Battle of the Buskers

What is the world of busking really like and is it a financially viable option for students? Or is it just begging with props? With two willing volunteers, investigates

We all see them in town, probably more likely to snigger at them as we walk by than to drop a few pence into their open guitar case. Busking may not be the first thing that springs to mind when counting your last few pennies and wondering how you’re going to pay this month’s rent (or afford copious quantities of VK Apple at Ikon next week). But in the age of ever-increasing tuition fees, we poor students have to pay our way somehow, however unusual it may be. York is one of the few cities where it is possible to busk without a license, so nouse decided it was worth finding out just how easy it is to busk in the streets of York, and if it’s really worthwhile.

AJ was first up, setting up his keyboard outside Marks & Spencer to the bemused looks of passers-by. As a third year music student, he isn’t new to the world of public performance but admitted his anxieties nonetheless, namely that he might see people he knows! AJ quickly found a trick in the trade – find a song that people know and play it for ten minutes. This was the case with ‘Let it be,’ which I’m sure confused a few people as they passed by for the second or third time… His professionalism made him the clear “winner” of the day, earning himself a grand total of £9.65, enough for a Chinese in the Willow on a Saturday night, or replacement batteries for the keyboard.

Our second ‘victim’ was Frazer, a second year history student, and self-taught guitarist with Battle of the Bands semi-finalists Stirling House. He chose to ply his trade in Stonegate – probably lucrative on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer when it’s full of tourists, but not such rich-pickings on a cold Friday morning in mid-February. At the end of it all, Frazer came away with a meagre £3.39, suggesting that he may in fact be better off sticking to the bar job.

So is busking really a viable option for financially insecure students? Bearing in mind they played for an hour and a half, AJ’s hourly rate works out at a fairly impressive £6.43, whilst Frazer’s was just £2.26. The brainy boffins at nouse (well, a couple of History students anyway – what do they know about maths?) then calculated their projected income over the course of an academic year. Assuming each worked a total of 12 hours per week for the full 30-weeks, AJ would end up with £2314.80, and Frazer would get £813.60.

If you choose the right time, and location, it seems there is a reasonable amount of earning potential to be found in busking, for those who have some musical ability to start with. And if you can appeal to old people by playing Elton John and the Beatles, you’re onto a winner.