I get it; Poor Dave on the corner, singing for his supper and just trying to get by; busking his heart out, misunderstood, dreaming big… it’s a potentially engaging story. But, portraying this charismatic underdog as an unsung hero is just as excruciatingly clichéd as this paragraph.

As we’re endlessly approached by media types, from film students to the world’s most reputable publications, I’ve written a short guide on how to talk about busking – and what NOT to say or do, from the point of view of someone who has made all of the mistakes below (and is very sorry about it).

POINTING CAMERAS IN THE STREET

You’re out there, it’s exciting, you want to immediately film the action. But remember; these people are working, and should be treated as such.

Wait.

Don’t just get your cameras out and start shooting. It’ll be a distraction for the artist, and it’s just rude. They might be performing on a public highway, but they’re not fair game for whatever you want. Wait for them to finish their song/act, then approach, introduce yourself and ask if you can start filming.

Introduce Yourself.

Learn an “elevator pitch”. Don’t start blathering about misconceptions surrounding the theory of success and its socioeconomic implications: get straight to the point. “I’m a student filmmaker, and would love to use you in a film. Can I film you?”

Make Eye Contact.

If you really don’t have time to stop, or you fear missing the action, use your eyes, smile, eyebrows and shoulders to convey you’re requesting permission to point a camera at them, but don’t want to interrupt, please excuse me very much. If they ignore you, take that as a “no”.

Don’t Leave.

You’re done recording, now it’s time to leave. Except you’re about to break away in the middle of their act. You don’t have to leave a tip, but consider it one of those social obligations, like letting people off the subway first, or not stealing your neighbour’s bin. At the very least, don’t just take off mid-song. It’s rude.

STUPID QUESTIONS (asked by everybody)

You’ve seen the show, you’ve tipped, you’ve introduced your concept and they’ve finally sat down with you. Now is when you walk the minefield of the busker interview. Try really, really hard not to make the following gaffs.

-“You’re amazing! Why aren’t you a professional?”

This is not, as you may have thought, a compliment. Without stating the obvious too much, you’re interviewing a talented artist with a large, appreciative audience and a steady income. What about that isn’t “professional”?

-“Apologies. Okay, so why didn’t you try the traditional industry route?”

Actually, the traditional way of performing for people has always been in the street. The record industry (or Cirque du Soleil, depending on who you’re talking to) is a relatively new invention.

-“Hm. So… let me try again. You should be on the stage! Why aren’t you?”

You’ll find that many (but not all) street performers do tons of indoor gigs. It’s a part of their business plan. Cruises, weddings, corporate events… they do this kind of thing all the time. Or they may not. It’s not either-or – indeed, they benefit each other.

-“Why aren’t you…”

Stop. Stop assuming things. You don’t know what they’re not. Just, ask what brought them to the street, and what they do with their time. They’ll tell you.

AVOID: ASKING ABOUT MONEY

Before approaching the topic of money, ask yourself if this is enough info for your article: some buskers in your city make a pittance, some do very well; it depends on how much they work, how good their local currency is and how good they are at the dramaturgy of busking (which is more than just being a skilled performer).

Also, how obvious do you want to be? “How much money do you make?” is almost invariably the first, or one of the first, questions that journalists ask.

For some reason (and I’ve failed to google why this is the case) buskers often respond “do you ask your dentist how much they make?” I assume the reason that dentists are chosen as the example is you don’t want an awkward relationship with someone who often enters your mouth with a high-powered drill. But the point stands; it’s annoying to always – always – be asked how much you earn.

You may excuse your questions claiming “journalistic integrity” allows you to ask what the public wants to know. Fine, if you’re unable to avoid talking about dollar amounts, make sure you explain everything thoroughly. If a busker makes $300 in an hour long show, people do bad maths ($300/hr x 8hrs a day x 365 days a year… they’re all millionaires!). It’s impossible to play a guitar, juggle or make people laugh for 8 hours. Also, there is a bizarre tendency for people to not feel like buskers deserve to make more money than them, that it’s somehow cheating.

Buskers deserve the right to make a fortune, just as much as they deserve respect for grinding it out on minimum wage. Unfortunately, this isn’t how people generally view things, so best leave this topic alone.

For more on this, you can read our post on begging, commerce and taxes here

WHEN POSTING YOUR ARTICLE

Remember, your subject is a professional artist. You’d better credit them with at least a name and a link. “INCREDIBLE STREET PERFORMER STUNS CROWD” is only marginally better than “This homeless man starts singing. What happens next is INSANE”. Put their name, and a link to their website/FB page, and send them a link when you’ve published the piece online. Nobody wants to see 20 million views of a video that gets them bugger all business.

Do all the above, and you’ll probably only marginally piss off the buskers you interview. It’s nothing personal, they’re just like that.