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By Bhvishya Patel, Money team

We spoke to three buskers to find out what it’s like performing on the street in the UK.

Amir, 29, came to UK from Pakistan with passion for music

Amir Hashmi moved to the UK in 2022 to study, said he began busking in central London 10 months ago because “music was his passion”.

“In Pakistan there are many problems so I decided to leave and move to London. I feel I can do better in London than my country,” he said.

He said busking was now his primary income but at times he did jobs at warehouses to get by.

“I never started this for money, I started because it is my passion but now this is my main job as well,” he said.

Amir, who often performs in the capital’s Piccadilly Circus or along Oxford Street, said often he returned home with just £10-15 in his pocket after a day’s busking.

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He said: “Many times I sleep without food and sometimes I sleep on the floor of the road when I have no shelter.

“I don’t have my own place to live but I have friends who often let me stay with them. They don’t charge me any rent – they look after me.

“Sometimes I do private shows for income but it’s very hard because the cost of living is increasing. If I go somewhere then most of the time I prefer to walk. I walk with my speakers and carry my gear.”

Despite his financial struggles, Amir said he wanted to continue performing on the street as his “goal was to make people happy”.

He said: “With busking, there is no stage and you can just start performing. Whenever I am performing, I connect with the people who have come to listen. If I feel people are not enjoying it, I change the song and try and make them happy.”

Earlier this year, Amir recorded a song with Neha Nazneen Shakil, a Malayalam actress from India, who approached the singer three months ago in Oxford Street.

“I wrote that song 12 years ago and after all these years my song has been recorded now in London,” he added.

Jade, 24, quit retail to busk

Jade Thornton, from Amersham, started busking in 2017 with a friend after leaving college at the age of 17 and quickly realised it was something she enjoyed doing and could make a living from.

She began doing it full-time at the end of 2018 but when the pandemic hit she described becoming “unemployed overnight” and having to take up retail jobs to support herself.

“I chose not to go to university – I just thought it wasn’t for me so I went straight into some part-time retail jobs,” she said.

“I take my cap off to anyone who does retail – it is one of the most gruelling jobs. People who do retail don’t get nearly as much respect as they deserve. 

“Some of the customers I was facing were not that kind and I thought this is making me miserable, so I just thought ‘if I don’t leave now then when?'”

As the global economy slowly began to recover, she decided to leave retail and pursue music full-time in 2022.

“It is hard to switch off – I do busking but I am constantly messaging clients, writing set lists and learning songs,” she said.

When it came to finances, Jade said there was no average to how much she could earn but it could fluctuate from £15-100 day-to-day depending on a number of factors.

“It relies on the time of month, whether the sun is out, if people have been paid, if Christmas is on the way or if Christmas has just passed,” she explained.

The musician said she did struggle initially when she began busking but her parents were always supportive.

She said: “You obviously get a few questions from people asking ‘are you sure you want to quit your job and sing on the street?’

“I lived at home for a long time and I’m grateful my parents could support me in that way because I know not everyone has that opportunity.”

While performing outdoors is now Jade’s full-time job, she said some months were more difficult to make money than others.

“If I’m being brutally honest in months like January and February it would be super difficult. This year I had enough gigs in December to cover me for January,” she said.

“Last year from June-July and December I did not have to go busking because I got so many gigs through busking. I’m part of a lot of online agencies and I also do lots of pub gigs, weddings, birthdays and other events.”

Jade noted though that the cost of living crisis had made things harder.

She said: “A few pub gigs I’ve had have been cancelled because they’ve had to rethink their strategies but if somebody cancels then I can just go out busking. There has been a slight dent when it comes to finances but that’s from COVID as well – with COVID I was unemployed overnight.”

The young musician went on to say she was “very grateful” when somebody did tip her and even small gestures like sitting, listening or just a smile were “currencies in themselves”.

“It’s escapism for me as a singer and then it’s escapism for the audience as well,” she added.

“Children also have such a great time listening to buskers and some may not have an opportunity for many reasons to go and see live music so if they can come across it in the street and that can spark something that’s a wonderful thing to think I’m a little part of that.”

Charlotte, 34, long-time busker

Charlotte Campbell, 34, who usually busks along the Southbank or in the London Underground, said she started busking during the 2012 London Olympics and while “busking used to be enough”, more recently she has had to take on more gigs in the evening.

“A typical day is usually busking until around 6pm and then a gig in the evening – 8pm onwards,” she said.

“I could still probably make a living from busking but I’ve taken on more paid gigs since the pandemic because everything became so uncertain. I think that uncertainty has just carried through now – that seems to be the way of life now.”

The musician said tips for her CDs, which she puts on display during her performances, ranged between £5-10 and in the current cashless climate a card reader was “essential”.

She said she pre-sets her card reader to £3 when playing on the Southbank and £2 when busking inside the London Underground “because people are rushing”.

While she described her earnings as a “trade secret”, she said the busker income had “definitely gone down” but this was due to a few factors – the pandemic, people carrying less cash and the cost of living crisis.

“Also, a lots of pitches have closed which means there are a lot more buskers trying to compete for one spot so all of those things have impacted my living as a busker,” she said.

“I would say even though my income is primarily from busking I have had to subsidise it with more paid gigs than before. I just haven’t felt as secure in my living from busking in the last couple of years.

“Most of the gigs I have are booked by people who have seen me busking so indirectly busking is my entire career- if I don’t busk I wouldn’t get the gigs I play in the evening. So directly and indirectly busking is my entire income.”

In spite of uncertainty, she said it was freeing to be able to go out and perform for people in an intimate way.

“You are not up on a stage and there is no separation between you and them.  It’s a really great connection you can make – I want to be able to hold onto that,” she added.


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