Drawing a crowd

Sep 5, 2012
I am a humble busker who specializes in card magic. I'm quite good at what I do, make my own effects and practice twenty three hours a day yet the crowds I draw very rarely cross the 5-person threshold. I try to do the whole "Show that guy who's passing by your card too" thing, I've tried playing music, I've worn a wool top hat in the summer sun- nothing seems to draw them.
The question is: What do all of YOU do to draw magnificent crowds? And how can I?
As a busker, you've got to make noise, and you've got to have a commanding presence. The audience must be engaged by you before they become a crowd. That means you must have the numbers passing by to draw them in. If you're working a "pitch" that has very little foot traffic, you won't get many people to stop, and you won't be able to build a crowd. Make sure to educate the people that do stop as well. Have them help you build a crowd by telling them to clap and cheer. Tell them that the show won't start until they've helped you build. And DON'T START THE SHOW UNTIL YOU'VE BUILT A CROWD (of around 5-10 people)! Then you'll have passersby interested. You can also announce loudly that a show is about to start.

Now, if you want to be a busker, specializing in Card Magic may not be best. It's not a bad thing, but you have to branch out. Passersby on the street are a lot like children, and you can't entertain children with just a deck of cards. I used to be a cards only guy. IT DIDN'T WORK. There is a time and place for cards only...the street is not it. Here is my Busking routine:

Build crowd= 1-7 people
Dean Dill's No Extras (for the first few people to get them to help build; you could do cards here as well)
Coins thru Table (any method that plays big to build and maintain)
Crowd Maintenance= Interact and adjust 7-14 people
SIMPLE Prof. Nightmare (ropes are good because they can be totally inspected and are a familiar object)
ACR with signed card (finale is card to mouth)
Finale of Show= True Crowd has been formed
Cups and Balls routine (best finale / greatest trick EVER) (also, build your own routine by studying the greats)
Hat Line= Get the Money

A few tips:
- Educate the crowd by telling them the show isn't free, but that the Finale will be worth it
- Be appreciative at the end
- Don't be afraid to act crazy and loud (you're the performer...you're the one on the metaphorical stage...you are allowed to act silly)
- Do your best to make everyone interested and engaged.

Hope this helped, friend.
Elliott Terral
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Sep 5, 2012
Wow! Thank you very much!
I've recently been trying to branch out from cards and have been practicing a few effects in kind. What do you think of this routine(I've been doing this for the last week with moderate success)

Draw the first few (like, 3) with a card trick such as Detective Aces. Then:
Scarf vanish (scarf pushed into fist disappears)
Hat portal: (Water poured into my hat and appears in a cup)
Cups and balls (nuff said)
And for my finale, linking rings.

Once again, thank you for the advice. It will be used.
Aug 17, 2010
Some random thoughts in no real order (as I'm too sleepy to do this any better!)...

I think you may want to reconsider cards as the first thing you do; you have to be close up to see them, and it's not terribly modular. The scarf vanish can be seen from across the street, is visual, and takes no time.

The need in busking is for tricks that are visual, play big, and are modular; by that, I mean ones in which people can still enjoy when they start watching partway through. Cups and balls or chop cup routines are used all the time for this reason - even if you come right at the end, you can still follow it. The balls vanish and reappear, maybe multiply, or turn into lemons or what have you - even right at the end, people can still get it. Many card tricks rely on seeing the entire routine; without the beginning, the ending is underwhelming. People will keep on walking if they can't follow what you're doing. Coins across, or coin assemblies are good for building the tip, too - even the last phase, people can see a coin go from here to there magically. Of course, it works better with bigger coins, so they're more visible...

The best pitches are where tourists go; they have time, money, and are looking for fun.

You need a polished act; nothing makes people leave your pitch like a flat spot in the show. For this reason, you really, really, really have to tightly script the transitions. You absolutely need to have something to say when one prop gets put away and another is brought out. You have to have a smooth, polished act from top to bottom. Mine has changed maybe six words in three years. "Um", "uh" and a loss for words kills acts.

Pitch the finale, it gives people a reason to stay. Promise them a big, mindbending finale, and do your best to deliver. If you stay until the end of my show, you'll see "something you won't believe, something you can't explain, something you'll tell your grandchildren about".

Be careful about applause before the end of your show; if people applaud, they may feel its safe to go, that they've given you something of value. I don't let them applaud - they can laugh, gasp, yell, anything but applaud. And when they do at the end, it's bigger because they've been holding it in.

Learn some names, and call on them. Make them part of your show.

I do three hat lines; one before the finale, one in the middle of it, one at the end of the show. The first one tells them I'm going to pass the hat. The second one reminds them, and hints about what makes a good tip. The third one thanks them for watching, and puts out the hat. And at the end, have some lines to encourage people to keep tipping. Money is like butter - you have to spread it around to do any good. The more you give, the better I live. Remember, I have a bad back and I walk home - paper weighs less than silver is all I'm saying. Do you need change for a nickel? I really appreciate your generosity, and so does my landlord. That kind of thing. And thank them, shake hands, be jovial, warm and courteous.

If you're serious about it, get some resources specific to busking; Tales From the Streets, dvd by Kozmo, The Royal Touch by Cellini, To Lure With Spectacle by Jimmy Talksalot, and The Art of Krowd Keeping by Gazzo will all serve you well. Watch every busking act you can, not just magic; see how they build the tip, how they hat the crowd, how they structure the show, how polished they are. Busking is a unique venue with its own requirements, so it's wise to look to others for guidance. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Be modular with your show; be ready to stop building and go into the closer as soon as you have enough people. Keep building if you don't have enough.

If it helps, my routine is
One coin routine to stop the first group, start building the tip
Coins to cup
Chicago Surprise
Mongolian Pop Knot rope routine
Hat line #1
cups and balls 1st part
Hat line #2
cups and balls finish
Hat line #3
As soon as I have enough people, it's right to the rope routine and cups and balls regardless of where I am in the set. If I have to keep building, there's a Dean Dill coin assembly i do, a three ball routine, and a mindreading gag.
Aug 30, 2012
my method

I usually just sit down in an area where there are a lot of people just hanging around :) (i.e. at a park, outside of a coffee shop, etc.) and do a really noisy and attention-drawing flourish like the anaconda or the spring. Usually it will catch someone's eye and they will look your way. When this happens, I use the David Blaine approach and say "Can I show you something?" They will typically comply. I start out with something not too mind-blowing like "quick as a wink" and finish with something something like my ambitious card routine (D. Garcia's "fallen," normal "jumping-to-the-top" thing, finish with "hand to mouth" by Dan and Dave Buck) or card in mouth. I also like to carry two decks with me, so I can do an effect that requires throwing the cards (i.e. card thru window), which seems to always draw a crowd, and then pull out the other deck to continue performing. I hope this helps. :)
Mar 23, 2017
I'm new to the Theory 11 forums and never really post so believe me when I say this post fascinated me.
I have been playing with the punters for almost 28 years now off and on. Street performing pretty much all over.

The people on this thread have given some great advice. My two cents for what they are worth is other than people telling you to have an act because that's the bare minimum, is to have confidence.

I have a student that took two years before he hit his stride. He has a disabilities with tremors and his hands shake and as a magician that can be very hard and to add people watching you can be even harder but now he pulls great doorways and even sometimes circles.

Persistence and patience I believe are two other key factors. Remember "you are an actor first before you are a magician". You must get them not to like you but love you! A big difference.

And another bit of info would be this to break 5 or more people barrier is have some clever walk by lines. Major multitasking comes into play after your first 5 people. Don't be afraid to pause your show and interact with people walking by, the audience will stay if they like you. Always be observant of your surroundings and find the fun and laughter that you can present at those moments.

Lastly have fun, I know that won't always happen but if you go out with the mind set of just having fun the money will fallow. Your hat speech will develop and your shows will flourish.

Cheers to you mate and may fat hats be the catch of the day.

Ciao for now,
Lynx Kim
The Lynx Show
Hey everyone!

I was fortunate enough to capture footage of my first attempt ever at busking. Each of my shows that I did had around 30 people at the height of the show. Would love to get feedback and advice from the more experienced and professional buskers. Thanks in advance!
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