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first, how much money can you make from magic busking, second if you do the kind where you don't set up a stool and just walk around how could you even get money from that you can't just perform a trick and shove a hat in their face to take money.
My name is Jordy and I'm a busker from Melbourne, Australia, And have funded trips around the world and supported myself for the last 5 years from busking and I do that type of performance where you hold out a hat at the end, and though it may be difficult to begin, it certainly is possible.
First you have to look at it as you're providing a show that is highly enjoyable and in turn, that show is able to be performed with the generosity of the audience.
For a street show, you gather an audience, perform your second best trick as your first trick to gain anticipation, then one to two more tricks give out a hat line (you can make one up or use a stock line), then you end with your finale, and people pay what the show was worth.
you will start out making a couple dollars a show, on my first day I made $20 in 10 hours in an old country town, then you will get better and make more.
to work out how much you will make per show, judge how much it's worth to passers-by, most new performers would say $5, then you have to accept that only about 10% of your audience will pay because it's usually families or groups of people and only one person will pay and some may not.
so if your show is worth $5, and you have 10 people watching, you'll probably only make $5
When you begin performing better shows to larger crowds then your earnings will increase allowing you to make a comfortable living.
Kozmo paid for a house and an apartment (periodically) as well as paying bills and raising a family through busking. It's all about how good you are. He can pull $100 a show (which is about 20 minutes) on good days.
I will be quite up front and say this: I am not a great busker. I have recently upgraded myself from "crap" to "Ok". So this experience comes from someone who's at the ground floor - take it or leave it as it pleases you, but sometimes I find that hearing from someone who's closer to one's own level is a good thing.
Yes you can. But it's better if you perform a few tricks, then shove a hat in their face.
In a more serious way - As Jordy said, do something to hook their interest, mention you work for tips, do something to hold their interest, tell them you're going to ask for tips, do the finale, ask for tips - and stand there holding the hat/box/basked/whatever while you do that.
It may surprise you how different your take can be between saying, "Toss a little something in that box over there" and standing there saying, "Please put a little something in this box here." If you can get an assistant to stand at the back of the crowd, that helps, too.
The people I see who bring in the most money, are the funniest/most engaging. A good friend of mine, Daniel Greenwolf, will do maybe 3 routines in 25 minutes. His last routine is generally fire. But he does a lot of bantering with the audience, a lot of interaction. Then he throws out the hat line, does his fire routine, and does the hat line again.
Another friend, Wyck, does a whip act. He's basically known for being crazy. He currently holds the Guinness record for most 18 gauge needles pierced through human skin in an hour (1,400), as an example. His whip act consists of him cracking the whip a few times, then telling jokes and stories for 15 minutes, then hitting a target held in someone's hand, then 10 minutes of talking, then the big trick. I've literally seen him do a half hour show with everyone enjoying every minute, and only do one trick. He makes a few hundred a weekend usually.
So, be engaging and fun. Don't be shy about asking for money. Make sure you tell them before you ask for money, that you are going to be asking for money. Make sure you point out that what they have experienced has value. Stand at the front of the crowd and ask for money. Pack up/get ready for the next show after they disperse, not while they could be giving you money.
And my last bit of advice: You'll get the most money from a short, super fun show, rather than a longer show that has less strong/engaging material. Some of my best takes came from 20 minute shows where I just bantered with the audience a lot (while still doing my routines).
I have been busking since I was 7. It depends a lot on where you are. In key west I was consistently making 50-60 bucks an hour at the age of 10, but now in eugene at the age of 17 I only make 30-40 an hour. So yeah. Good tricks and live in a good place for it.
This is one instance where I will concede that busking does require a certain type of area to live in. Preferably touristy, so lots of people will be walking around without necessarily having a distinct destination. I used to live in Fresno and street-show style busking pretty much doesn't happen there. I just moved to York, PA - I haven't had time to explore a lot but when I used to live here it was the same scenario. There's musicians, but you don't really see jugglers or magicians or anything that would require gathering a crowd and passing a hat.
One of my good friends Jack Murdock suggests comparing your service to something tangible that they would pay for. For example, if you thought my show was worth at least a cup of coffee, maybe toss $5 into the hat. If you thought it was worth a full meal, maybe $20. This way they have something to actually compare it to. "Yeah i think the show was worth about as much for the coffee i just bought... heres 5 Bucks!"
I started busting when I was 15, made maybe $25/h. By the time I was 22 I was making $150/hour. This is a small pitch with 15-20 min shows. If you want to get good fast, the best thing you can do is get out and busk.
Nothing gets you performance time faster than busking, because you just do that show over and over, and you can tweak and hone it rapidly. It also teaches you humility, because nothing shows you how wrong you were about the quality of your show as watching a crowd walk away in the middle.
The caveat is that it trains you to have a fairly particular style of show, and to think about routines in a particular way.
Which is fine, obviously - folks like Chris.Gowen are doing quite well and I say good for them.