Street Performing Etiquette


You may have noticed that I haven’t posted for a while. In part, this is because I have been busy with gigs and have had little time to blog. But it’s also because I’ve been trying to step back and take some time to think about what I want this blog to be.

In particular, it seems to me that if you want to write something that is going to be read by anyone other than your friends and family, you should pick a topic that people are likely to search for on the internet. My experience is that discussions of music don’t get much attention outside of my social circle (and perhaps those who are similarly obsessed with music). But a lot of people seem interested in street performing etiquette. And so, at least for the next few posts, I am going to focus on the topic of street performing etiquette.

I will start by explaining why I think street performing etiquette matters.

Street performing has always been a source of entertainment for travelers, shoppers and residents of city centers. There’s something exciting and fun about seeing a street performer knock it out of the park with his/her talent that make you want to give them some cash. I’ve seen a lot of great performances over the years and have found myself wondering what it takes to be a great street performer. After putting a bit of thought into it, I decided to start this blog as a resource for those who want to learn more about street performing etiquette.

If you’re an aspiring street performer or just someone who loves watching great performances, this blog is for you. I’ll be posting articles about street performing etiquette and highlighting some of my favorite performers from around the world to inspire you.

For the past several years I’ve been a street performer in Cambridge, MA and other cities around the world. Here are some thoughts on the ethics and etiquette of street performing. Note that these are my opinions, not necessarily those of other performers.

What is a street performer?

A street performer is a musician or magician who performs for money in public spaces such as parks, plazas, and sidewalks. This includes buskers on the subway. Street performers range from professionals who travel the world to hobbyists who play only occasionally.

What is a tip jar?

A tip jar is a container where people can put money after seeing a performance. Tip jars are typically small plastic buckets or cardboard boxes with signs saying “TIPS” or “DONATIONS.” Fundamentally, tip jars are about trust. You see someone playing music (or performing magic), and you drop some money into their bucket because you feel grateful for what they did. Because you don’t know whether they have any money, you probably give more than you would if they were selling CDs. Likewise because they don’t know if you have any money, they perform more generously than they otherwise might. It’s an awesome system!

Some of the best street act’s I have seen are those that are performing a piece of music. You see, music is fun and it can be therapeutic. It is also a way to make money. Remember, there are many people who have gone on to become famous because they started as a street performer.

I have seen many acts perform music instruments on the streets and I was impressed by how good they were. Some of them were very amateur, but others were amazing. Like the guy playing the electric guitar in the photo above, who was so good that you would think he had been playing for years.

The best thing about these kinds of performers is that they don’t just play their instruments. They sing too! And some of them even dance to their own music or have other people dancing around them while they play.

One thing you must remember though is that street performers are not allowed to ask for donations (even though most of them do). They will only accept tips if you give them something first. So if you want to support these musical acts, then please go ahead and throw some coins into their hat!

I have seen you play in the subway, and I have had the pleasure to watch you perform. However, I’ve also listened to your music through my apartment windows. Apparently, you are not aware that our building is soundproofed and so we can hear every note of your music. It’s actually quite disturbing to be woken up at 7:00am on a Saturday morning with the same three songs repeated over and over again.

I know it may be hard to find a “good” place to play during the day without causing too much disturbance but please try to keep in mind that living people do live in this area. We work nights and sleep during the day, so maybe consider playing in an area where there aren’t any people living nearby.

Thank you for your understanding!


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