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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Ballooning 101 » » Basic busking questions (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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R2D2
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Two questions about busking:

1. Do I need a permit to busk in Central Park, NYC? From googling around, it seems like you might need a permit for musical performances or during special events, but I can't figure out if you can just walk into the park on a Saturday afternoon and start twisting balloons.

2. How do you get started busking? By that, I mean: When you arrive at a good spot, do you start twisting balloons for no one in particular and hope that people take notice and come up to you? Do you literally ask passers-by if they want a balloon? Do you make yourself a ridiculous balloon hat and hope people get the idea? I can see how - once you get a crowd - the process just feeds on itself, but how do you get the first few "customers"?
R2D2
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Anybody?
The Mighty Fool
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1) In NYC??!?? You probably need a permit, a zoning-ordinance, a license, and a rabies shot!! Smile The Empire State is riddled with beuraucracy....I know lots of buskers who just say "%#!* it", and busk until someone says otherwise.

2) no, do not ask passers-by if they want a balloon---don't do Anything which could be even vaguely interpreted as harassment. If someone stops & watches you, say "Hi!" If they keep watching THEN ask if they'd like a balloon. You DO need to have balloons on display. If you have one of those standing-pumps that you can stick 8 balloons in, great, otherwise, make yourself a hat with loops to hold at least 5 balloons and do it that way. That should do it, otherwise, yes, go ahead & make something---something NICE---when there are people coming.
Everybody wants to beleive.....we just help them along.
R2D2
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TMF- thanks so much for the reply. Funny about nyc's bureaucracy.

I don't have a standing pump.

What kind of balloon hat are you thinking of? Is there a picture or video online that shows this? I'm having trouble picturing this.
Josho
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This was the first thing that popped up when I googled "busking permit NYC": http://www1.nyc.gov/nyc-resources/servic......r-permit
R2D2
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Thanks, Josho. I'm still not quite sure what to think:

"You do not need a permit for street performances without a sound device."
"You must have a permit to perform in or next to a park. "

So I can block foot traffic on 6th Ave but I can't blow up balloons in the middle of Central Park? In any case, if I click on "apply to perform in a park", it takes me to a page regarding applications for "special events" in parks. Balloon busking is clearly not what they had in mind. I can't imagine that every saxophone player in Central Park is paying a permit fee every day that he's out there.

This page links to another which actually defines "special events": "Special events permits are required for events/activities where twenty or more people will be present."

So I might just try it and see what happens. I can't figure this one out.

According to this web site, photography in the park requires official clearance. There are only about a thousand people breaking that rule every day!!
Josho
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I'm sure they only ticket the performers when they need to round out their monthly quota. Smile
The Mighty Fool
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Well........
basically, make yourself a 2 balloon hat ending in loops at each end (Front & back), then thread 4 more balloons through it and twist loops into each corner. You should now have a stupid-looking hat. Now inflate 6 different colored 260's, and insert one into each loop, only about 4 inches, so the balloons droop down & forward. Now you have balloons on display, AND a handy place to grab one from!
Everybody wants to beleive.....we just help them along.
R2D2
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Oooh, thanks TMF! I think I roughly understand. I was imagining a hat that would hold 5 balloon *animals*, not 5 balloons. What you're saying makes sense & it should attract some attention.
Josho
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Let me know how it goes, R2D2, I'll be interested to hear!!
jakeg
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Once my display was made and my menu board up, all that I had to do to gather a crowd was to start twisting. As long as their were people with kids, and guys walking around with their dates, the they would start coming. I used a bunch of corny riddles that I would ask the crowd while I was twisting .
R2D2
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Ok, I finally gave this a shot.

Well, I actually gave this two shots. Both times, I made a "balloon hat" that held two different balloon animals. (Holly Hopper has a great youtube video on how to turn a balloon animal into a hat.) This eventually got kids' attention and they started coming over asking for balloons.

Nobody hassled me, asked me for a permit, or anything like that.

When people asked how much I charged, I said something along the lines of, "I accept tips, but I'm not allowed to charge a set price."

I got a few good-sized tips, but they tips were pretty bad a lot of the time. I had one girl walk over, "order" two animals off my menu, and hand me two dollars (for the pair). The problem is that the animals she was ordering were pretty complicated and took a while. Now you could say that the problem was that she didn't realize how complex they were, but she and her parents had just seen her brothers get a few from me and they were all pretty involved.

So I gave her a slightly simpler version of what she asked for. It occurred to me that I could just make one-balloon animals and keep it all simple (figuring that the tips would be about the same anyway), but that really doesn't appeal to me.

I have to think of a way of soliciting bigger tips.

All in all, it was fun, it was good practice, and not as "scary" as I expected. With all the weird stuff that goes on in NYC, there's really nothing odd about a guy standing in the park alone twisting balloons.
jakeg
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I found early on that it was beat for me to eliminate any complex figures from my menu. Most of the figures on my menu were used only 2 balloons. The idea for me was to keep the line moving. You'll always get the mom who will give you a buck after you made figures for her 3 kids, as well as the guy who hands you a fin for making a simple poodle for his girl friend. It's all part of the game.
R2D2
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Thanks for the feedback, jakeg. Back in 2012, someone posted that he had a menu divided into three sections. The headers on the sections were "Recommended tip $3", "Recommended tip $4", and "Recommended tip $5". I think I might give that a shot, though I might have to adjust the numbers for NYC. Smile
Karen Climer
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Quote:
On May 31, 2016, R2D2 wrote:
Back in 2012, someone posted that he had a menu divided into three sections. The headers on the sections were "Recommended tip $3", "Recommended tip $4", and "Recommended tip $5". I think I might give that a shot, though I might have to adjust the numbers for NYC. Smile


I wonder if that comes too close to per balloon. I'm not an attorney, so I don't know for sure. One could argue the the people didn't *have* to pay. But a customer could also easily argue that they were led to believe they had to pay a certain amount. Again, I'm not an attorney, so I can't say for sure what the law says about this.
R2D2
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Quote:
On May 31, 2016, Karen Climer wrote:
Quote:
On May 31, 2016, R2D2 wrote:
Back in 2012, someone posted that he had a menu divided into three sections. The headers on the sections were "Recommended tip $3", "Recommended tip $4", and "Recommended tip $5". I think I might give that a shot, though I might have to adjust the numbers for NYC. Smile


I wonder if that comes too close to per balloon. I'm not an attorney, so I don't know for sure. One could argue the the people didn't *have* to pay. But a customer could also easily argue that they were led to believe they had to pay a certain amount. Again, I'm not an attorney, so I can't say for sure what the law says about this.

Good point, Karen.

Another idea would be to learn a bunch of quickie animals (1-balloon dogs, two-balloon hats). On one half of the menu, I'd have a header that says something like "Quickie creations". Then I'd have a different category called "more complex balloon animals" or something like that. This implicitly lets people know that if they would tip $1 for a 1-balloon dog, they'd better tip a bit more for the complex balloons.

That would weed out the $1 tips for complex creations. Maybe. But even if I got $2 for the complex ones, that's still pretty lame imho.

I think I can learn a few of the hats on "Bad to the Balloon" and practice making those really fast. (Though Mark Byrne seems to move at lightning speed. Not sure how he does it!)
The Mighty Fool
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Congrats on hitting the big apple R2!

Now as for the tips, are you saying that the overall take for the day was unsatisfactory? If you don't mind me asking, how many hours did you twist & what was the day's take? Did you have a crowd or a line at any point?

with balloons, it's usually quantity-over-quality sad to say. Many (or in some places even MOST) people are only going to give you 1 or 2 bucks, so the name of the game is to get through as many as possible per hour, especially if you have a line. I've found that 4 minutes is about the upper-limit.
Now, if youre in a more affluent or touristy area like Times Square, the tips might be a little better, but the crowds are big, so you'll still want to aim at quantity. Having said that, I try to avoid 1-balloon sculptures as much as possible. Even when I make a sword, I'll fit the kid with a balloon belt-loop to put the sword IN. As long as a sculpture has more than 1 balloon in it, this creates an idea of quality to the recipient.
Everybody wants to beleive.....we just help them along.
R2D2
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Hi Mighty Fool,

Thanks for the feedback. The first day I made right around $10/hr (1 hour 30 minutes spent busking -- but I really wasn't in a very popular spot) and the second day I made around $13/hr. The second time was on a Sunday afternoon and I definitely had a long line at one point. And yeah, I was disappointed by these numbers, though I don't think I should expect much on my first time out.

As you point out, I was probably making balloon designs that were too complex. As you also suggested, there's no need to drop down to 1-balloon designs. I should come up with a list of 2-balloon designs and stick to those. I think that's a really good compromise. I'll save the complex designs either for parties or for attracting attention in the park.

I'll also get out my stopwatch app and see how many of my designs can be completed in under 4 minutes.
jakeg
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I found that the amount of money you make balloon busking depends almost entirely on how many you can produce in an hour. You still have to make them attractive enough so people will want them. Take a look at the 'heart series. Poodle on a heart, monkey on a heart, etc. they were always good movers for me, and only took 2 balloons to make. Most of the boys wanted a sword and scabbard.
NYCTwister
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As someone who's made a good living off that particular park I have to say that it's all about personality - make 'em laugh and they'll pay.

To clarify some of the things spoken of in previous posts -

You DO NOT need a permit. You are covered under freedom of expression. You are creating "art".

Technically, according to the rules, you must remain mobile, which means you can't set up anything with the intention of remaining in one spot. This hasn't been enforced too much as of late but it is a rule they can use. (I use just an apron and wear some eye catching hat so I'm always in compliance.) Many bring a collapsible laundry hamper with pre-inflated balloons. I've rarely used one, though it does help to catch the kids eye from a distance so they can start the whining and pleading early. Smile
There are designated areas, marked by green dots embedded in the ground, where you can set up something but they are generally spoken for by those who have been working the park for decade.

Though there are no spots that can be "reserved" there is an understanding among the regulars about spots, which we respect. The front and back of the zoo, Heckscher playground, etc. are the best spots but if a newcomer tries to work there it won't be pleasant or profitable.

You can ask for a minimum donation for complicated things. I've got about a dozen 2-4 balloon things that take no more than two minutes. I just recite them, easiest to hardest, and they usually pick within the first few choices. I have a friend who makes some complicated things and asks for a minimum tip, usually $5.
I've found that the tens and twenties balance out the ones and twos so I don't stress it.
To some people $5 is an amount of money they have to think about spending, to others it's nothing. All kids should get a balloon so I take a philosophical approach.
Besides, the cost of goods for a four balloon sculpture is like a quarter so you're not losing in any event.
If you need fear to enforce your beliefs, then your beliefs are worthless.
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