch up and often had some pretty intense characters after him. We would go to a cafe to split the money. He would drink his, and put a bit towards his tab. The guy was earning a good 2-500 dollars a day and was at least a few grand behind all the time. He is 1/2 Samoan and under it all is a pussycat who loves kids, dogs, and most people, but his street front is one of don't mess with me. He could also play some wild single string things with the stump of his left hand. The video I posted shows him at about 20% of what he was. When you are a real deal street musician like TT was, life is hard and most die off younger than club musicians. Playing the streets with him was the real street deal as I know you know!
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/shakinsnakes/from/allrecordlabels

here is how he looked back then and me too-taken in brussels. Boy does time fly!
Photobucket


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walter tore's spontobeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing. I record about 300 full length cds a year.
" life is a daring adventure or nothing at all" - helen keller

2,800+ of my songs

continuous streaming - 200 most current songs

my videos

Photobucket

Last Edited by on Dec 16, 2011 3:49 AM
Buzadero
908 posts
Dec 15, 2011
8:51 AM
I don't "busk" per se, except around Christmas. The rest of the year, I do have a fondness for finding 'street people' that have guitars. San Francisco is loaded with them. But, since I find myself working and staying in various big cities, I do try to get out and commune with the streets as a guilty pleasure. Yes, it is much easier to be a "street person" when you have a warm hotel and an American Express card to return to.

But, I will say that all of the above suggestions are spot on. And, around the holidays, it always seems quite easy to pull in what amounts to great money (tax free) in the evenings playing those old familiar seasonal tunes.
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~Buzadero
Underwater Janitor, Patriot
MichaelAndrewLo
544 posts
Dec 15, 2011
5:50 PM
Thanks for the nice little tips you guys have put in my hat! So I gave it a shot today playing 20 different christmas melodies and made a decent 2 hours of it. It was in the evening 5-7pm with the christmas market playing at the place de capitole which is a big open area that has a continuous christmas market open everyday. It is surprising but there are really no good buskers out at any time. Maybe some drunk trying to play songs, but when you can PLAY people seem to respond in kind. I am just thinking what will my material be AFTER christmas? I will be moving to st petersburg florida and I have heard that is a busker haven as well. I am contemplating doing acoustic busking with harmonica at times because it seems if I play acoustic I am way more expressive when I play and the audience moves closer in to the tip bucket to hear and actually tip. Not sure acoustic will work for all settings but I didn't consider going from amplified to acoustic as a sometimes more effective strategy. Have sold 6 cds to. That feels good!

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Andrew Larson, R.N.
LSC
123 posts
Dec 15, 2011
6:34 PM
I think you're on the right track. You're actually thinking about what you're doing. I suspect you're going to get good at this and do okay. All the best.
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LSC
Steamrollin Stan
200 posts
Dec 16, 2011
1:57 AM
@ bronze wailer, i often upload stuff on the 'harmonica boogie' site, have a peek and see if i'm ready to try my buskin shit.
waltertore
1770 posts
Dec 16, 2011
3:51 AM
HarpPerL: It seems to be getting smaller by the hour! Tell Derrick hello and if he likes I can forward TT's phone # when I get it. Walter
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walter tore's spontobeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing. I record about 300 full length cds a year.
" life is a daring adventure or nothing at all" - helen keller

2,800+ of my songs

continuous streaming - 200 most current songs

my videos

Photobucket
HarpPerL
49 posts
Dec 16, 2011
5:04 AM
@Waltertore, consider it done.

PerL
crispyagain
26 posts
Dec 16, 2011
5:49 AM
I love all these stories ! Walter, have you written a book ? You really should !
waltertore
1772 posts
Dec 16, 2011
8:38 AM
thanks HarpPerl!

crispyagain: Nigel Price an author from England is doing a book. It is pretty much done but there is some stuff that if it came out now and certain peole saw it, I could end up floating in the Passaic River. It will be full of stories with the old bluesmen, shooting, stabbing, drug/alcohol insanities, hanging with rock stars, running drugs, playing at the biggest dealer in NYC every week with buddy bowser from the NY Dolls, having Bob Dylan as a fan of my music, and lot of other interesting stories of a crazy NJ boy driven to play music. It is all centered around being able to pull off completely spontaneous music around the world on my own hussle for 20 straight years= follow your dreams! It will have every kind of thing except woman stories. I have been in love with the same woman for the past 31 years and never cheated on her. But then the there was the Banditos out of austin that use to come to my gigs and have their girls dance totally naked in front of me and I would work the guitar neck between their thighs........ All in all I think it will be an entertaining book. Nigel, like me, is one to not push things anymore. We are of the age of letting things unfold vs. unfolding them and will publish it when we both feel the spirit hit. Thanks. Walter
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walter tore's spontobeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing. I record about 300 full length cds a year.
" life is a daring adventure or nothing at all" - helen keller

2,800+ of my songs

continuous streaming - 200 most current songs

my videos

Photobucket

Last Edited by on Dec 16, 2011 8:42 AM
BronzeWailer
938 posts
Apr 11, 2013
3:30 PM
Did a little solo busking last week. Just me and my harps, in a tunnel. My guitar guy had to cancel at the last minute, but I was already revved up. Did a lot of singing too. What "works" is slow soulful stuff or more rhythmic stuff like the one below. I made some nice tips and a guy from a liquor store gave me two bottles of beer!





My YouTube
tookatooka
3244 posts
Apr 11, 2013
4:23 PM
Thanks Bronzewailer. When your video ended, it advertised my old video which I am posting again for those who may have missed it first time around.

BronzeWailer
939 posts
Apr 11, 2013
5:50 PM
Great stuff Tooka! I'd like to see this rig on the streets. Any vids?

My YouTube
STME58
409 posts
Apr 11, 2013
10:02 PM
I saw an incredibly effective busking team in Balboa Park last Sunday. Their repertoire was light classical (Jesu Joy, Barber of Seville, Wachet Auf etc.) and folk (What do you do with a Drunken Sailor). It looked to be a family with mom on Viola the oldest son (about 10) on violin. His younger sister was playing a slightly smaller violin and a younger brother on a base viol that had a peg on it so he could play it like a cello. He did a great job of carrying the bass line. They were wearing matching outfits and the musicianship was on par with other buskers in the park without making any exceptions for the fact these were kids. Quite a crowd developed around the group. Their tip basket filled up quickly and many people dropped in fives. The sign on the tip basket read “Thank You! All tips go towards instruments and music lessons”.

They were doing quite well and then they brought out another musician to do “Drunken Sailor”. She looked to be about 3 years old and she had “training wheels” (metal rails clamped to the body to keep the bow positioned and colored tape on the fingerboard to mark positions) on her miniature violin. It was not all for show, you could hear her little instrument adding to the melody line, in tune no less!

I saw a few folks carrying instruments stop and watch for a while, then keep walking. I don’t know of too many buskers who could compete with this group!
Frank
2197 posts
Apr 12, 2013
5:06 AM
here is my favorite :)
kudzurunner
5777 posts
Nov 30, 2015
4:24 AM
Just wanted to update this old thread with a link to the new "blues harmonica busking" page on this website:

harmonica busking
Harmonicatunes
132 posts
Nov 30, 2015
3:07 PM
I've been busking for about 15 years. Mostly fiddle tunes, it'e how I practice. I make about $15-$20/hour, sometimes more, occasionally less. I could perhaps make more if I eyeballed folk, but I like to let them make up their own mind.

I like busking, and the settled way my mind becomes when I'm at it.

Until recently I used backing tracks, these days I use a loop pedal with a big rhythm harmonica, and play over that. A bit like the Tony Eyers Trio, for those familiar with that group.

The most successful busker I've seen in Australia is Juzzie Smith. He seems to have distilled everything that catches people's attention into his act. I suspect he makes a decent living at it, good on him.
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Tony Eyers
Australia
www.HarmonicaAcademy.com
everyone plays...
rainman
193 posts
Dec 22, 2015
7:15 AM
Great Buskin' video
rainman
194 posts
Dec 22, 2015
7:20 AM
rainman
195 posts
Dec 22, 2015
7:24 AM


Wow!

Last Edited by rainman on Dec 22, 2015 7:34 AM


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