The Guide |
[Busking is] the activity of making money from audiences on the street. The two elements of busking are that the audience has the choice of how much, if anything, to pay, and that it involves some form of entertainment (it isn't panhandling or vending).
Note: Some of the following comments include amounts of money in the imaginary unit called "C-shells." These units are used to avoid any hint of illegal price fixing in the balloon industry.
References: In addition to the Guide, the following books provide information about twisting balloons for money:
In short, busking is a very old term, dating to 1857 according to Merriam-Webster, but I think older. Can someone find another reference? (The history of busking is one thing I've never looked into, but I know a number of people have written about it.) The term describes the activity of making money from audiences on the street. The two elements of busking are that the audience has the choice of how much, if anything, to pay, and that it involves some form of entertainment (it isn't panhandling or vending).
Busking is where you go out and work for no money, no contract, and no booking. Rather, you work a crowd for "tips" or "passing the hat".
Busking: to entertain on the street with the intent of receiving monies from the watching crowd. To entertain in exchange for tips.
Balloon Busking: to entertain on the street using 260Q's, 350Q's, B-Bodies, Geo's, Geo Blossoms, 6" Hearts and more, with the intent of receiving monies from the watching crowd. To entertain with balloons and patter in exchange for tips.
I never got to be that great. My best single hat was 70 C-shells for a 15 minute street show. There are guys out there making hundreds. But I did gain a solid understanding of the art. One of the greatest things about busking is your tip is like a vote by the audience. They are telling you how much they enjoyed the entertainment. One of the hardest things about busking is getting a tip for a smile. You not only need a good show, you need to gather a crowd in the first place and you need a great tip pitch. These 3 things are nearly equal in determining how much you will make.
Certainly there are all different types of busking and some of them don't have to draw a crowd or pitch a tip (like a musician with his case open.) It depends on the situation and the abilities of the performer.
Response: I have to disagree very strongly with the idea that "the more you make and give out, the more money you'll make."
There's a limit to how many things you can make in any given time period. In other words, there's a cap on your profit. A good show with balloons and fancy stuff can attract many more people in the audience. If you aren't going to give ballosn to everyone but expect everyone to toss in some money, you'll do a lot better. When you can make 100 C-shells in your hat for each 30 minute show, why be happy with 50 C-shells in an hour of pumping out balloons? For those that are wondering, no, I don't make 100 in every hat. Far from it. I don't busk often enough. But other experienced buskers make several times more than that for their shows. And I rarely make less in a hat than I would doing a balloon figure a minute for an hour.
Goldstein was playing folk guitar on the above mention island, when a man in blue wearing a side arm, politely asked him to move on. Goldstein took the case to court on the basis of the first amendment. The ruling said that Goldstein was merely exercising his right to free speech, and that the powers at be had no right to ask him to move on, provided he follow certain reasonable restrictions. eg. busker's license, not after 3am etc. It also refered to a case heard two years earlier, establishing freedom of commercial speech. Thus Goldstein was allowed to play and ask for money, but not pan-handle.
So, if you are living in the good ol' USA, you have the right to twist balloons and ask for money on public property, within reasonable boundaries. If you are asked to move on, you may want to quote the above case, and this may scare off anyone asking you to move on. However, if they look like a cross between Arnold Schwartzeneger and Frankenstein, then it maybe best just to leave.
Again in most locations you can deduct the cost of taxes paid from taxes you collected before you pay in. A product cannot be taxed twice. So if you pay tax to your balloon supplier you can deduct that tax from the amount you pay in. You can also get an exemption from paying taxes on your purchase if the item is for resale and taxes will be paid at that time. The catch in both of these is to establish which balloons are being resold and which are used for personal consumption. (Used in your clowning or for practice.)
Absolutely do not do this! Check with your full service tax professional. I am not knocking services such as H & R Block or other tax season only preparers. I think a CPA offers so much more. Your main decision is the cost vs potential savings. The reason I say do not contact your state tax agency is for two reasons: First, you have just told them who you are and what you are doing. Very few allow you to do this anonymously. Second, they usually give you the text book answer and will not give you alternative treatments.
I have nothing but the upmost respect for Heart Throb and in no way am I indicting that this was not looked into at the time the state first started this. I am only letting everyone know there are legal alternatives to these situations. We are an unknown commodity to most taxing agencies. Use this to your fullest advantage. You educate them as to what it is you do.
While we are on sale tax discussions, again, in most states you are subject to a "use" tax on items purchased out of state that are not taxed that are consumed in state. In otherwords, the balloons I buy in Texas for use in Wisconsin are not taxed by Texas. They are, however, subject to taxes in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, you pay these taxes on your personal income tax return. I do include this on my taxes, I am an extremely honest guy and some day I will make a profit in this business!
To receive my business license, I registered as an "entertainer." They were quite distinct that I WAS NOT a vendor... If I were considered to be a vendor, I would have had to register with the police, as well.
It is strongly suggested that a performer who accepts tips make a balloon whether or not they receive payment. I have seen other twisters, and artists working for "donations" or tips and they insist on receiving a tip... THAT is selling.
As soon as you insist on receiving money in exchange for an item: it is a sale. When it is in exchange for an all around event, it is a booking and still in the entertainer category.
Though it is tempting to say "NO TIP NO BALLOON" I do not. I WILL limit a child on number of balloons he/she can receive... but then again, I will limit children whose parents tip too. (I don't want to get stuck making armloads of goodies for each and every person.)
I guess my best suggestion is that people should just talk with the police in their cities to see who qualifies as a vendor and exactly what the city statutes entail regarding their status.
To the IRS, to the state, and to the city of San Diego, I am an entertainer. I have told you about the guidelines that cover us in San Diego, now it is up to you to check with your local city offices and local law authorities for registering business permits.
If you go out making balloons and telling people they cost X amount per balloon, then you are vending and need a license.
If you have an entertaining performance, are on public property, and are not demanding money per critter... then you (theoretically) are exercising your rights to free speech the same as any politician who can get up on a soap box, speak his mind, and accept donations.
No, I am not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice.. however; the ACLU does have lawyers and have successfully presented this case in at least one US district court. They also used excerpts from the US Supreme court which directly addressed the rights of street performers.
I have been told that the Harbor Area in Baltimore HAS been successfully sued for the same reasons. (they require you to try out with them and have a permit) They were told that since the area in question is NOT privately owned that they could not do this. They lost the particular case, but I've also been told that they tend to ignore it and take the chance that no one else will issue a challenge.
Our county executive last year was kicked out of a neighborhood festival for passing out balloons with his name on it while talking to voters. I believe he was a former US District Court judge, he argued that this was a direct violation of his Freedom of Speech Rights and that he was aware of several court rulings that upheld his claim. His initial reaction was to sue the festival organizers, but he realized that this would not be a very good political move.
A good starting place for legal information is the ACLU home page at http://www.aclu.org/index.html. The case is listed as: United States District Court District of Massachusetts Civil Action No. 79-1455-Z, Robert Goldstein vs. Town of Nantucket, et al., District Judge D.J. Zobel.
(This article is an excerpt from the CD-ROM Attack of the 50 Foot Demon".)
I was one of those people that saw the beginnings of a performance career on the street. Year after year, I've looked back at the experiences I've had, and always missed being back in Central Park, NY. As I travel and lecture to different groups about performing with balloons, I'm often asked about balloon busking. I answer those questions to the best of my ability but, in all honesty, I've felt weird doing so: it had been years since I had done any serious busking. I recently returned to the street as a performance venue after a nine year hiatus. I knew it was time for me to do something about that, and the opportunity presented itself this last summer with an invitation to perform at the Halifax Buskers Festival. With all of my experience as an entertainer, I was reminded of just how different busking can be from the more formal settings I've found myself in over the last few years.
Every street performer has some of the same issues to deal with, but also some of their own. The variables are personality, type of performance, and the target audience. Some sections of this article are certainly meant to apply to busking in general. Others focus on the particular form of entertainment that I specialize in; balloon art. If you have an interest in busking, regardless of your specialty, I hope the information I provide is useful. I don't claim to be the world's foremost authority on the street. Far from it. My approach to balloon busking is different enough from others I've seen that I want to share my experiences.
Larry Moss, 1998
If you try to draw a line between the three activities above, you might start to see the problem that buskers frequently encounter. Governmental agencies are familiar with vending and panhandling, and often mistakenly lump busking into one of those categories. After all, you're receiving money from passersby. They're either buying goods, or giving because they're generous. Buskers don't see it that way at all.
A busker generally works hard for the money he makes. He isn't looking for handouts from kind and generous souls in the same manner as a panhandler. He is, in fact, selling something. The something, however, isn't so cut and dry. A busker sells entertainment. I like to think of it as selling smiles and memories. There's no tangible exchange of goods. In many municipalities, anyone collecting money on the street is required to have a permit and collect sales tax, but most of those places only offer vendor permits. Those taking money without a permit are automatically in the same class as panhandlers or tax evaders. A busker trying to get around this by applying for a vending permit runs into the issue of trying to collect sales tax on non-tangible items. You can see how we can talk in circles over the issue. As a result, buskers are forced to work in places where invitations have been extended or to be constantly looking over their shoulders for the cops.
The balloon busker, the person entertaining crowds through the use of balloons, has an even harder time distinguishing himself from the street vendor if he finds himself only getting tips from those that get balloons. Almost anyone will tell you that sounds like the balloon artist is selling his work. It's just a matter of semantics, but you try to explain it to the cop whose job it is to hold you to the letter of the law.
If the legal issue isn't enough, consider this last point. Even the most talented performers can find themselves earning almost nothing on the street. Remember, busking is all about earning a living from people that have enjoyed your show. If you think it's hard to convince the cops that what you're doing is a legitimate way to make money, try convincing people on the street to part with the cash they have on hand.
If you're new to busking, I've likely confused you by my opening remarks. I talked about how appealing the street is for me, while still describing the street scene as being an incredibly difficult place to work. The fact is, while difficult, it can be the most rewarding form of work. The very thing that scares most people is the thing that I like most. The only people that stay to watch your show are those that genuinely enjoy what they're seeing. Those first few minutes are rather trying. That's when you have to convince them to stay and play along. But once they're watching, you know you've won them over. When that show ends, and you have a crowd around you applauding and giving money, it's not because they're being polite. It's because they want to do it. Every time my street show ends and I can look into the smiling faces of my crowd, I know I've done something right. If I look and see that there is no crowd, I know that I need to improve, but I don't have to answer to a disappointed audience that paid admission to watch.
It's not easy, but if you stick it out and develop a show that works on the street, you've got something to be proud of. You'll know that your income has been earned. Most importantly, after all of the hours put into developing that show and learning how to work with your crowds, your performance and audience interaction skills will be greatly enhanced for your work in other venues.
Balloon entertainment can take on several forms. The most common one that I see is the artist standing with a line in front of him. Each person in line knows that if they wait long enough, they'll walk away with a balloon. Some twisters allow the people in line to choose a creation to take with them. Others make what they feel like making as each new person steps forward. Some make things with only one balloon. Others use many. The details of how this is done is just a matter of style, and frankly not what this article is about. When it comes down to it, whether you place a price tag on the sculpture or allow them to give you what they wish, you're selling your artwork. You're becoming a balloon factory. Even the most creative artists realize that speed becomes an issue. You can only make money if you can handle the line fast enough.
For an idea of how to improve this situation, let's look at other forms of non-balloon entertainment. When I first started on the street, I took two skills with me. They were magic and juggling. I used juggling clubs, my larger props, to draw a crowd. Then, once I had the crowd, I did card tricks on a small table in front of me. Only a dozen or so people could see me at a time. As I practiced, my story-telling skills improved, and two or three dozen people could enjoy the show. The prop itself was less important than the show built around the prop. A 15 minute magic show with a deck of cards could entertain three dozen people. In fact, a good, strong street act might play to several hundred people and last 20-40 minutes. The fastest balloon twisters in the world can't make interesting figures for 200 people in 40 minutes and still be able to feel their fingertips.
I looked at this long ago and began to wonder what it would take to turn balloon twisting into something that would entertain crowds that large. I came up with two different approaches that work for me. I've seen only a few other twisters do either of these. Both of them forego the line completely and resorts to the tried and true approach of treating the people on the street as an audience. They want to be entertained beyond all else. Even the ones that want to go home with something want to be entertained along the way. Have you ever noticed how bored people look waiting in line to buy something? Don't make them wait for the balloon sculpture or the value they place on it will be like anything else they buy. You want the value to be in the entertainment they've experienced.
I will outline the two basic forms of balloon entertainment that I most often find myself doing. I'd also like to make it clear that these are far from the only things that I feel will work. What's more, I make no promises that what works for me will serve as a recipe for success on the street when done by others. It's taken several years for my ideas to evolve into something that works for me. I invite anyone with balloon twisting skills to give them a shot, but I urge you to find your own style, using my methods as something to get your imaginations going. It's not that I detest copycats. In fact, if you think my ideas are so cool that you want to use them, you'll flatter me. It's just that I don't believe anyone can be successful as an entertainer unless their own persona finds its way into the show. Creating a show, with balloon art or otherwise, isn't easy. It will take a lot of experimentation, practice, and frustration to find what works for you.
As I go through my introduction, I already have balloons in my hands and start to create. By the time my intro is finished, I have something to hold up for them to see. The stage is truly set for what I intend to do. I then inform them that I'm up for suggestions and more than willing to make the things they request.
"All of you should tell me at once what you want to see. You all have to speak at the same time so that no one person's request stands out above the others. I'll hear them all and make a decision. If I like what you suggest, I'll make it. If not, I'll pretend I didn't hear you."That gets a laugh. I've told them in a funny way that I'll make what I want. But I leave it open for them to suggest something really cool that I hadn't thought of. If their suggestions are good enough, I'll take a stab at making what they ask for. Sometimes I already know how to make it. Sometimes I really am winging it. In either case, I try to make it fun. when a really outrageous suggestion comes my way that I actually know how to make, I'll build it up even more.
"A pelican eating a fish? You can't be serious. Where did you come up with that one? Oh, never mind. I'll try, but if I can pull it off, I want a round of applause unlike any you've ever given to a street performer. "
As I work, making pieces of the pelican and showing it off in odd positions so that no one can see what's coming, I remind them that I need recognition for my efforts. When I finally complete the sculpture, I hold it up, take a bow, and milk it for all it's worth.
The important thing is to keep talking. Keep your crowd interested in what you're doing and saying. When I was working on my education degree, I remember being told that people will remember things best and will be most attentive when you appeal to multiple senses. The same is true in a performance situation. Don't just count on the visual aspect of your artwork to keep up the enjoyment level of the audience. Tell jokes, interact with the crowd, maybe even ask the audience to pass the sculpture around for many people to get their hands on. I was flattered at a recent event I did when a blind woman stayed around after my show to tell me that she listened to the whole thing and found it much more enjoyable than some of the other acts. This wasn't someone that could even see what it was that I created.
I run into some difficulties doing this when there are people that want their own balloon sculptures to take with them. Picking the people to give things to can be a challenge. I usually give them to the people that I expect will cause trouble if they're ignored. The reason is not that I wish to give in to demands, but because I want the whole experience to remain as enjoyable as possible. If those that are going to interrupt me walk away quickly, I can go on with the fun and tell jokes. Other times I give things to the people that asked for something so unusual that I had to make it. The audience quickly sees the value in participating and they get even more involved.
Since my top priorities in choosing the figures I make are entertaining the largest number of people and making them laugh, I don't necessarily do things that are hard. I do things that are highly visible. Quite often I make things that are actually incredibly simple but get the largest laughs and give me an opportunity to bring volunteers on stage with me. Other times, I'll end up making full body costumes and getting the people on stage to become actors in stories that I tell. I don't place greater or lesser value on anything I make. I just make it and get it out into the crowd so that my artwork can do its own walking and advertising for me.
What I've already described can easily be turned into a more formal show. In fact, if done right it's the more formal show that's likely to make you more money on the street. We've already established that not everyone can walk away with a creation if you're busy showing off how awesome your skills are. So, admitting that you can't give balloons to everyone, why not hold back on giving balloons to anyone and focus more on creating an elaborate stage set.
I compare myself in some ways to a stand-up comedian. I'm in front of, or sometimes in the center of, the crowd. I introduce myself and inform them of what they'll witness over the next 40 minutes or so. In fact, I lay out in the beginning what this is about and how long I'll go on before I take a break. It is a show, and they need to know that. If they think you'll twist forever, or that you'll be making things for everyone, you'll never get them to watch the show patiently. They'll just be waiting for handouts. Before I walk out, I have a planned set containing the material I intend to use during the 40 minute period, much like any comedian, musician, or other entertainer would do. I like to improvise, so I rarely stick entirely to my plan, but it gives me something to fall back on.
The whole show is a story. It doesn't have to start with "once upon a time" and end with "happily ever after". But it has to flow from beginning to end. There need to be connecting pieces that hold it all together and give it a reason to be presented in the way that it is. In any performance venue, but even more so on the street, make people aware of who you are. Introduce yourself. Just because you're standing on the street and not charging admission doesn't mean you're less important than a big name celebrity. Know where you plan to go. If your goal is to end with 10 people on stage wearing costumes made entirely out of balloons, figure out how to get there. The show may be about showing off your skills, but you'll be more likely to hold an audience if there's a theme connecting those ten costumes. It could be a walk through history, or it could be the ten main characters in a play. Take a step back from the balloon artwork, and think more about the performance art.
In connection with creating your story, make sure you develop a character that can properly deliver that story. If you stand up there in a very straight fashion describing things as you make them, you're putting the focus back on the props, taking away from yourself as a performer. When you're on stage, you're an actor. You may be playing the part of yourself, but you are still playing a part. Simply demonstrating a skill will make the skill, in my case balloon twisting, more important than the show.
An example of a routine I've used with balloons is a story of the evolution of magic and dragons. As I tell the story, I create a dragon costume for one audience member, and create armor for another. The knight and dragon face each other on stage in a battle to the death. I set this up by twisting the costumes and fitting them to my volunteers, all while talking about an imagined history of magic. I have the audience laughing by telling jokes about the characters and talking to my assistants. I then introduce the characters as mortal enemies, and lead them, step-by-step through a slow motion fight sequence. In the end, one of them comes out the winner. The balloons themselves are incidental to the story, but an important part of the overall picture I've created.
Some people may choose to tell one 40 minute story like the dragon versus knight scernario I describe, but more likely, you'll want to do a few different things during that time to keep the pace up and keep your audience interested in what's coming next. If that's the case, consider a running theme, or connecting material between segments. Using the above story, the theme may be as generic as fairy tales, or as specific as dragons. Perhaps the same idea could fit a good versus evil theme. The connecting material could be a running gag or a few jokes that relate to what you're doing. A running gag I use involves making celebrity figures out of balloons. I claim to be making famous people, but always create something silly that gets a laugh.
One such approach is a simple and direct description as you begin:
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Larry. What I'm going to do for you today is demonstrate an unusual artform that I refer to as airigami. That is, the ancient art of folding air in specially prepared latex containers. You'll note that the things I do with balloons are far different from what you'll see elsewhere. While others make simple dogs and cats and giraffes and monkeys and hand them out as a toy to take home, I view the balloon as my paint brush and create artwork that will be remembered and treasured.
Because of the unusual approach that I take to my artwork, each creation requires more time to make than those simple dogs and cats. For that reason, I wish to entertain, amaze, and dazzle all of you with my sculpture, but I can't guarantee that every one of you will carry away something I've made. Instead I ask everyone of you to walk away with the memory of what you've witnessed. If you aren't one of those that gets to take away one of my creations, I'm sure you'll still smile at each unusual balloon figure you see in other people's hands throughout the day as you realize that my artwork is brightening up the festival grounds.
It's possible that not everyone will like this speech. Some people will still insist that they need to get something. I just look at it and point out to myself that I can't please everyone. When I look back at trying to make 200 figures in 40 minutes, I realize that even if a few people are disappointed, I'm way ahead of where I'd be if I were trying to make figures for everyone. If you decide to try my approach, stand your ground. Don't let it bother you when people insist they need a balloon to go home. It's your show. You decide what you're going to do.
When gathering a crowd, make sure there's a line between yourself and the audience. Any line, real or imagined, is fine, so long as you get to position the crowd at the distance away from you that you want. There's nothing wrong with asking people to back up, or even physically nudging them back in a gentle and polite fashion. Some buskers place a rope on the ground in a circle about their working area, instructing their crowds to stay behind it. I sometimes chose some short children and place them in the front row, informing everyone that they are the front row and that they need to stay where they are in order to see. I'll also point out that when looking for volunteers, I never choose anyone that walks onto my "stage". At the threat of not receiving a balloon, it's incredible how quickly people will step away.
Some performers work best with large crowds in the hundreds. Others work best with only a few people around. The size of the crowd you wish to perform for is up to you. If you want to build an audience of several hundred, it will take time to get them all together. You need to start entertaining and building curiosity from the moment you step out on your pitch. Once the formal show has started, the entertainment needs to go on as long as there is any audience at all, or they'll walk away. Once you've spent all that time doing the build your show has to be powerful enough to entertain everyone and make them want to pay.
Other performers prefer to do shorter shows with smaller crowd builds. You can gather a crowd of 50 people much faster than you can build a crowd of 200 and you can fit more shows into the same period of time. I happen to like the smaller crowds of 30-50 at a time since it makes it possible for me to get a little more personal with the crowd. I start up faster, I get the show going more quickly, and I get a larger percentage of my crowd to toss money in my hat when there are fewer around.
No matter how entertaining you are, you aren't going to make money if you ask for it, or pass the hat, badly. I've been told how gentle some audiences are compared to others. That may be true, but they still have to be reminded in a very direct manner to pay. Few will do it without being told to give. No one wants to part with their money unless they have a good reason to do so. Your job, the business part of all of this, is to give them a good reason to pay you.
I always deliver the hat line at a convenient point after starting the final bit but before it's over. In my magic show, it may be after I'm already in a straight jacket. In my balloon show I've set up a challenging test to prove my skills. Stopping to deliver an amusing hat line only helps to build suspense. They don't want to leave as long as they know something bigger than they've seen so far is already on the way and I have time to get my message out.
A real important note about timing that I learned recently is that when it's over, the hat, or other container for their money has to be presented immediately. Any more banter after the big finale just gives people an excuse to walk away without paying. I was really disappointed with my hats, given the size of my crowds. Then when it was suggested to me (by Jeff Collins, a busker from Nova Scotia) that I take my hat off faster, I went from 10% of my crowd paying to nearly all. Not everyone gave a lot, and my crowds weren't always very big, but just about everyone that stayed for my whole show started coming up to me with something, even if just a smile and a thank you. That means a lot. If you haven't tried it, you really don't know how great a feeling it is to have everyone wanting to come up and say "hi."
My favorite hat line from years ago that used to do wonders for me went something like this:
"Some people ask why anyone in their right mind would perform feats like this in front of all of you. I can't answer that question. I can only tell you why I do it. I do it for your entertainment and amusement only. That means that for me to be satisfied, I have to know that you have in fact been entertained and amused. Since I don't have comment cards with me we're going to use a simple rating system.
"Most of you have small pieces of paper in your pockets with numbers pre-printed on them. What I'd like is for you to place one of those pieces of paper in my hat at the end of the show with a number that represents how much you've enjoyed the time we've spent together. The higher the number, the more you've liked what you've seen. If you like what you've seen, you might want to give a rating of 10. If, after standing and watching for 40 minutes, you feel you've wasted your time, place only a 1 in the hat."
That didn't work at all in Canada (changing 1 for 5). Silly me, since I used to have a great response to that (including additional comments written onto bills for me to read later) I was convinced I could make it work. Finally, the same Canadian busker suggested to me that it sounded just a bit too pushy for my personality since I'm suggesting now that only paper money is acceptable to me. (There is no paper money smaller than $5 in Canada.)
For a while, I was going with the simpler:
"In the traditional busker fashion, I do need to remind you all that this is how I make my living. I'm not being paid to be here by anyone other than those of you that have stayed and watched my whole show. Therefore, I encourage all of you that have been watching for a while to come forward with something to place in my hat. No amount of money is too large or too small. Even a smile and a thank you is appreciated, but please don't walk away until you've given me something."
I think one of the things that works with that pitch is that I haven't said, "I get paid by those of you that liked the show". I say, "I get paid by those of you that watched the show." I let them know what's expected and not that it's their choice. Of course it is their choice and I'm not being pushy, but I let them know what I want from them. Sometimes I'd even remind them of what they had seen if something early in the show got an especially good response. That seemed to remind them of how much fun they had and for how long. Note that very few people will walk forward to say thanks without putting something in the hat. I got coins, bills, candy, business cards with notes on them, and even random phone numbers.
The last day of the Halifax festival this summer, when everyone was being just a bit goofy in their own way, I delivered the above pitch and then while holding the hat out continued:
Since I am a US citizen I will need to change all of this Canadian money. Unfortunately, it's a Sunday, the banks here are closed, and the banks at home won't take Candian coins from me. You can simplify my problem of changing money by providing only paper in the hat.
Since the first pitch, I was told, was too pushy, I didn't expect this to work. But it did. It was just that point in the festival that I felt like playing. I'm glad I did. I got almost all paper money that last day.
In almost every situation I've been in I've noticed that people pay buskers when they see others giving money to buskers. However, they don't want to walk forward in front of a crowd while a show is going on to drop something in the hat. You have to tell them that now is the time you're supposed to pay. For that reason, you need to pass the hat at the end. You can't simply leave the hat in a convenient place during the show hoping people will walk by and drop money in. Although, "pass" is a funny word. The hat never leaves your hands. It's your hat. They should want to give money to you. They should want to come up and say "hi." Part of the experience of paying a busker is meeting him face to face. It's kind of like the reason many people collect autographs. It's not about a piece of paper. It's about having a reason to meet the star. And yes, you are a star to them. You have to think of yourself that way. You have to set yourself apart -- while in your performance character. You also have to make sure to thank each person for their tip as they come up.
Additionally, you don't want to leave your spot because someone in the back is waving a large bill. Others have already started working their way up to you. You don't want to offend someone that's just gotten to where you were. Stand your ground. They know where you are. You don't know where the big tippers are.
The last point I can think of right now on passing the hat is that you should keep your amplifier on while you thank people for their money. The show isn't over until the last person has dropped money in the hat.
Now, the one situation where I do have a hat or bucket or other thing out for money is when I do the form of show I referred to earlier where I'm making things to audience challenges and getting a lot of balloons out into the crowd. The show in this case is the balloon twisting and random banter out of my mouth. If I'm not in the middle of a more formal show, I don't know how many people will stay for the hour I'm on stage and how many will walk away. Anyone in the crowd should be able to tip for each unusual creation they see. In that case, since the bucket is out, after I finish each thing, I pause and chat for a moment so that they can drop something in. If I turn out a lot of sculptures in a shorter time, I make less money than if I make really awesome creations and give them a chance to tip for each thing. Also, make sure that the hat isn't on the ground. It should be at a height where everyone can see it at all times.
I'm often questioned by other balloon artists when I mention that I prefer to make large sculptures for everyone to enjoy rather than small things that each person can walk away with. It's the children that most often ask for their own creations to take home. Being a balloon artist, I'm regularly called a childrens' entertainer. Some people will say that I need to focus on the kids. I do a lot of childrens' entertainment, and I really enjoy it. Unfortunately, busking for children is not at all condusive to making money. Kids don't have money. It's their parents that need to pay. Don't be surprised when you make the same amount of money from a family of five that you make from a single person that's standing in the back of the crowd, not even interested in getting a balloon. Families with kids don't have, proportionately for the size of the family, as much disposable income. That's not to suggest I ignore the kids. In almost all cases, it's the kids that get the creations I make. I just can't concern myself with each one getting something to carry. I ask families to share and focus on the entertainment for everyone in the crowd.
Just because you've passed the hat and given your best heartfelt request for funding doesn't mean you've done everyting you can to make a few bucks. I'm convinced that the reason so many people ask for balloons to take home is that they like walking away with souvenirs. Without belittling your artwork and turning your balloon animals into a commodity you can still make money off of sales. Many musicians sell recordings of their work. There's no reason a balloon artist can't do a similar thing. I happen to have a book of my own that I sell, but any book or kit on beginning balloon art that you can offer for your audience is an opportunity to make a little more money and still provide them with the souvenir they desire. I have a line that I deliver for the person that insists that they need something to carry home, even if it's just a dog. "If you like the sculptures I've made here in front of you, you'll appreciate your own artwork even more. With the instructions in this book, you can go home and make some of your own figures."