Busking with Handpan | The Secret is Where & Why!


I don’t know about you but I play my handpan for me, and I often like to be with nature and will find a nice grassy spot, near some trees for shade and play to my heart’s content. This is how I came to find out about the best places to busk with my handpan.

Where is the best place to go busking? – The best place to busk is somewhere you are comfortable, in the shade and can gather an appreciative audience. Also busking not for money but to share your music, will actually reap you greater rewards. Trust me! This is the secret that is not a secret!

First is a few lists of the best places to go busking around the world, and then a couple of things that made me realize that busking was a possibility with my handpan, [I hadn’t considered it] and my story on how I came to ACCIDENTALLY discover the best place to go busking.

Caveat: For me, the best place to busk, as you will discover, is to not busk at all. Just go public in a place for yourself, and the universe comes to you. These lists are traditional busking locations around the world.

Best Places In The US for Busking

The New Orleans French Quarters may not be high on your list of the first place to set out to busk but it is, like Covent Garden in London, one of the most famous street performer spots in the entire US. You’ll need to travel far and wide for this list of best busking spots in America.

  • New Orleans
  • Seattle
  • Boston
  • San Diego
  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Bouler Colorado

The Pearl Street pedestrian mall in Boulder Colorado is perfect for a busker’s ‘walking street’ with no vehicles to drown out the performers. San Francisco claims to be the oldest location for street performers in the US, and you’ll certainly find a few in various spots. Even performances on public transport are not uncommon. And for the greatest acoustics and musical talent [most of the time] head underground in Manhattan into the subway system where the tunnels provide wonderful atmosphere and reverberation for the musicians.

Busking Laws in the US

The rights of buskers to perform in the US have often gone through the courts, and for the most part, busking itself is a legal right. However, be aware of other possible laws that may be breached whilst undertaking busking activities. Excercise a common-sense approach around sensitive areas and the time of day.

Best Places in the UK for Busking

You can busk in the UK quite freely if you are aged 14 or over and exercise some common sense with your approach and location. Pretty much any town or city will have a suitable place to set up and start playing. The following list is the most popular spot where you will often find the very best buskers.

Bath in Somerset UK. perfect for buskers
Bath – Somerset – UK: Perfect for busking
  • London [Covent Garden]
  • York
  • Bristol
  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Bath
  • Birmingham
  • Brighton
  • Edinburgh

Covent Garden is world-famous and in Central London, public performances have been put on here for over 400 years. It is not a spot you can just rock up at and start playing. A registration and audition process is required to get a pitch in one of the busiest spots in the UK for busking. A position that has had public performances since the 1600s and where Samuel Pepys used to recite his diary entries at times.

The outside pitches [owned by the church] are run by the buskers themselves, whilst the inside pitches are at the discretion of Capco, the company that owns the market

Some of the other cities will require a license such as the popularity of the locations, whilst Edinburgh in Scotland is great year-round, during the Edinburgh fringe festival each year, the street will be full of performers. This festival is the largest arts festival in the world, and again, is not somewhere you can just turn up, applications and registration will be required.

Busking Laws in the UK

Busking in the UK is not illegal per-se, but there are a few rules that have to be adhered to. In certain places, you will require a license, and if you plan to seel music at the same time, this would fall under street trading laws which would be quite different.

To be entirely sure of a hassle-free busking experience, contact the local council for some guidelines or understand if you need a license to operate in your chosen location.

Things to avoid when busking to make your life easier in the UK

  • Do not block a public highway
  • Do not display and notice asking or encouraging payment
  • Do not sell merchandise. CD’s etc
  • Do not be too loud
  • You must be aged 14 or over
Busker in Brick Lane – London

Best Places in Australia for Busking

The first thing to consider, not just for Australia but worldwide, is people carry less cash than they used to and for this reason, the number of buskers on the streets of many states has decreased so significantly that where there used to be the need to turn up early and queue for a spot, not you can just rock up, set up, and play. You also have the issue of how long you can busk for in many states.

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Adelaide
  • Darwin
  • Brisbane

Sydney is of course still incredibly popular with tourists and the main city in NSW. Local laws apply, as noted below. It is possible to travel around and busk across Australia as these two guys have documented with a handy guide to busking across Australia

Busking Laws in Australia

Most local state laws prevent performers from remaining in the same spot for more than a couple of hours and appearing in the same spot on two consecutive days. Here is an example of busking permit requirements in Sydney There is a great resource for greater detail on busking permits across Australian capital cities to be found on the artslaw website

Best Places in Europe for Busking

Heading for capital cities is always a draw when traveling and busking around Europe and whilst they will naturally be some of the busiest spots with some of the most well-known street performer areas, adventuring a little further afield can often be interesting. In the meantime, this list contains some capitals but some options too!

  • Italy: Bologna
  • Greece: Thessaloniki
  • Poland: Wroclaw
  • Ireland: Dublin or Galway
  • Netherlands: Amsterdam
  • Belgium: Antwerp
  • Germany: Berlin underground – On the trains!

Berlin has become ever more popular for the underground street performers to actually jump on public transport and perform there. You may notice I have left Barcelona, the capital of Spain off of the list. This is due to the growing danger on the streets of Barcelona and in particular Las Ramblas, the main center street. If you want to busk in Spain, head down to one of the cities in Andalusia, maybe Almeria or Seville. The weather is better and the streets are safer.

Finally, if you want to busk in Ireland, or even if you are reading this article looking for inspiration to watch street performers on your travels, Don’t go to Dublin without going to Galway too and vice versa, both are equally, and typically Irish in charm and will serve a memory you’ll never forget.

5 Tips for Busking with your handpan

Busking is so much more than trying to earn a few dollars. It is about practicing public performance, connecting with your audience, and honing your playing skills whilst being watched. Forget about the money and concentrate of observing your audience and playing for them rather than at them and watch how different things can be.

Use a Sign and Advertise

OK first up, and let’s get it out of the way, you are out busking and you are looking for some recognition for your art. You probably have a facebook, Instagram or YouTube channel. As mentioned in my 7 Tips how to make money with your handpan, these social channels are an additional way of raising your profile.

Use the opportunity of the public exposure to promote your social existence and watch your followers increase incredibly for every hour your sign is on display. It is not unusual to gain an extra 200+ YouTube subscribers, within a couple of hours of being on the street.

Understand local laws

This can be key, especially in big towns and cities. prime locations are going to be popular and possibly regulated. Even in smaller towns, google the local regulations on busking. They are usually freely available to check

Improvise

Well, this is a no-brainer with the handpan I guess. The great advantage of playing handpan when busking, is you are not going to get the constant stream of people coming up making requests. Like guitarists always have. Play this mate!! – You can play to your heart’s content, practice and improvise, and not a single soul is going to know if you’re making it up or not. You are going to come across as original and genius regardless.

Don’t think about the money

Seriously. Don’t. Just play, connect with your instrument, and make music together and let any reward come as a bonus. If you start playing for money, you will come across as playing for money, at which point, the audience feels it, and will not enjoy the feeling of obligation you are pushing to them. Play for you, play for your instrument and in turn for, not AT, the audience that has stopped to give you minutes of their day. They will feel they WANT to reward rather than are EXPECTED to. It can be a very subtle shift and can happen at any time when the crowd grows and the ego start to want a piece of the action but resist and the reward will be greater.

Connect with your audience

Make eye contact, see what your audience is feeling and play to that. Acknowledge a change in facial expression is you notice one, understand how your music is affecting them. Don’t push it in regard to the above paragraph, but take them with you on the journey. Let them join you, Don’t drag them on board. Be humble, mention your social media channel and explain there is more to be enjoyed there should they wish and bid them a good day with thanks for taking time out to share a moment or to with you and your handpan.

Answer Any Questions No Matter how Often they have been Asked

This has a great deal to do with connecting with your audience but expect questions. We may know our instruments intimately, but for many people, it will be the first time they have ever seen a handpan, Even now, many years after it appeared.

Think about the questions you had when you first saw one. Educate the audience and those who take time to enquire, this is as much the busking performance as the music itself, and in some ways the part I enjoy the most. I have many times in the park played for only a few minutes before someone has come to ask questions, and the next 30 have been used talking about the handpan and my journey.

The Secret to Busking is to not go Busking

OK, it is quite possible and a good way to make extra money by going busking. In fact, there are times and places, that are specifically targetted by buskers that can be the most lucrative busking spots.

There is a sense of obligation if you have stopped and watched a busker in a busy shopping street. You’ll often see one person break rank at the end of a song, move forward and then be followed by a few more. but what if that first-person had not stepped up?

You know the drill, the musicians are there working their socks off to a passing or static audience, whilst everyone colludes with the illusion that this is free entertainment, but both the musician and the audience know there will come a time, the end of a piece that the ritual of walking over and dropping a few coins [or more] into the tin is the done thing.

Perhaps picking up a CD and dropping a few more coins for the privilege.

But what if you could simply just play, away from the traditional busking spots. Not expect a financial reward, and not be even playing for it. And have people enjoy the music without the obligation of tip expectation?

Busking in a park
Cool photo from the Handpan Festival 2019
Photo Credit: Handpan Festival

The Secret of Where to go [NOT] Busking With Your Handpan

My first busking gig, wasn’t a busking gig. I literally went out to a park, handpan in hand [Well, on my back] and found a little shady spot to see what came to mind.

I was happily playing along for around 45 minutes when I became aware of someone close by had stopped and was listening. I made eye contact, acknowledged their presence, smiled and continued playing.

I wasn’t even playing any particular tune. I was just looking for new sounds mostly, and how I could fit them together. Practicing some rhythms and melodies.

After around fifteen minutes I noticed that not only had the woman sat down nearby but had been joined by a couple of other people, they didn’t look connected and as it transpired, they weren’t.

When I had finished and began to put my handpan away, the initial lady came up and handed over a large denomination banknote. She thanked me and tried to explain something further, which I didn’t fully understand as it was in a language not of my native English. I understood some, and by the hand gestures understood, she was feeling much better than when she arrived.

I have since when traveling with my handpan, sat a while in a park and had many similar experiences, where I have simply been playing to myself, and people have approached and look confused as to where to put the money. [not notes most of the time I will add]

I have tried busking in traditional spots, and yes, whilst it can be lucrative, there is just something that doesn’t sit right with me personally, with that type of performance for the money. Not that I hold anything against other buskers, better musicians than me I might add, it is just for me and my connection to my instrument, it is about playing and improvisation and sharing the music rather than an expectation of some reward, however small it might be.

Spiritually, the way I inadvertently busk is born purely out of being alone in a nice environment to play my instrument, and sharing the tones with the universe, and if that happens to connect with someone passing by, in a very unobvious location for a busker, so obviously not busking, then that is the just the flow of the world.

SteveM

I enjoyed the unpitched appeal of percussion prior to discovering handpans in a 'moment' I was experiencing. I've been writing ever since.

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