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How Traveling Musicians Make Money

Traveling musicians busk for travel funds

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- “We are working,” my Chilean friend Igor informed me as I ran into him, his wife, and their 8 month old baby on a main pedestrian street in San Cristobal.

I could clearly see that his statement was fact:

Igor had an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder and was wearing an immaculate red shirt complete with complimentary pants that terminated inside the cuffs of a pair of calf high Wellingtons. His Spanish wife matched him perfectly, wearing a shinning yellow head scarf and a performance costume that was completed by an eight month old little girl firmly strapped to the front with a bright red sash.

This family of traveling musicians were certainly on the same team as they walked through the streets looking for places to play their music. I must also say that they looked pretty good doing so. They were dressed up to suit their profession, as they busked from restaurant to restaurant making up their travel funds.

“Is she working too?” I jokingly asked Igor, gesturing towards the little baby looking snug tied up against its mother’s belly.

Igor and his wife laughed as they told me in Spanish that as they play the guitar and sing their daughter shakes the maraca.

The family then went back to work, I went on with my walk. I turned and watched them go off down the street into the distance, peaking into the doorway of each restaurant as they went, Igor with his guitar slug over his shoulder, his wife with the maracas and baby.

This is how this family of traveling musicians make their money: they walk through the streets of whatever city they are in, looking for a restaurant that is full of people to serenade. Once they find a happening restaurant they stand inside the doorway and belt out a few songs. When finished, they pass the hat. In doing so they make enough money to comfortably travel through Latin America, working on their own schedule.

Traveling musician family

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I met up with Igor and his family later that night at the Traveler’s Home. Igor was still strumming on his guitar, he gave me some dairy-less yogurt — which I suppose is just bacteria and sugar, not bad. We all gathered together with some other members of the house in the kitchen, while my daughter, Petra, and Igor’s kid played together on the floor.

I questioned Igor further about his profession.

“The restaurant needs to be full, that is key,” he spoke of his strategy.

Igor does not work for nothing — if a restaurant is not sufficiently full of diners he passes it by and moves on to one that is.

“Today, I made 120 pesos from playing at only one restaurant.”

Nearly $10. I was duly impressed.

Igor was playing a tune on his guitar in the kitchen as our friend, Carlos, piped up that Igor also plays music in the market, telling people that they can pay him with food.

“He often fills up these shelves, ” Carlos spoke proudly as he pointed to the assemblage of crates that rose up from behind him. “Just the other day he filled them with ayote.”

The Traveler’s Home, where Igor and his family live, is a collective living arrangement for travelers in San Cristobal. Carlos told me once that Igor’s family pays around 600 pesos — under $50 — a month to live there. As he already mentioned, they also contribute food to the collective by playing music in the market. These cheap living and food acquisition methods allow Igor and his wife the liberty to perpetually travel without a stringent work schedule and to subsist well on an independent profession they seem to enjoy.

I then asked Igor how often he works, and he just sort of shrugged and said that he goes out in the streets to play music whenever he feels like it.

“And whenever he doesn’t have any money!” Carlos jumped in with a cackle.

We all laughed.

A few moments of idle talk went by before Igor got me back on topic:

“I make around 600 pesos a week,” he explained, and then added that he generally goes out to work around three days a week. “But,” Igor continued, “if I work two days and make 400 pesos, that is sometimes enough.”

Family of traveling musicians

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It is my impression that Igor and his family have found a key to living well on the road. They identified a profession that they enjoy as well as a cheap living strategy which allows them to make a living from it. They work only when they need to and live and travel on their own terms. They are now also raising a child on the road, and have already included her as the third musician of their family troupe.

Igor and his family serve as an example of how traveling musicians can make a living on the road. They are also prime examples of how a family can live well within the ebb and flow of world travel — going where they please and serenading the populace with music when they get there.

This article is part of a series on travelers who fund their journeys through independent travel businesses, to read more, please follow the links at the top of this page or below the related posts.

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Filed under: Independent Travel Business, Make Money for Travel, Mexico, Work

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  • http://runawaymaggiemay.blogspot.ch/ Mägi

    This is one of the sweetest traveling/busking posts I’ve read!

    I found I could make the equivalant of a days worth of wages in the Ukraine by just playing a fiddle on the bridge for 1-2 hours which was more than enough to get me where I wanted to be. Fiddle was lent to me by a former member of the mafia who was my neighbour at the time.

    I’m eager to try busking on the cello when I get back to the states.

    • Wade Shepard

      Yes, it’s incredible. I’m not sure if even a lot of buskers understand how much more money they tend to make than the average local wage for a lot less work. You’re also hitting on something here: the more interesting the instrument the better. Fiddles and cellos are good. Guitars are often ordinary and seem to be slightly more difficult to get attention playing in the street. I’ve found that the banjo is gold when busking — it’s a real ambassador type of instrument, it gets attention and makes what seems to be a “happy” sound.