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Five Tips for Busking in Nashville

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Busking Nashville
Photo by dconvertini / CC BY-SA 2.0

Nashville has long been known for its vibrant music scene. The city has a special affinity for country music, with many visitors heading to the downtown area to enjoy the honky-tonk bars or other music venues. Even a stroll through the streets will fill your senses with musical delights.

The city is also well-known for its busking scene. Musicians can benefit from the relaxed laws, heavy foot traffic of music-loving tourists and the rich history of musical ingenuity and creativity that Nashville offers. Here are five tips and pieces of advice for busking in Nashville.

Know the Rules

You should always be aware of the rules and regulations of each city where you busk. In general, Nashville has relaxed policies. That means you do not need a permit to busk in the downtown area but you do need to be careful of where you do it and the volume to avoid complaints. You cannot ask for money directly, though you can accept donations of an undisclosed amount.

Recent changes to the policy and the way in which the city has enforced them have made it more difficult for buskers in Nashville, leaving buskers confused. In general, you must be careful not to obstruct the sidewalk. You don’t want to make any lawyers angry, after all. As of 2013, you are not allowed saxophones, drums, amps or stools, though you may notice some people bending these rules or finding loopholes (can you sit on a barrel and bang it?).

It’s also important to note that selling albums and merchandise requires that you apply for a vendor’s license.

Location

Broadway and 2nd Avenue are the most popular areas of Nashville for busking, but they are also quite loud. You will have to compete with bars and clubs. As such, you will need a (banned) amp or have to get creative about finding a quiet spot that still has enough foot traffic to gain an audience.

Lower Broadway, in particular, is quite touristy, with the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville Convention Center and many honky-tonk bars around. The crowding has started to become a problem and buskers have found that they more often have to move on for obstruction from such busy areas.

Scout out for suitable permitted locations elsewhere if possible. Another idea is to ask private enterprises if you can perform or busk on their patch. Don’t rule out nearby cities such as Memphis, which only requires a simple and free application process, or Asheville over the border in North Carolina.

Presentation 

There are a lot of buskers in Nashville and it can become hard to get taken seriously and to stand out from the crowd (in a good way!). Your presentation, however, can help to attract an audience that will stand and appreciate your music above and beyond the nearest drunk person.

It helps to look clean and sober, stand up rather than sit down and smile and acknowledge your audience. Avoid foul language and distasteful song choices, especially if you plan to play to a mixed crowd on a Sunday afternoon.

Forget About the Money

Photo by Nick Stenning / CC BY-SA 2.0 

For a lot of aspiring musicians, this can be their only way to make a living. In that sense, it kind of is all about the money. There’s no worse moment for a busker than literal daylight robbery. So, you can’t completely forget about the money. What you can do is get into the performance, entertain the crowds and lose yourself to the music so that your audience can do the same.

Your set and song selection are a big part of your performance. So, try not to play the same five songs over and over. Be original and distinguish yourself as an artist. Most of all, enjoy yourself, meet fans and other musicians and get your name out. Be yourself and have fun. You wouldn’t have selected this path in the first place if it was all about the money.

Be Inspired

No one truly knows what the future holds for entertainment in Nashville and you can’t know for sure how your life will to turn out as a busker. After all, buskers often follow the sun, going where the wind takes them and playing their instrument along the way.

Still, busking can lead to gigs. It can help you to meet venue owners. You can stumble on future band members, secure paid work, build your audience and network. You might not know it, but famous artists like Jewel and Ed Sheeran, whose new collaboration album is due out soon, started their careers busking. So, practice, perform and be ready for the bigger gigs down the road.

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