Buskers, street musicians, dancers, magicians, jugglers, balloon artists
April 20, 2014 11:14 AM   Subscribe

How much did/do you typically earn as a street performer?

I realize responses will be variable but I am looking for honest information. I have gathered some answers on my own, but would benefit from knowing more. Thanks for any help.
posted by 99percentfake to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I dated a juggler/magician who worked at Boston's Faneuil Hall and he auditioned for a spot and was assigned weekly different performance spots.

When he worked on peak tourist days he could make at least $300 daily in tips.

But that's working at a top level in a huge tourist area. When he was just doing stuff on the street, he could make $50 on a good day. One thing that came as a surprise to me is that getting a performing area was cut-throat. More established performers and larger crews had a tendency to intimidate others to get out of certain areas. My ex would often be booked to play the main area and as he'd be setting up, groups of men in street dance crews would convince him he'd be smart to relocate.
posted by kinetic at 12:05 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've busked in various ways in various places. And you'll find it nearly impossible to gather meaningful data, even if you were able to thoroughly poll (and get legit replies).

Certain sorts of acts (and certain sorts of presentations of those sorts of acts) make much, much more than others. And location is nearly everything.

In the end, incomes vary nearly as widely (and as disproportionally to performance quality) as performer wages in more traditional venues. So veteran buskers I know have built their careers much as more traditional performers do. They study the factors that increase their take, and they evolve strategies for ensuring those factors that work for them. There's no one template, and no meaningful "average"...any more than there is for magician/jugglers in any other realm.

Hope that helps.

One reply to make things a little less chaotic and unpredictable is to get a gig doing close-up magic night in a bar or club. The juggling's a tougher sell, because it requires attention, but close-up magic, like background music, is something that can be perceived by a bar or club owners as a modular experience-enhancer.
posted by Quisp Lover at 3:10 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a non-pro-level acoustic musician, a friend and I would bring in $40-50 in 2-3 hours on a beautiful sunny spring day, Saturday afternoon, in a walking-friendly medium-sized town that had no/lax rules about busking (A2 MI). We never paid for permits, or asked permission, or were asked to move along, or played multiple days in a row. If we'd done this frequently enough to become a fixture I'm sure the money would have dropped off, and/or the cops would have asked us not to. As it was, we were just happy students entertaining ourselves and others, then using our winnings to buy beer.
posted by aimedwander at 3:52 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

15 years ago, I was a regular busker in an Ann Arbor-like town. I played alone or in a trio. On our regular Saturday morning spot, we'd get more than $100 for 2-3 hours of what we called "open-air practicing." When I played alone, I'd get about $12 per hour, if I remember right, playing only in good spots at good times. Happy, lively tunes and interaction with kids brought in the most money. The instrument, the musical style, and the amount you interact with the audience have a huge impact on the earnings.
posted by ceiba at 3:53 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is really no way to give or meaningfully extrapolate from specific numbers on this subject. In my experience, every single performance is very different, and depends on so many factors: ranging from how physically and mentally taxing the performance is and therefore how often one can realistically perform, what country, what city, what time of year (one of the most important factors. Some weeks are great, some are terrible), the ever-changing mood of the city and street, which specific location in the city, how long one might have to wait for a spot, the weather, how long one has waited to suss out the mood of the police, how long it takes to apply makeup and costume and take it off (does one factor that in? It can take hours on each end,) how much money did one lose due to police confiscation of one's musical instruments that month, etc. etc. Every one of these factors (and many others) play a part in every amount reported.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:50 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the additional data points.
posted by 99percentfake at 9:16 AM on April 22, 2014

A guy I briefly dated (so, probably exaggerated) said he'd drive up to San Francisco a couple times a year to play his guitar on the street in a heavy tourist area. Said he'd made $600 in a day. But he hustled hard for it, and could field any request from the pop charts top 40 from the last several decades.
posted by Sarah Aeget at 2:33 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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