One of the various bootstrapping tactics I’ve employed on my musical earnings in the most recent phase is to get on the London National Rail busking scheme. This is broadly similar in principle to the now-legendary Tube busking scheme – you apply, and if approved send in your availability (temporal and geographical) and any marked preferences, and are allocated slots which you are able to use. Or miss out on.
Unlike the Tube scheme, there is no audition (though recordings / videos are requested at application). The scheme is also nowhere near as oversubscribed as its better-known cousin (when I did some research a couple of months ago, there was no indication of when there might next be a round of applications for Underground licensed busking. Presumably when someone with a licence gives up busking, moves away from London, or dies. I assume neither happens very often).
At first tryout, I was sceptical. The takings didn’t initially seem to be much higher than a well-chosen street spot, and there are the disadvantages of inflexibility, security briefings (separately at each station, with videos, forms and the need to present my passport and public liability insurance certificate at each one – though at least I’m getting use out of one of the benefits of my Musicians Union membership … ) and travel costs.
However, busking is a volatile business at the best of times. While I’ve been tailoring my set (and learning some more material) to try and slant two hours’ material better towards what people seem to enjoy and pay for, the results in street busking have been limited. Conversely, some good places and times on stations (6-7 on a weekday at Charing Cross; 2-4 on a sunny Saturday in Victoria, with a major demonstration taking place that day!) have brought in double or more the takings per hour that I would call a normal baseline rate.
So I’m sticking. And in a phase of life where lots of things to do but few fixed hours can all too easily lead to putting off anything that doesn’t ‘have to’ be done, ‘use it or lose it’ slots have their pragmatic advantages too. So, in Britain at any time of year, does having a roof over your head (literally). We’ll see how many of those little coin bags the rail network can fill up for me and the long-suffering staff at Putney post office where I pay them in.