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Busking and amplification

From Ruby M

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

I am a busker, I sing and play guitar - if I don't amplify my voice, I could very easily strain it as you naturally sing louder if you can't hear yourself. Music is what I do and I would hate to think i'd offended someone by being too loud, but I can't really risk my livelihood by pushing my voice. I know there are some buskers who think they're playing in a rock stadium (they do the same thing in venues as well as on the streets) but wouldn't amplification be alright if it was kept at a moderate level?

From Mick Coughlan

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Hi Ruby.

A hornet's nest as I am sure you are aware. Clearly the problem has been caused by performers playing to Wembly whilst actually playing to Hebden Bridge Square.

I am a musician too, though not a busker and have experienced this attitude first hand. We played a venue when at the first guitar strum of the sound check the phone rang behind the bar to complain it was too loud! The landlady knew who it was before answering as they did this every Saturday night. We too did not play as loud as some, but clearly too loud for others.

Maybe an idea would be to visit the retailers around where you intend playing and let them know you are trying to be sensitive and that they can ask you to turn it down if they think it is too loud. In any performance contact is the key to success and if there are shops nearby - the staff are part of your audience - like it or not.

Best of luck



From Jae Campbell

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Busking is a very emotive subject locally both for and against. There are two major problems for local people around busking - the first is an excessive use of amplification (which is against the law) and the other is limited repertoire (or lack of musical ability) made worse by some buskers overstaying their welcome by playing in the same spot for more than an hour.

As stated, if you politely explain to local shops that you will not be in the same spot for more than an hour and explain that although you are planning to use amplification that you will keep it low and will happily reduce the volume if asked, it's unlikely to be a problem.

Just be aware if you are asked to switch it off by either a Council employee or the Police and refuse or reuse it afterwards you could face prosecution under Section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974.

Last year a voluntary code was formulated for Buskers & Street Performers in Hebden.

Buskers Must Not:

  • Cause any obstruction to members of the public;
  • use furniture in the street such as public seats, lamp posts, and bins while busking;
  • Use any signs asking for or prompting payment;
  • Personally collect payment (instead use a hat or instrument case to receive money for performing). The principle of street entertainment and busking is for the public to voluntarily donate money as part of the performance; therefore under no circumstances must an approach be made to members of the public to encourage them to donate money;
  • Collect any money or monies for charities, as this requires a Street Collection Permit (for details of how to obtain a relevant permit, please contact the Council's Licensing Department). In no other circumstances should a street entertainer or busker advertise that they are entertaining on behalf of a charity, cause, organisation or group;
  • Sell any merchandise such as CDs, without first obtaining permission from the Council's Licensing Department;
  • Engage in performances that would be considered to be offensive, cause alarm, or put members of the public in danger;
  • Entertain or perform within a location of 50 metres of another entertainer who is also performing;
  • Produce noise (for example music and voice) that is so loud that it can plainly be heard at a distance of 30 metres. Busking must not be intrusive or a nuisance to nearby premises or affect the use of the public telephones;
  • Use any form of amplification equipment;
  • Perform for longer than 1 hour in any single location and not perform again in that place or within 50 metres of it within a 2 hour period. Note: particularly noisy entertainers (e.g. bagpipers or drummers) should preferably not perform for longer than 30 minutes;
  • Try and perform whilst under the influence of any intoxicating substances.
  • Have sufficient variety in your repertoire so there is no repetition of material within a 1 hour set.

Hope it helps.

From Dave R

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Thanks for the guidelines Jae.

I personally find over loud music is more likely to send me away than encourage me to sit and listen, I do prefer no amplification at all. In a small town like HB there is rarely a need to amplify. If you do want to 'save your voice' then maybe you shouldn't busk?

Interesting to see the point on collecting. I am no miser and will donate if I hear something that pleases my ear. However, several times last year we were sat in the square (ok outside the Shoulder), and were approached by the same busker for money. He came round with a hat but specifically asked at each table. Now this guy is a regular HB busker either on his own, or as part of a bigger band, he plays guitar and sings, sometimes in Spanish. I think he is ok but I find it quite intrusive to be asked for money as I am enjoying my pint. The point being that I am sat there to have my beer, not to listen to the music. That I didn't mind the busking is immaterial, that I am 'expected' to pay for being essentially a captive audience is annoying. I noticed that this guy approached customers sat outside having coffee too. Again, they chose to sit there to drink their coffee not to hear the busker. I did hear several grump a bit.

It's ok to say you dont have to give, but according to Jae, he shouldn't approach us.

I may feel inclined to go indoors next time rather than feel obliged to keep giving to this guy.

Any opinions?

From Jae Campbell

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

If they go round demanding payment then it definitely crosses the line between busking to begging and that is an offense. Last year a busker was threatened with receiving an ASBO by the Police because they frequently obstructed people during their performances by dancing around while singing and then proceeded to demand payment from people sitting nearby.

The trouble is most people will not report such extortion so they get away with it again and again.

Personally denying payment to those with poor music skills is the best way to weed out the bad performers.

From Jenny B

Thursday, 12 April 2012

There is nothing nicer than a sunny day on the riverside, just feeding the ducks and having a paddle. The addition of music can enhance or spoil this depending on a) the quality of the singing/music and b) the volume.

Surely singers are trained to project their voice to a level that suits the environment they are in. The over-use of amplifiers and backing tracks somewhat spoils the show for me.

I don't think that you need to be heard on Bridge Gate if you are singing outside Waites.

Some times you can have 2 or 3 buskers on the streets of Hebden and the resulting cacophony of sounds is neither pleasurable nor musical.
The guidelines provided by Jae are good in principle but the reality is that they are often ignored.

So, as Ruby asks: is amplification justified? I would say maybe in large towns but in our small one, No.

From Chris G

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

I think the voluntary code posted by Jae should be printed off on the most formal looking letterhead available and provided free to any shopkeepiers who wish to display it. This would encorage passers by to comment if they think the show is inappropriately loud sand give them something to refer the buskers to. Perhaps the buskers who helped design the code would be willing to sign it.

From Jason Elliott

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

It's a while ago now, but in the late eighties I spent several years busking for a living, (singing covers with a guitar) mainly in the UK but also often in France, Spain and Holland.

The conditions and circumstances were pretty much the same wherever I was though and then, as now, there were quite a few other buskers around. None of us had amplification as it hadn't been invented in a reasonably portable format, yet we all made enough money to get by, unless of course we weren't any good...

The problem with amplification is twofold as I see it: Firstly, as it penetrates further than would be possible under natural conditions, those people at a greater distance who have no interest in hearing the busker are obliged to listen, often creating resentment, particularly as most buskers (even those with very large repetoires) have a small handfull of tunes that are more lucrative than others and therefore are likely to be repeated.

Secondly, a great number of buskers who use amps don't just plug-and-play, preferring instead to add all kinds of "talent boosters", whether digital effects like reverb and chorus, midi backing tracks or just a drum machine. Personally, I think this is unnecessary and sometimes can reduce busking to little more than Karaoke.

As regards the Spanish speaker who went round with a hat/pot/ashtray, this is very common and a universally accepted practice all over the world in places that naturally have a culture of drinking and eating at outside tables which, Hebden-sur-Calder apart, is not Britain (as evidenced by Jae's repeated assertions of buskers "demanding payment" and the his implication that it is just another form of begging). In other countries it is actually not uncommon for people taking a coffee or a beer to summon the busker over after a few tunes and give them a couple of quid. In fact, if someone played near some table and didn't then go round with a hat it would seem a bit odd to the patrons who would be thinking "What? why isn't s/he coming round to get some change?"

There are two big fat caveats with that of course. If a busker is playing outside a cafe, normal etiquette requires that the busker does only a handful of tunes, passes the hat, and goes off to another cafe leaving those patrons in peace. They would also go inside first and ask the manager/waiter/bloke-in-white-shirt-with-moustache "Do you mind if I play a few tunes outside and pass round the hat?"

Let's be clear about one thing though. Busking isn't begging. The busker is offering the service of music, often learned with great dedication over many years, which people can choose to reward or not. Begging offers nothing, other than an attack of guilt. The two are worlds apart.

From Jae Campbell

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Chris, a guide has been put together by a group of local residents, printed and distributed to any shops that want it and is being handed out by both the local Police and by the community warden to any buskers they see.

Copies can also be obtained from the Hebden Bridge Town Hall.

Given some buskers aren't local or that regular it would not make a lot of sense for them to sign up to it though.

Jason, perfectly right busking isn't begging and isn't a crime provided the paying audience feels that the busker "gave value for money" and "passerby's are not forced to deal with his activities" - Gray vs Chief Constable of Manchester 1983; however personally soliciting money in this country can be if people feel forced to donate. The easiest way to do that is to let people make the choice themselves rather than actively passing the hat.

As well as the voluntary code a guide to busking has also been distributed locally to shops stating clearly what is and isn't allowed and who to call if it crosses the line by say transpassing on a shop's property such as immediately outside their shop, using excessive amplification or by causing a serious obstruction.

The whole aim is to reduce tensions while not stopping responsible busking.

I too spent part of my youth doing street entretaining (though thankfully for the audience not music) so I do understand the problems but people do need to feel that they are voluntarily contributing and not forced to do so.

From Dave R

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Whilst I agree with many of your points Jason. do you propose that those who neither want to listen to the busker nor pay for that 'service' move on from their cafe/bar seat?

There is no doubt that many buskers are talented and I will happily linger and pay for the pleasure. However, as a captive audience in a culture where quite frankly, if we have any sunshine we are desperate to eat/drink al fresco, it is not so simplistic.

Often what you refer to as the friendly passing around of a hat is in fact someone stood in front of your face asking you for money regardless of the quality of their music. Whilst not begging it is often someone demanding a fee for an unsoliciited service.

From Will Tease

Monday, 7 May 2012

Hi All,
you may or may not know I spent 7 years 'busking' or street performing based around the world at Covent Garden before I was elected official Jester of Hebden Bridge by Hebden Royd Council in 2007.

I was advised when training by the Master Actor Philip Gaulier that the only reason he would go to Covent Garden was to 'buy batteries' and that it was corrupt because instead of being about art it had becaome a territorial battleground of bad actors and musicians trying to muscle each other out of the way.

The innappropriate use of amplification by street performers is a manifestation of this problem.

I would certainly advise that Hebden Bridge try to avoid the same mistake.

Hebden Town Centre is only small so generally it is much better for all concerned and the human scale of the town centre for performers to avoid amplification altogether however of course the are exceptions such as the opera singers and street dance troupes which may come one day.

I would advise;

1) licensing (they do it in York).

2) Create a 'Hebden Bridge Street Performers' DVD that is sold by Street Performers in the same way 'The Big Issue' is sold.i.e. £2.50 each for performer and HRCouncil.

3) Seek support from shops and businesses.

4) Market Research - Ask the shops and businesses in Covent Garden and York 'Market Square' near Cathedral if they believe that street performers support their business.

5) Start up a street performance academy on the profits

I would love to work on this project. Call me 07534 718799.

Will Tease Jester of Official Jester of Hebden Bridge, Champion International Jester of Muncaster Council. New Jester of Lewes,

From Michele R

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Before I launch into my anti-busking rant, let me say that I was married to an actor/musician and sometimes busker for many years, and in my youth used to 'bottle' (collect money) for buskers in Covent Garden. So it's not that I have a beef with busking per se, However...

What many people who support busking in the square don't appreciate is the torture those of us working in the environs are regularly having to endure.

While there are several buskers who pose little nuisance, most others perform with amplification, have a limited repertoire, and happily stay in the same spot for the entire day. While some people argue that the busking adds colour and energy to the town and helps bring business to the square, they perhaps don't see - as we do - that it also drives people away.

It is also unfair that us 'sitting ducks' be subjected to attack from members of the public who object to us complaining directly to the buskers when the noise becomes unbearable. Although on occasion the standard of busking is excellent, it is more often than not Karaoke performed by individuals with egos far larger than their talent.

It is extraordinary that despite many many complaints neither the Council, the Police or the Environmental Health Department appear able to regulate this escalating problem. In reality, the only factor that does have any influence over the busking nuisance is the weather.

While other towns and cities seem to have policies and permits to help limit and control the problem, all we have in Hebden is a set of well-meaning but ineffectual guidelines and an awful lot of handwringing. So while the various agencies continue to pass the buck, several of us affected by the nuisance have - in desperation - looked into the legalities of busking from a Performing Rights point of view.

The Performing Rights Society have informed us that while it is considered impractical to expect each individual busker to have a PRS licence, if the council are prepared to allow busking to take place then they must have the appropriate PRS licence to cover street entertainment instead. If they had this licence then it could provide the basis of a system where they would be able to issue permits - therefore preventing the use of amplification and also control the length of time each performer could play in one spot.

The PRS inform us that having 'no policy on busking' (Halifax Council's official line) means they are in breach of PRS legislation. It is worth noting that this is not a voluntary scheme that the council can simply choose to opt out of. Any businesses in the area playing music in their shops are obliged to pay several hundreds of pounds a year in PRS licences with hefty fines if they refuse to do so, and the Council are't outside of the law with regards to this.

I hope this can all be sorted out before too long, but in the meantime perhaps anyone supporting the buskers would be so kind as to encourage them to come and play full blast under their windows instead of ours. I'm sure after 6-8 hours of Danny Boy etc. they too will be screaming for mercy.

From Phil M

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The busking in Hebden brings is always enjoyable personally but I only really hear it when sat out having a beer.

I think bringing the PRS into the equations abit harsh and unneccessary. If it was massively loud I'm sure the council would respond, I only ever heard one person using amplification to a level [a year or so ago] that was obtrusive and they didn't last that long so I assume the Council did respond..

Please try and counterbalance your slight discomfort against the many hours of enjoyment and entertainment that the colourful and talented buskers bring to our town. We are lucky to have them!!

From Paul Vass

Sunday, 8 July 2012

So let me get this straight, because you don't like buskers you want the rest of us, the rate payers (that's where all the Council money comes from after all) to either pay thousands to pass a law licensing buskers (and then the cost of staff to enforce a licensing scheme) or pay PRS a fine per busker which would include their costs, not to stop the busking but to check how much of our taxes should be paid to them for the privelege of people busking, or again to pay for a council post to stand in the square every day as a deterrent?

I suppose the Council could take the staff they use to stop noisy party's and neighbours late at night and at weekends and use them to stand around in the square - Can't do both without paying for more staff and even higher rates...

Personally I opt for none of the above.

From Graham Barker

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Michele - You could try fighting fire with fire. Rig up a nice meaty PA system and, when the buskers go beyond a reasonable limit of time or volume, play your own music. I suggest something like Glen Miller - highly popular, hard to fault musically, disruptive rhythm (unless the busker is also doing Glen Miller numbers) and, as the man has been dead over 60 years, out of copyright.

From Jonathan Walker

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hello everyone.

My name is Jonny Walker. I am a musician and street performer who is occasionally privileged to perform in Hebden Bridge. It is one of the most beautiful places I visit on my trips around the country and has a real and vivid sense of community.

I have recently been involved in a campaign against a coercive compulsory licence scheme in the city of my birth Liverpool which has sought to impose a Kafkaesque licence in order to perform in the city. I started a petition and helped start a website and have received the backing of the Musician's Union on the campaign.

I am able to inform people that busking is not covered under the intent of the Licencing Act 2003, nor is it an activity for which you need a PRS licence. Busking is incidental to other activities. It is a spontaneous form of human activity, and to a large extent, is self-regulating.

Nor is there national legislation that bans amplification. There is legislation about noise levels, but that would apply to all instruments whether acoustic or amplified, as well as to pneumatic drills and muzak leaking out of shop doorways.

I have recently helped start an organisation called the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!). We hope to offer workshops and training to aspiring Street Artists, emphasising that they are one part of a wider community whenever they perform that includes all users of our shared public spaces.

Consideration, cooperation and communication are needed on all sides in resolving conflict situations. All too often, people resort to calling the police/council instead of politely asking someone to turn down their amp, or consider moving to another spot. Frequently the first response to problems that arise is to reach for the legislative stick instead of the community carrot.

In truth, most busking-related problems are fairly minor, on the level of annoyance and nuisance. These are related to the bad practise of a few performers. Drawing up a heavy handed policy response to deal with a small minority of people is an uncreative way of dealing with an issue that is not enormous in the wake of the real economic and environmental problems that face us all.

I would like to see a situation where street performers and artists introduce themselves to local businesses before they start playing, and where people talk/negotiate directly with a performer if they are being disturbed by something.

We all need to rub along together somehow. Resolving minor conflicts creatively is one hall mark of true community!



See also:

Busking in Hebden: August-September 2010