So you want a job as a recording and performing musician with the potential to make over $100,000 per year?  Do you have a good show? Do you stand out from the crowd?

Record your music and have 500 CD's replicated (pressed not burned). Then, prepare a 1 or 2 person show around that material. Take your show out to where there lots of people, start performing and selling your CDs. You don’t need to get booked in a pub or other venue as it can be more successful doing it for free where there is a large flow of people. You can make more money from selling your CDs than a performance fee. Set up a Web site, FaceBook, MySpace and ReverbNation sites with news, contact information, some MP3s of your latest material and information about yourself on it. Make sure your web site address are clearly displayed on your CD and all your sites are cross linked.


How much can you make from busking? Is $10,000 per day possible? In the mid 80’s I saw Ken Davis with a bunch of MIDI controlled synthesiser at Circular Quay playing his New Age style music with an assistant selling his CDs. There was a constant stream of people buying them and I estimated he was selling about 150 an hour. A shop keeper told me he was doing this for about 5 hours a day, do the maths...

The secret to profitable busking is to sell CDs. You can have 1,000 CDs made at less than $2 each and sell them for $20. If you have recorded it yourself in your home studio then you have heaps of profit (less some GST). A person might be willing to throw a 20c or $2 coin as a donation to a busker - not so profitable. But if they are willing to buy a CD for $20 then you have made a much better return from that person and they have something to remember you by forever.

You may need a small public address system for your voice, instrument and backing tape player can be run from a large battery using a 12VDC to 240VAC inverter. (Stores like Jaycar or Disk Smith sell inverters).

Since writing this I was contacted by a person claiming to make up to $500 per hour busking.  He agrees about finding a high traffic area where people are not too busy so the can take the time to stop and listen.  He plays for 10 minutes and stops to sell CDs for some minutes.  He places the CDs on a table with a crisp white table cloth and when a person picks one up he replaces it on the table with one from stock making it harder for the person to put it down.  To earn $500 per hour is 25 CDs per hour at $20 each.  If he does 4 sets per hour that would be slightly more than 6 CDs per set.  If he has good material and good sales skills, this is feasible.

I have noticed a Sydney Conservatorium Sax student busking near the Town Hall.  The guy is a seriously good sax player.  It is stunning how much money he collects.  I have not investigated too closely but it could easily be $100 per hour.


As soon as you realise that you can make a good profit from selling your CDs then you can play gigs in unconventional places for free, just for the chance to showcase your music and sell your CDs. I have had clients who do this and they make a living wage out of selling their own CDs at performances.

Perhaps you are a singer and piano player but there aren’t enough piano bar gigs in your area. Approach shopping centres and similar places and ask if you can play there for free for a few hours a week. Say, over 4 hours you sold 20 CDs that would be $400 gross for a day time gig. OK, if you are a naff player and can’t sing you won’t sell anything but if you are good you may sell a lot more than 20 CDs over 4 hours. Do that 5 days a week and perhaps you are looking at a 6 figure income for playing "free" gigs.

Having an assistant to do the selling helps but costs money but it may be well worth it.  An assistant can walk through a crowd selling CDs and make sales of $100 per hour.  I am certain of this as I have done it.  If you are working by yourself try setting up a self service, point of sale, display with a sign on top saying: "Just slip $20 in the slot at the top of the box and take a CD." If people need change you can look after those sales in a break. (Just a tip, don’t worry if have a few CDs stolen as they are cheap but make the money box from ply wood with a slot in the top and chain it to something heavy.)


You are not going to sell very many CDs in a wine bar with a flow of 100 people through it in an afternoon. You need a big volume of people going past who have time to sit and listen. Key elements here are numbers and time.

What kinds of places are suitable? Places where people eat lunch such as a park in a business district, or a busy tourist destination. In Sydney I am thinking: Martin Place at lunch time, the Rocks, Circular Quay or Hyde Park. Bradfield Park or Lady Macquarie’s Chair during the day on New Year’s Eve would be compelling.


I was told that Tommy Emmunal was dressed up as a dirty bum and did busking on guitar. People did not pay him any attention nor give him any money despite the excellent quality of the music. If you, your equipment and what you have to sell look the part then you have a much better chance.


It will work if you have a good sound, presentation and an upbeat vibe about you. Imagine if you play piano and sing to a MIDI backing or MiniDisc with orchestral arrangements on it and a sound similar to Delta Goodream. You can sell heaps of CDs and make contacts for well paid gigs etc.

If you don't have a competitive product for the public’s dollar then you will find out quickly. This is live or die on the quality of your work as there is nothing between you and the public. There is no one to blame but yourself if you can’t sell your product.


There are number of Councils and companies that won’t let anyone do anything of a commercial nature without Public Liability Insurance. You can get an all in one small business policy from companies like NRMA that will cover insurance on your equipment and public liability etc. for a modest sum. It is worth it in case scumbags want to steal or destroy your equipment.


In a major label recording deal there is always the pressure to make it more commercial and fit the image the market research department has come up with for your target demographic. There are release schedules and marketing commitments you have to comply with. If you don’t want to be a small cog in a large commercial music marketing company; if you want to be your own boss; if you don’t like ‘contractual commitments’; if you don’t want to be screwed by a one sided recording contract; if you want total creative control and freedom then this mode of operation could be perfect for you.


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Copyright 2004, 2008, 2014  Mark Ellis