In 2011, Verona Riots, a Dublin indie-pop band, realised that if they wanted to continue to play and record an album, they would need to find an additional source of income. So the group of lads in their 30s – a computer engineer, web designer, warehouse manager and two teachers – decided to sing for their supper.
Starting in Dublin's Temple Bar, the band dropped their gear in the main square and started busking. "It was nerve-racking. We've played gigs where you have an audience who expect you to start singing, but singing into the open air, at nobody, was a strange feeling. The response was really good, though. If it wasn't, we probably would have given up" explains Rob Vipond, one of the band members.
Since then, the lads busk a couple of times a week during the summer, and whenever possible in winter, usually for a couple of hours at a time. "On a good night we'd make €70 over two hours... The biggest sum of money was from a group of Americans who gave us €100 in Temple Bar. The worst was €13 on Grafton Street. It was a particularly busy day but because it was so busy, it wasn't the day for stopping and listening."
The band has discovered that it's better to busk when the streets aren't thronged.
"For a band like us who sing pop songs, when it's a very busy shopping day on Grafton Street, it's not great. In Temple Bar, evenings are better. We'd start at 7.30 and go till 9.30 or 10."
Some nights are tougher than others. The boys have had money snatched from them and encountered anti-social behaviour. "Sometimes you get hassle from people who are drinking or people shout at you to sing certain songs ... the Fields of Athenry is popular with particularly drunk people at a particular hour of the night." As a result, the band now avoid playing at closing time.
The musicians found another way to make money from their busking when they entered and won a busking competition at the Macroom Food Festival in Cork last September, which added €500 to their bank balance.
While he recommends it, Rob warns buskers to be aware of the rules detailed in the Voluntary Code of Practice for street performers in Dublin, introduced by Dublin City Council last year.
He also stresses the importance of confidence when busking: "We see buskers who are singing to themselves. Engage with the people walking past – have a smile and chat with them."
Mary Elaine Tynan