What makes a good pitch?
I’ve just arrived in Bruges, which I’ve found to be the best city for busking so far. I’ve come here twice before, and there is a lovely little pitch behind a couple of the museums that is wonderful for busking. It doesn’t look it: the footfall doesn’t seem much at first, but after being there for a while you start to realise that a lot of tour groups come and go, and it’s the sort of picturesque little spot in which people love to stop and listen to a bit of music.
Finding a good busking pitch is a bit of an art in itself; there are so many factors that come into play. The first time I went busking, I failed to make enough to pay for the bus journey to and from Milton Keynes city centre. I was tempted to call it a day then. I’d tried, failed, but at least I’d given it a go. Obviously I’m glad I didn’t, but one of the reasons why I barely made anything was that I’d picked a terrible spot. It wasn’t a natural place for people to be walking past, it was raining and it was between about 2 and 3 in the afternoon, during which time there tends to be a slight lull in takings. Lunch break is over, the kids aren’t out of school yet, and the old folk who tend to get up and about pretty early have all done their shopping for the day and headed home. It’s one of the odd things about retirement; one would imagine that something you’d look forward to in retirement is being able to sleep in for a bit, but all the pensioners I know seem to think that half past five is a normal time to wake up and set about their daily routine. But I digress.
When you’re looking for a good pitch, here are some things to look out for:
- Footfall. Seems obvious. Actually, it is obvious. In order to make money, you need to have people walking past you. Not too many people, or you’ll get drowned out. When I’m not amped up, as is the case when I’m travelling, this is particularly true. Big cities aren’t good for me: places such as Hamburg, Berlin and Paris are difficult to play in because there are simply too many people. I’m sure there are quieter spots with enough people to make it worthwhile, but to find them you really do have to know a city, or get some inside info from other buskers. A steady flow, however, will ensure that you’ll get a decent amount.
- Background noise. Traffic and construction work are to a busker what Richard Littlejohn is to a fair and tolerant society. This is why European cities are probably better on the whole than North American. The former tend to have pedestrianised centres, which mean you’re not trying to compete with articulated lorries when trying to play your beautifully melancholy cover of Hallelujah.
- If possible, it’s better to have people walking towards you than across you. Often this isn’t really feasible, but if you can find somewhere like that, it can be ideal, as it gives people much longer to listen to your dulcet tones. If they only catch a slight hint of a song on their way past, they’re much more likely to keep on walking.
- Acoustics. The other good spot I’ve found in Bruges so far is under an archway (in Blind-Ezelstraat, in case you’re wondering). The footfall isn’t great, but the acoustics are incredible. Underpasses can be good in this sense as well, but they also tend to smell of piss, so it’s something of a judgment call there. No one pisses in Bruges, so any covered walkway is absolutely fine. On the down side, I’ll sometimes make less money in places where the acoustics are good because I’ll neglect to play songs that make me money in favour of songs where I can sing really deep bass notes. Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire is one that, happily, ticks both of these boxes.
- Location. As in the town/city. It’s not always the case that the most affluent cities are the best to go to. In the West Midlands, Walsall is a far better place than Leamington Spa for busking. Then again, leafy Solihull is better than slightly-less-leafy West Bromwich (where all of the market traders are incredibly angry, all the time. No one knows why. All buskers I know have found this to be the case. Weird). The best German city for busking that I’ve found is the East German town of Halle (Saale), where tourism is pretty much unheard of. I think they’re just so surprised that someone would want to come to Halle for busking that they’re all ridiculously generous. What am I trying to say here? I suppose when it comes to picking the right city for busking, it’s anyone’s guess. Helpful advice.
- Try to pick somewhere where people can sit and listen for a few songs. Near outside areas of cafes and bars can be good, as long as they’re not too noisy. People are much more generous with their donations when they’ve listened to a few songs rather than just a snippet of one.
There are all sorts of other things that are relevant too, but I’m sitting in a lovely park, the sun is out, and I want to go and eat some ice cream, so you’ll have to forgive me for omitting the others. Bye for now (or, as the Belgians would say… well, goodbye, I suppose. Everyone speaks perfect English here, particularly when I make a hash of attempting to say ‘hello’ in Dutch). One should never finish a piece of writing with parentheses, which is why this sentence is happening, but I really don’t think it’s added much to the artistic quality. Never mind.