Inside Busking

My first gigs as a singer songwriter were absolutely petrifying. The combination of being up there alone, bearing the weight of the room’s judgement and playing my own material made me vulnerable. The first few gigs I played in local pubs left me realising that I had still had much to learn, but I tried and tried again. Eventually, I found a success at an open mic at the village hall of Spaxton where I lived.

Spaxrox, as the night is called, is an event with the perfect environment and I learnt here that this particular crowd only wanted to see the artists succeed and therefore gave the most tremendously uplifting applauses filled with whoops and cheers. After playing my first fifteen minute set there I got such a great response that I drove home grinning all the way. Without that village hall, and the great people who would become my friends, I’d only ever be playing songs in my bedroom.

Skip forward another few years, and a great many live performances later, and I found myself in London, a city with live music in every nook and cranny. Almost immediately I began to search for places where I could play music and I continued to learn from audience responses, which songs worked well, and how I could improve.

Then, I decided to have a go at busking.

It turns out getting a busking license for London is quite tricky, so I did this first through Westfield shopping centre’s Presents programme, where I’d play for an hour to passing shoppers. It was a daunting task. The scary thing was not having an audience that stood and listened to you as the thing with performing is, if you don’t get at least half hearted clap after a song, you can assume your crowd didn’t like it (so you begin to wonder why you even bother as you’re clearly rubbish). When you’re busking though, and people are just walking whilst glued to smartphones, every song ends by saying thank you to passers by who mostly don’t care. It is hugely demoralizing.

However, experience taught me that powering through with a smile and a bucket of enthusiasm is the best way to go, so that’s what I did. I even signed up for more sets, and then recently entered a competition called Gigs Big Busk where Londoners get to play in fantastic venues all in the name of votes. The competition is still on-going, but I entered more for the experience than the prospect of winning. Getting to play in front of St. Pauls, on Regent Street and other cool London locations was awesome.

What I’ve gained from all of this busking is a new outlook. Whereas at first busking was soul crushing – playing your heart out to no-one kind of sucks – I realised that it was just a different form of audience. Instead of a catchy song earning a huge cheer from your crowd, it would instead draw passers by to stop and listen. Knowing that your sound managed to break someone’s routine is a great feeling. Busking audiences aren’t searching for music like open mic audiences are, so they have less time for it. But when you get that odd person who stops, leans on a nearby wall, and listens to you play for ten or fifteen minutes before moving on with their day, it feels as though a visceral connection has been made, which is just as good a high as the one gained from a drunk pub crowd cheering your set.

I love playing music live, and I love listening to it. I appreciate every busker that is out in London, as I know it’s tough. But I also know, each one of them absolutely loves it, even if it’s just to get one thumbs up from a passer-by.

Aidan is a current student at QM who has played on and around campus. His music can be found at:

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