Six Business Lessons I Learned As A Street Musician


Busking teaches fundamental business concepts. As a young man I saw the world by tossing open my banjo case and belting out a few tunes. I played in Boston, Montreal, Tokyo, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Seville, New Orleans, and Amsterdam to name just a few spots.

Along the way I absorbed some interesting lessons that have helped me be more effective in the business world.

1 – Make people feel something. People respond to musicians who make an emotional investment in their performance. Laugh, sigh, get that ache in your voice, and share your joy.

  • Address your customer’s unstated social needs. Will your product make them look better? Will they feel more professional using it? Is it cool?
  • Build products and deliver services that go beyond the basic spec. Make your product something people are proud to have around.
  • Never check your soul at the door of the workplace. If you have to – find another job

2 – Respect your audience by mastering your craft. The goal of practice is to work so hard that performance looks effortless. When you play well the audience will reward you, not the guy who knows three chords and two songs.

  • If you can afford the time, get things right on a small scale before you try to master the universe. Build practice time into your business plans.
  • Read, go back to school, fill the gaps in your knowledge in any way that you can. Make opportunities to practice your craft in service work.
  • Learn the black art of setting and making a budget.
  • Cross train – invest in your career by doing a variety of jobs.


3 – Play well with others. Street scenes are like market niches, you run into the same people every day. Most afternoons in Paris I would trade off sets with a Peruvian pipe flute band in an alcove down in the Metro. It had heavenly acoustics (that I still dream of) and we both made tons of money.

  • Get involved with your industry associations. They tackle problems no individual business can.
  • Never speak ill of your competition – just out-hustle them. Customers don’t want to know about your rivalries – they want a solution.
  • Network to find others with complimentary skills and bring them into deals. Most (not all) will do the same for you in return, expanding your deal flow.
  • Be loyal to people. Look after each other because the company won’t.

4 – No one wants to be the first customer. Buskers always start by throwing $3 their own change into the case.

  • Give a new product away to the first two customers. Factor this in to your business model as an expense. If it makes you feel better make them pay for training.
  • Donate your time to get started in something new. My first consulting client several years ago paid me a straight commission for business development work. I was able to show up at conferences legitimately representing a client which made it a lot easier to find other clients. That first deal was lousy for me, the other deals were the gravy.

5 – Don’t rush to judgement, sometimes it is just a bad day. There are days when the weather is wrong, you are there at the wrong time, your fly is down, or people are just being ornery.

  • Give ideas and people more than one chance to make an impression.
  • Be leery of a single focus group – if you get the same result from several then you are on the right track.
  • Bring job candidates back for multiple interviews and make sure they talk to a variety of people.


6 – Have fun. The purpose of busking is to pay for your adventures. Go see the ruins, sleep in, enjoy a long coffee, stay out late, and enjoy your trip. In the business world this means:

  • Take risks that move you towards your personal goals.
  • Remember that you work to support your life, not the other way around.
  • Have a laugh or two in meetings.
  • Take your dog and your office down to the coffee shop by the lake.

2 responses to “Six Business Lessons I Learned As A Street Musician”

  1. Michelle says:

    Thank you for this interesting article. I love the musicians in the NYC subway. I follow the blog of one of them – she plays the musical saw and tells what happens when she plays in the subway – you might find it interesting:
    All the best,

  2. Sean Sykes says:

    I enjoyed your post on trade show ROI. I also enjoyed learning that you were a professional musician in a previous life. I would be curious to see how your trade show ROI calculations might change (up or down) if you were to employ your talent with a Banjo at the booth. This sounds like a good marketing study for your team and a ‘Part 2’ blog. 😉