2 Weeks Before
As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I book my busking pitches every Tuesday morning. This is for pitches in two weeks’ time. If I’m very high up in the queue (60th place or less) then I’m likely to get good pitches and it is worth going. If I end up somewhere like 150th place then I don’t bother waiting to book anything and I take a break that week. While I’m booking I need to have my calendar open, plus a screenshot of the document which tells me which pitches are most popular, which are acoustic, etc. Sometimes I also have to google the busiest times for certain stations as well. I have a good idea from experience which pitches work for me. But sometimes I just have to take a chance and try out a new place. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t and I learn from that.
Once my pitches are booked and the dates are in my calendar, I need to figure out the cheapest way to get there. Sometimes I’ll decide to leave on a Wednesday night after my Irish dance class. For that I have to book my train ticket leaving from Newark-on-Trent. I drive there from Lincoln and park for free near the station. Those tickets are pretty cheap. If I want to go in the day instead, I usually book the 10:36 from Lincoln. It gets me there in time to do a 2 pm pitch. It’s usually £5 more than the evening single ticket. However, if I go the night before then I have to book an extra night’s stay (and I get there really late). On the other hand, that means I have more hours to busk the next day. So this is something I have to weigh up every week.
For the return journey I usually book the last train either to Newark or Lincoln as that’s the cheapest. They never check the tickets at that time though. Sometimes I wonder why I spent the money! *cheeky wink* If I return on the weekend I can sometimes find cheap tickets back, but usually I have to book a National Express coach for the cheapest price. 5 hours on a coach does get a bit tiring though, especially if the coach is delayed for any reason. The only time I buy train tickets for a different time at a higher price is if I need to be back home by a certain time. Sometimes this could be to play a gig or to party with friends. It’s rare that it happens though.
After my transportation is booked, I look for accommodation. I’ve been using Airbnb lately because I just find it’s the cheapest way to get either my own space or only share with a few people. Sometimes I book a room for 4 people (in a proper hostel but still through Airbnb) but I get lucky and they put me in my own room instead. I love it when that happens. After my last experience though, I don't plan on booking anymore London hostels. I need my sleep!
In total my expenses reach about £65 max when you include using the tube or bus and food while in London. I can usually cover this in the first 2-4 hours of busking. Then everything I get after that is income.
I also have to charge all of my devices. This includes my tablet, phones, card reader, and my power bank. Then I have to make sure everything is turned off so I don’t drain the batteries.
Sometimes I pack my overnight bag the night before. In the beginning I definitely used to spend more time packing everything than I do now. I needed that extra time to think about what to bring. If I was really prepared I’d have gone shopping the day before for things I can take with me to eat on my trip. I’m not so organised these days so now I just sort out everything the same day.
Before I had those bags I found it really difficult to find things, especially when I’m setting up to busk. If I am doing the 2pm slot right when I get into London I’ll have everything with me still. So it becomes important to be able to grab all of the cables and things that I need without having to show everyone my pyjamas. I now have one bag for medicines, one for electronics, one for shoes, one for clothes, one for dirty laundry, a wash bag, and a makeup bag. It’s all very efficient. However, once everything is packed it does seem like quite a lot of stuff.
Once I have everything I just need to make sure I get myself to the station with enough spare time to collect my train tickets. It takes me longer to walk when I’m heavy laden with stuff so I always have to keep this in mind.
What if I Forget Something?
Last time I came down with my acoustic violin instead of electric (a future blog post is coming comparing the two) and that case is not big enough to carry very much at all. So I forgot to bring a shoulder rest which I really need to be able to play because I have such narrow shoulders. So I had to run around London trying to find one that works before my busking slot. The first one I just bought in the shop without trying it out. Big mistake as it was absolutely rubbish. Didn’t fit my fiddle at all and kept sliding off while I was trying to play. So I had to go find a different one. Eventually I found one at Yamaha I think it was, and this time I did test it in the store and it was fine. So then I had to return the other one. Was quite a palaver running back and forth.
There was a point in the summer where I also didn’t have all the spare strings I needed. One of them unravelled and it got to the point where it was unplayable and I had to change it, but that meant I had no more of that string spare. I really worry that while I’m performing I don’t have everything I need. If a string breaks I can just change it and carry on playing, but I can’t do that if I don’t have the strings. I have to stop playing and go find a shop. So as a matter of urgency I bought the one main string I needed for spare at the nearest violin shop I could get to. (It was kind of a hefty price because it was a very small privately owned shop, not a chain). However, some of my other spares are really cheap and low quality so soon after that I bought a proper pack of strings for something like £50 at Yamaha. Luckily I haven’t broken any strings since then anyway.
I had to pack in the dark which always makes things more difficult. I couldn’t find my medicine bag anywhere. I heard something fall in the night so thought it might’ve gone to the bed below or wedged itself somewhere. I couldn’t find it in my bag or anywhere so I just asked the staff to keep hold of it if they found it. Well when I got home and emptied all of my bags in the light I finally found it buried under everything. Panic over.
Is It Worth It?
I get asked this a lot. I go to London because I can play in the warmth and security of the underground. This is very handy, especially for the coming winter months. It also keeps things fresh when I’m not playing in the same old cities all the time. In London there’s a lot more people going by constantly so I don’t feel like I’m boring anybody by being in the same old pitches all the time. Plus I get a lot of opportunities by busking in the underground. For instance, the other week I did a recording for a radio documentary about busking. It’ll come out in a couple of months so I will write more about it then. You never know who is passing you by!
Lincoln where I live and earn less than £5. But other days I can earn a lot more in the same amount of time. So it’s much more hit and miss where I live; whereas in London the tips are more consistent once you work out the best times and locations to play in. You just have to get through the steep learning curve first. Plus if I don’t go to a city or town for a long time (like Louth or Nottingham) then suddenly decide to busk there I earn more when I go because I’m more of a novelty then. Busking in London gives me the chance to be somewhere regularly without having to worry about whether or not anyone will tip me. At least I can get the minimum I need to survive!
I am a British American violinist and fiddle player. I play full time as a street musician in addition to the live gigs I perform with several bands.