Leeds busker Steven Lockmoore is set to feature in a new documentary called Busking Turf Wars. Here he shares his top tips for surviving a day’s busking in the city
My name is Steven Lockmoore. I’ve been busking in Leeds for about 10 years now. I’m kind of a big deal. It’s high time I passed on some of the wisdom I have gained so that the next generation of musical street dreamers can flourish.
1. License to Thrill
It used to be the case that you needed a license to busk in Leeds. My first few months busking I did guerilla-style: no license, no spot, and no clue. I would not recommend it (unless you like being chased by the council into a back-alley and having to lay completely still in a dustbin.) Thankfully Leeds is now open to anybody who wants to busk. Make sure you check out the rules & regs of where you’re going to be playing in advance so you don’t get caught out.
2. Poor Man’s Instrument
Know your instrument and the boundaries of what it can do. You need to be one with your instrument and know it like a mother knows her child’s dietary requirements. My Dad always said that a guitar was a poor man’s instrument but some of them cost loads so the joke’s on him really. Whatever it may be – electric mandolin or a selection of upturned paint pots – stop making excuses and join us on the streets!
3. Territory is Everything
One word: footfall. Without a decent amount of footfall you’re going to be performing to an empty street and no one wants that. Spot choice is imperative. Maybe plan a set outside the train station just as the 19.30 from London pulls in, or a gig outside Greggs that perfectly syncs up with the start of Festive Bake season. Remember to respect another busker’s space though; the last thing you want is to get caught up in a turf war. I’ve had a few in my time and they never end well. If you’re not careful you could end up getting garrotted by someone’s bottom E string!
4. Let Me Entertain You
This is something the Leeds scene is seriously lacking: showmanship. The people want to be entertained! Yes you can play the guitar to a high standard but can you make me feel something? Can you take me away from my incredibly boring desk job and lift me up into the clouds? Give me an old ironing board and some maracas and I’ll give you a show. That’s a real showman. Remember the guy whose dog would howl on cue in his songs? Now THAT’S entertainment! R.I.P. Bessie x
5. Love Your Community
The community in which you busk is your lifeblood. This is not the download charts, where producers and CEOs of huge labels have the power. On the streets it’s the security guards, street vendors and the councilmen. Look after your community and it will look after you. And if you play your cards right you might get a free jacket potato, you never know. Honour your fellow buskers, too. They will challenge you and test you but at the end of the day you’re all drinking from the same doggy bowl.
6. Know Your Vibe
It’s important to know what kind of performer you are! Are you the folksy guitar guy with the cut off gloves doing bad Bob Dylan covers or are you the naïve music college student doing jazzy covers of Adele? My style is very freeform and uses a lot of improvisation which some might find intimidating. A typical set list can contain anything from Gangsta rap, smooth scat or a spoken word piece about relevant issues like the refugee crisis or the rising prices at McDonalds. That kind of freedom only comes with persistence. And persistence gains respect.
7. Know Your Crowd
Your crowd is what will keep you afloat. The Saturday shoppers, the lunchtime diners and the hurried businessmen are now your audience so treat them as such. Involve them, entertain them but above all give them something to talk about!
8. It’s Not About the Money
If you’re getting into it for the money then this racket probably isn’t for you. You can go whole days without receiving a single 10 pence coin, and one time I got nothing but £1.78 and a broken selfie stick. It’s not about the money – I once did a gig in an abandoned bus shelter just ’cause I dug the acoustics. That’s real busking!
9. Busking Logistics
If you’ve stuck with me past money then I know you’re serious. How do I get to my spot? Where is the nearest Subway? What do I do if I need the toilet midway through my set? All questions you need to answer if you want to succeed in busking. Well, here are the answers: FirstBus Dayrider; subway.co.uk/store-finder; and Harvey Nichols top floor toilets 😉
10. The Importance of Self-Promotion
If you’re a busker, that means you don’t have a big fancy label watching your back, putting you in a pair of tight jeans and getting you a spot on The X Factor. You need to promote yourself. I’ve been uploading a new song to MySpace pretty diligently every week since 2008, but apparently that’s not the place to be any more… So I’ve got myself a Twitter account – you can follow me @Busker_Steve for busking tips, song ideas, and serious questions about Bubble Tea.
11. Adapt or Die
You may be saying, “I thought this was TEN essential tips…” – yeah, well, this list goes to 11.
Busking is a constantly changing art form, which is why you need to stay current and fight for what you believe in. You can see me doing just that in the movie Busking Turf Wars, which is a documentary about my struggles as a busker! To hear more of my views or generally keep up with the film’s progress follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!
In conclusion, be sure to have a thick skin because the world of busking is a tough and unforgiving place, that if you are not careful will take away all enthusiasm and passion you ever had for music. Everyone you hold dear will shun you and treat you like an outcast, leaving you lonely in a gutter somewhere asking yourself, ‘Where the hell did it all go wrong?’ But most of all just have fun.