You cannot have a deep conversation about the rights of street performers without knowing how our cities are transforming, why they’re changing and what forces are behind it. These four books do exactly that, and, as well, set up the need for a system of cultural urban planning (a.k.a. “placemaking”) that ensures that governments don’t forget that people and communities are important! These aren’t so much “busker books” as a “guide to why busking is important – now more than ever”.

If you know of something missing from what we have below – any information that could help a street performer out – please let us know by filling in this simple form and we’ll add it.

Urbanism, Placemaking and Who Controls the Streets

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs (1961)


A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterised much of urban planning in this century. This book provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities.

Space and Place, Tuan (1977)


Eminent geographer Yi-Fu Tuan considers the ways in which people feel and think about space, how they form attachments to home, neighborhood, and nation, and how feelings about space and place are affected by the sense of time.

Cultural Policy and Urban Regeneration, Bianchini, Parkinson (1994)


The material in this book is based upon an academic conference held in Liverpool in 1990 which explored West European urban development and strategies by looking at commissioned studies of Britain, The Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Regenerating town centres, Evans (1997)


This volume critically examines the state of British town centres analyzing the threats to their existence, the interests shaping their destiny and the prospects for their regeneration.

City Centres, City Cultures, Bianchini, Fisher, Montgomery, Worpole (1988)


The role of the arts in the revitalisation of towns and cities.

The social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Whyte (1980)


Both the book and the accompanying film are labeled classics, and launched a mini-revolution in the planning and study of public spaces. Arguably the most important text on why public interaction is important in public spaces.

The Fall of Public Man, Sennett (1977)


Sennett shows how our lives today are bereft of the pleasures/benefits of the lost interchange with fellow citizens. Because of this, private life becomes distorted as we focus more and more on ourselves, and our personalities cannot fully develop.

Public Space, Carr, Francis, Rivlin, Stone (1993)


This book reveals the social basis for public space use, design and management. It offers a well-integrated perspective of how to integrate public space and public life.

Ground Control, Minton (2012)


This book shows us the face of Britain today. It reveals the untested – and unwanted – urban planning that is changing not only our cities, but the nature of public space, of citizenship and of trust.

Urban Renaissance?, Bianchini (1989)


The Arts and the Urban Regeneration Process in 1990s Britain.

Human and Interesting Research on Busking.

These books are required reading for anyone who’s even tangentially interested in the lives, troubles and legal grey areas that buskers inhabit. Not exactly the perfect guide to busking (these are more academic or historical rather than DIY-focused), but they are full of personal stories, interviews, interpretation and some stats to back it up, they are the three fundamental books on busking that everyone should read!

Underground Harmonies, Tanenbaum (1995)

New York, USA

Underground Harmonies is is a collective portrait of NYC subway musicians and their audiences, and of the city and transit authority personnel who try to manage them. Who decides what legitimate community and culture are?

Passing the hat, Campbell (1981)


Passing the Hat is a joyful celebration of the ancient tradition of busking. It discusses buskers in a number of cities, revealing not only a performer’s fierce need for freedom, but the dedication, skill and years of discipline behind any good act.

Drawing a Circle in the Square, Harrison-Pepper (2010)

New York, USA

This book focuses on street performers in Washington Square Park. While documenting the complex expressions of street performance over a period of four years, it gives an examination to the relationship between outdoor performance and urban culture.

Sideway Saings, Flynn (2009)


Photojournalist Jim Flynn spent two years documenting the lives of fifty of the French Quarter’s finest street entertainers. Each story is told in the performer s own voice, creating the feel of an intimate conversation.

Analyses of Street Performance Itself.

These books have been, of course, written by buskers. If you are a festival producer, or just looking to be able to speak about street performers in more professional terms, these are the books for you. Weirdly, they’re a little more… “dry” (as in, not quite so exciting) as some of the other books on this list, BUT that speaks more to their professionalism than the quality of writing, which is really high! Bim Mason’s and David Cassel’s books together are the perfect busker books – essential reading for the budding professional street performer.

The Pavement Stage, Cassel, (2012)


The Pavement Stage is an exploration of outdoor performance in all of its different forms. It reveals techniques used by award winning international performance artist David Cassel, providing an in depth overview to this world and lifestyle.

Street Theatre and other Outdoor Performance (Mason, 1992)


This book is a description, a celebration and an analysis of outdoor theatre. It provides a practical guide to those who are new to the subject and enables practising performers to additional new insight on their own work.

Soundscapes of Wellbeing in Popular Music, Andrews, Kingsbury, Kearns (2014)


Unearthing the interrelationships of place, wellbeing and music, this book explores musical soundscapes of health, ranging from activism to international charity, to therapeutic treatments and how wellbeing is sought and attained in contexts of music

The Buskers, Cohen, Greenwood (1981)


The Buskers traces the fortunes, and often dubious social position, of a wide range of fascinating performers, providing the reader with a sympathetic understanding of the street entertainers’ place in the history of urban society.

Ethnomusicology, Post, (1992)


Annotated bibliography of books, recordings, videos, and websites in the field of ethnomusicology. This book serves as an excellent tool for librarians, researchers, and scholars in sorting through the massive amount of new material in the field.

Musiciens des Rues de Paris, Getreau (1998)


This book is the catalog of an exhibition held at the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, Paris, from 18 November 1997 to 27 April 1998.

Busker Memoirs

I’m going to lose friends by only posting two here. There are lots and lots of really well-written memoirs. The Subway Diaries is one I particularly enjoyed, but there are many more, some good, some bad (and some absolutely terrible). The two I’ve selected below I chose partly because I think they had good editors and were well written, and partly because their stories really are fascinating.

The Subway Diaries, Kole (2009)


The Subway Diaries is a first hand account of author and musician Heidi Kole’s life as a busker in the NYC Subways. The book leads you on a rapid, humorous and insightful ride through the musical world pulsating beneath New York City.

A Street Cat Named Bob, Bowen (2013)


When street musician James Bowen found an injured cat curled up in the hallway of his apartment building, he had no idea how much his life was about to change (a successful book, film)

Buskers. Weinstein (2011)


Frustrated by the indifference of the music industry, brothers Heth and Jed Weinstein made the radical decision to bring their music directly to the masses. A world of possibilities opens up when the brothers take it to the streets.

Buskers. Weinstein (2011)


Frustrated by the indifference of the music industry, brothers Heth and Jed Weinstein made the radical decision to bring their music directly to the masses. A world of possibilities opens up when the brothers take it to the streets.

Diario de un Músico Callejero, Vilar-Bou (1995)


During the spring of 2008, while living in Milan, this book’s author travelled all along the north of Italy busking. What started as a little adventure soon became an opportunity to see the world with different eyes and to live in a novel way.

Attention all Subway Riders, Peters (2013)


With tales that run the gamut from heartwarming encounters with children to strange experiences with troubled individuals, this book offers a glimpse into the world of a busker.

The Art of Asking, Palmer (2014)


This is the story of an artist exploring the barriers in her life, and discovering the emotional, philosophical and practical aspects of the art of asking. This book will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.

Malabardo y su circo errante de cambalaches


Written by Menzo Menjunjes, this tells the adventures of an Argentinian street clown on a bike and motorcycle, travelling by the routes of Colombia and Venezuela. It evokes the atmosphere and the underworld of the artists of squares and traffic lights, while introducing the reader to the changing and exuberant Latin landscape.

The Busker Project

Taken from over 45,000 photos we took on the trip, this book gives a unique, beautiful look at the world of busking, split into four main sections:

Part 1: Malls Without Walls, exploring how busking is having to deal with an increasingly privatised public domain, and how bad policy is affecting buskers lives on the ground.

Part 2: Freedom of Expression, where we look at the motivations and eccentricities of street performers, and the politics of putting yourself out there.

Part 3: Challenging Assumptions, taking apart some of the common misconceptions people have about street performers

Part 4: The Busking Project, where we tell our readers how we managed to capture this footage, and what The Busking Project is all about.

The Busking Project


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