Busking

One of the best things about busking is that anyone (over the age of 14) can do it; from seasoned veterans to someone who has yet to sing a note in public, the street is your stage.

Why do it?

Busking is a great way to:

  • promote an upcoming concert
  • reach new potential audience members
  • attract new group members
  • build up your group’s confidence and experience of performing in front of a live audience
  • raise money (for your group or for another charity)
  • try something new when things have gone a bit stale

Insurance 

Although it’s not a legal requirement, it’s a good idea to have Public Liability cover in place before busking. If your group has insurance with Making Music then you will have Public Liability Insurance (if you don’t have insurance with us click here to find out more). All our group insurance packages come with Public Liability up to £5m – this will be more than enough in the vast majority cases. 

Is it legal?

Yes! However, before hitting the streets make sure you know whether you will be performing on public or private land as different rules apply.

If you’re planning on busking on public land in England or Wales you might need to pay for a license from your local council. The quickest way to find out whether you’ll need a busking licence is to visit the Busking Licence page on the GOV.UK website and enter your postcode. If you do need a license, make sure it is visible when performing.

Buskers in Scotland and Northern Ireland don’t need a licence to perform on public land but it’s still a good idea to contact your local council regardless to see if there is anything you should be aware of before hitting the streets.

Owners of private land often have their own policy on busking and so you might need to get permission beforehand. This can take various forms – it could mean simply applying for a permit/licence, or, if you want to busk on the London Underground, for example, going through an audition process.

However, in many public places in the UK, you don’t need a permit and you can busk freely. Despite this, each local council in the UK will have its own bylaws and rules for street performers that you should still abide by - some examples:

  • don’t put up signs asking for money
  • don’t make too much noise
  • only busk in certain parts of town 
  • don’t block public roads or thoroughfares.

Many local councils have a busking ‘code of conduct’ available on their website. If you follow these guidelines and are on public land, you shouldn't have any problems.

If your group performs copyrighted material in public you’ll need to pay royalties. Some local authorities pay an annual fee to PRS for Music to ensure all performances by buskers at designated pitches are covered. Other local authorities pay to have all performances by buskers anywhere on public land covered. Give your local authority a call to find out the lie of the land – if they don’t have a licence, or do but only covering designated pitches and you’re planning on performing elsewhere, you can pay PRS fees via Making Music. When calculating audience size you should estimate the approximate audience number at any one time and use this figure to work out royalties due.

Collecting money

You can accept money from the public – don’t forget to put a few coins in your hat/instrument case to encourage further donations!

If you want to collect money for a charity in England or Wales, you might need a street collection licence, depending on your local council (in London, excluding the City of London you’ll need to contact the Met Police for a licence).

Groups in Scotland will need to apply for a free public charitable collection permit via their local council. 

If you’re in Northern Ireland, visit your local police station to gain permission. You’ll need to give notice - the minimum is the first day of the month proceeding the month in which you’re planning on collecting.

When raising money for a charity, it is best practice not to start before 9am (10am on Sundays/public holidays) or go on after 7pm. Also, make sure the fact you are raising money for charity is well signposted with the charity's logo somewhere near your collection.

Backing tracks

The most common cause of complaints is sound. Many busking locations are surrounded by flats, shops, offices, or hotels. Because the people inside can’t exactly walk away, make sure your volume isn’t bothersome. As a rule, keep your volume just above the level of background street noise – if it is distorted it’s too loud! Keep an eye on your volume levels and turn it off when you’re not performing.

If you are planning on bringing your own source of amplification be aware that most busking pitches will not have any source of power so you should use battery powered amps/equipment where possible.

If you are going to be playing backing tracks that are in copyright first check that your local authority has a PRS licence. If they do purchase PPL’s The Music Licence you will then be able to play copyrighted backing tracks in public legally.

Top tips

  • Depending on the location it might not be practical to bring your entire group with you or lug heavy equipment around so think practically. Could you give people a stripped back experience of your group?
  • The best times to play will usually be when there are likely to be lots of people around. For example, if there is another event in your town that you can piggyback on e.g. a car-free day or farmer’s market. Local councils, markets, and other street events are often looking for buskers. Some might even be able to pay you. This way you can busk without worrying about council rules and make local connections at the same time.
  • Make sure you have a sign with things like your group name, web address, and Facebook link on display. This way shy passers-by, or people who might not have time to stop, can see what your group is called and look you up later. Maybe have a non-performing member or friend of the group handing out flyers for audience and members?
  • Ask around other local leisure-time music groups to see if any have any pointers regarding good busking pitches in your area.
  • Make sure your repertoire consists of music that your group knows inside out and you know will go down well with passers-by (Bare Necessities, not Bach, is the name of the game). 
  • Despite the ‘egalitarian’ surroundings the same rule of performance applies: the more you put in the more you and passers-by will get out of it. So, try and make a connection with the public as much as you would any other audience.
  • Once you’ve got a taste for it try changing up your set list. Acts with a more varied repertoire tend to be more popular. 
  • Set up shop in a place where people can see you as they approach, this gives them time to rummage in their wallets.

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.