My youngest son and I busk occasionally for fun and to make a few bucks.
He sings and plays his acoustic guitar, and although I could bring my ABG lately I typically use my funky little travel acoustic six banger (Washburn Rover). :::Hint, playing something "different", whether an ABG or a funky travel guitar gets attention, and the more attention the better:::
How many songs do you need? Depends. It's like real estate, location, location, location.
We usually play 10 or so songs, take a few minutes water/tuning break, and repeat. This works because there are lots of outdoor/patio areas that folks eat lunch at the outdoor pedestrian mall we typically play at, and it would be pretty obnoxious to repeat the same one or two songs over and over!
But hey, if you're playing somewhere that it's only passing foot traffic, then you don't have to have a big setlist at all I guess.
1. Have fun while you play. Folks won't stop, listen, or tip you if they think you're an axe murderer or something, so smile, make eye contact, and remember to SHARE your music with folks- even if you're nervous, at the very least act like you're doing something you enjoy, okay?
2. Location. Pick someplace where folks will linger, such as business areas with restaurants and shopping districts, or perhaps near corners where folks must wait for the walk/don't walk indicators. Be mindful to not impede folks from moving around you safely, and be prepared to move on graciously if a store owner complains or something.
3. Don't worry about being perfect. Most folks will ignore you, some will treat you like a panhandler, but believe it, there ARE folks out there who will appreciate you bringing your art and talent to the street, brightening an otherwise dull workday or what-have-you, and yes, there ARE other musicians out there who will give you props and tip you generously as fellow musical brethren.
4. Moms, dads, grandparents with kids = jackpot. Play to the kids, smile, whip out a children's song if you can, but if not STILL play to the kids. Children love music, and lots of kids have never had the opportunity to see and hear a musician playing an instrument so close. Play to the children, and you will find the mom/dad/grandparent will be your biggest fans and most appreciative tippers.
5. Remember tip #1.