Busking in Singapore: My experience!

April 03, 2018




I thought I'll chronicle my busking journey! Hopefully this helps any of you musicians who googled "busking singapore" to get started on your own journey.

How to get started:

First things first, you gotta apply for the Busking Scheme by NAC.

Fill up a form, submit your passport photo, select locations you want to busk at, and email it ASAP to book an audition slot. There's about 90-ish people per slot (source) so you really should sign up early. The slots fill up real quick.  Click here to read more/sign up for the NAC busking scheme.

My Timeline:
Aug 2017: Signed up for the January 2018 slot
Jan 2018: Attended the pre-audition workshop and audition
March 2018: Received endorsement letter and the okay to start busking! :)

Pre-audition Workshop
My workshop was held at Goodman Arts Centre, which is a short 5 min walk from Mountbatten MRT. It was held in the morning at about 10am.

I didn't really know what to expect. I shifted my work time so I could attend this, so I really hoped it would be worth my time.

When I arrived, there was a queue forming (lol, Singapore life). Prepare your NRIC and they will help process some forms and stuff. Then take a seat in front of a pull down projector screen, which flashes some news articles about busking.

Buskers really come from all walks of life. You get to see hipster youngsters, elders, and even primary school children accompanied by their family. Most buskers are musicians, but during the Q&A session I discovered we also had sketch artists, circus acts, magicians etc. It's pretty cool!


They also give out a handy guidebook on busking guidelines in Singapore.

The presenters were also respectful of our time. E.g. "We all know today is a precious Saturday morning and we don't want to waste your time, so do limit your questions to the pre-audition and you can ask me other questions later after the mass session." I thought this was very good of them :')

A fellow busker was also invited to come share his experience and give some tips as well. Another experienced guy also shared his two cents worth: To be prepared during the audition and to help raise the standard of the busking scene in Singapore (wow!).

Also: some hot topics on musicians' minds:
  • Q: Do you need a portable speaker during the auditions?
    A: Strictly speaking no, but it is highly recommended as the pre-audition is held to stimulate real street conditions. You should definitely buy and bring the speaker especially if you have a small voice.

Thoughts about the pre-audition workshop:

  • You don't really learn much in terms of tips on how to busk on the streets, but it's really cool to see that you're actually part of a community. During the workshop there was a "turn around and introduce yourself to the person next to you" moment. I laughed because I had not done this since camps in university. It was quite amusing and refreshing really. Got to talk to some people and a friendly uncle even gave me his handmade name card with his YouTube address.
  • Also, this said community is represented and organised by NAC. In some way it may be strange that busking needs to be regulated, but at least an organisation exists to be our voice and negotiate with official government bodies and malls etc to help us legally have some space to perform. I believe (from a glimpse of the newspaper articles flashed on the PPT slides) that the government wanted to ban busking completely before, so at least we have some representation?
  • At first I found the whole application process quite tedious, especially when you had to carve out time to attend the workshop and audition. I wondered if other countries had the same type of processes. I believe most people think busking is a very free and easy thing, but in recent times I think many countries have come up with their own licenses and guidelines, and Singapore is no exception.
  • I left the session feeling more grateful and appreciative. The staff did wake up early to set up this meeting room, deal with all the paperwork, queues, process/arrange audition timings and even speak in different languages to try to cater to everyone. Accuse them of a cumbersome process but you cannot say they didn't make any effort to help the busking scene in Singapore. Thanks guys!!!

Equipment

Like most millennials, I did my online research and ended up getting my Roland Cube Street Ex from Swee Lee. Cost me about $680 or something, damn. I'm really curious where the elderly buskers get their amps from! Visited some places in Bugis but didn't find something suitable. There are cheaper trolley types that cost about $150-200 but I didn't really like their sound. They looked kind of flimsy too.

My Roland Cube! There's a slightly smaller one, but we decided on this in the end.


Later on during the audition day, I met an uncle who zhnged his amp. It's really small and light! It used to be a an amp that needed to be connected to a power supply, but somehow he managed to make it battery operated. Uncle please teach me.

I got my SM58 mic and mic stand from Luther Music, which is at the Cityhall Peninsula Plaza area (Excelsior Shopping Centre). 


Added Rilakkuma sticker tape on my mic cuz I wanted to differentiate it from other mics. Useful to tag your gear during gigs to identify which are yours. TBH you should tag your cables too.

You'll probably also need a music stand if you want to put scoresheets and stuff. Some people invest in a tablet and a tablet holder, which fits neatly under the mic on the mic stand. I also found an auntie trolley at home to lug all my stuff around. 

The actual audition day

I had a morning slot and I arrived at the NLB building at Bugis early enough. I was given a sticker tag and waited for my turn. TBH waiting always makes me very antsy. Got to see some performances - beatboxing, a magician who was good at hyping people up,  singing + keyboard, a man with a flute, a man in a wheelchair who unfortunately did not have live instrumentation (he used a device to play back music instead. I think this is not allowed and you need to play your own music).

There's a panel of four judges. The area in front of them is marked A and B, so you can set up your performance while another is simultaneously going on. (Quite efficient haha).

I have to say my audition didn't go as well as expected (I had to use an electric guitar instead of my usual acoustic) but I passed anyway. Phew.

Endorsement card
Sometime in March I received a call about passing the audition, the selection of locations and collecting my card. To my disappointment I didn't manage to land hotspots like the locations along Orchard Road or even Dhoby Ghaut. 

You have to head down to an ulu industrial area situated somewhat near Taiseng/Bartley ? and collect it. Bring your NRIC! After which, you probably have a year before you have to renew your card :)

Actual Busking


I set up at Paya Lebar Square, in front of the MRT entrance. It was sheltered (thank god, it rained shortly after.)

Before I started, there were throngs of people and I really considered going to somewhere else that had less footfall. Sudden urge of being shy after going through the entire process (!) But in the end I bit the bullet and just went for it. Remember, no busker is entitled to a place, so go early and be courteous always if there is a location dispute.

I did two sets, for a total of about 1.5h. Singaporeans are really generous! I decline to share how much I earned but haha it was really quite heartening as most of the notes were $2 and I even received two $10 notes. Some people stayed briefly, some stayed for a long time. They clapped, they told me they enjoyed my performance. It was fun! I also bumped into some friends, which was a nice surprise. 😍

Luckily, my boyfriend helped me lug my Roland Cube (thank you!)...it's really hard to carry everything (guitar, stands, bag, cube) all on your own as everything is bulky. The cube may seem light at first but not when you're carrying so many other things as well. You should consider a trolley of some kind.



OTHER TIPS:

  • If you use a file for your scoresheets, make sure you have clips  to prevent your pages from flapping about. I learnt this by observing more experienced buskers. Clips can also be used to hold anything in place (in my case, to clip my guitar bag to remain open as it does not unzip fully.)
  • Make a sign! Some people use chalkboards and whiteboards too. I drew mine.



  • I also made some namecards. I prefer making my own as it's more fun and also in line of my casual style. My namecards have my social media handles on them.




  • What to sing? Popular songs really worked for me. I sang 'Rewrite the Stars' from The Greatest Showman and people warmed up to it. There's nothing like seeing someone smile because a busker is singing a song they really adore. I also prepared songs in Chinese.
  • Bring your Endorsement Card. A security guard approached me right before I started and boy was I glad I could show her the card.
    Edit: I have been checked by police officers before too! Please, please dont forget to bring your card.


Other things to read about busking that may give you some perspective:


So I hope this blogpost helps to clear some doubts you might have if you're an aspiring busker! Hope to catch you on the streets soon. Remember to have fun! Good luck! Meanwhile, I'm going to have to busk many more times to recoup the $ spent on my equipment. 😂


Leave a comment to share more busking tips, or if you simply found this post helpful! Thanks :)

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