Making the Street Your Stage: Busking
by Rachel Udow • illustration by Chuck Farmer
Street performance, or “busking,” happens all over the world and dates back to antiquity. To gain a little more insight into busking and opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, I interviewed Prelude co-owner Angel Rodriguez.
RU: Tell me about your experience with busking.
AR: I’ve done a lot of busking in a lot of different places. My experience has been that it’s all about how you approach it – it can be pretty lucrative if you take it seriously and if you make it a regular occurrence.
RU: What do I need to look into if I want to busk?
AR: The first thing I would do is pick a location. Decide what city you’re going to do it in by thinking about your travel costs, the amount of time you’ll be out there, and the amount of people who will be around. Shrink that down to an area of the city that will have a lot of activity.
The next thing you’ll want to do is look into the laws about busking in your chosen area. Sometimes you have to get a permit, and sometimes that involves getting on a waiting list. You can break the rules, but you might get shut down. That could mean you just have to move, but sometimes they’ll take your earnings. Usually a busking permit is only $5-$10 anyway, so it’s worth the investment.
RU: What do you think it takes to be a successful busker?
AR: The first thing is the songs, your playlist. Unless you’re Adele on the street, your originals probablywon’t fly that well, so you’re better off coming up with a cover playlist if your goal is financial. Look into which songs best suit you and also which songs best suit the environment.
Treat busking like gig. Put it on your schedule, show up on time, and be consistent. Bring extra strings and any other stuff you might need being outdoors a long time, like sunscreen and water. Look for ways to get amplification if you need it. There may be access to outlets and public electricity, but if there isn’t and you go all acoustic, be sure to play and sing louder than you’re used to.
Be as engaging as possible – and keep in mind that busking will be awkward for a good amount of time until you can develop a crowd. Be extremely charming, talk to people, and thank them when they give you money. Thank them from a true place versus giving an automated response – they’ll notice.
RU: What busking opportunities are available in RGV?
AR: I haven’t done a ton of busking around here, but it seems to be a wide-open market. Look into art walks, street markets, farmer’s markets, and other high-traffic events. Or, pick a city, gather a group of other musicians, and all go busking in certain block radius to attract more attention. Look into it – you might be a pioneer for busking in the Valley!