Busking for Bucks

Every first Thursday of the month my neighborhood (Hillcrest) hosts a “Shop & Sip” in which business stay open late and offer various free drinks and snacks to customers. When the weather is nice it usually draws a huge number of people, and there are always food vendors, artists, jewelers, and musicians showcasing their wares on the side of the streets. I had told myself over a week ago that I would go busking with my guitar at this event for a little extra cash and to advertise for guitar lessons. Yet I woke up feeling groggy and unmotivated, and began to talk myself out of it in my mind: “it’s not a real gig, you don’t have to do it… you don’t want to see people you know there, it will be awkward… busking isn’t respectable… you aren’t going to get any money… it’s totally not worth it… etc.” Eventually I decided on a compromise: I would go to the slightly richer, and more family oriented neighborhood of the Heights (which I believed also took part in the 1st Thursday Shop & Sip) and find a spot to play. I thought this would be a better place to advertise guitar lessons and a spot where there wouldn’t necessarily be a lot of people I know seeing me perform the lowly work of busking.

I rode my bike from Hillcrest to the Heights and stopped in Stephano’s Fine Art Gallery, where I met Stephano Sutherlin himself (an extremely kind and helpful man). He informed me that the Heights does not actually take part in the 1st Thursday Shop & Sip festivities, but that they have something similar on the 3rd Thursday of every month. He also seemed willing to have me play at his gallery sometime and pointed me towards some other good venues (he even called a couple places for me!). I’m convinced that personal interactions like these are the best way to develop a career in music (perhaps a career in anything). Yes it is much easier to sit at home and just send out emails, facebook messages, and blog posts 😉 about your music, but it is also much easier for people to turn down or ignore these mediums. Music is a social art— musicians rely on and interact with other people during most every step (from rehearsing/performing with other musicians, to talking with venue owners, to establishing a connection with the audience). The working musician must develop a great skill for interpersonal communication.

So after being energized by my interaction with Stephano I returned to Hillcrest to look for a good spot to play later that evening. I spotted a good bench in front of Hillcrest Artisan Meats (H.A.M.) and the workers there graciously agreed to let me use one of their outlets to power my amp. I went home to prepare, and thought it would be nice to have more than just a single guitar so I borrowed my brother-in-law’s loop pedal (which would allow me to play melodies and solos over my recorded harmonies), and quickly learned how to operate it. I ended up playing from about 6-7pm (I didn’t anticipate H.A.M. closing so early), and though it was shorter than I expected, I was pleased with people’s reaction to my music and relatively satisfied with the $16 I made (more than enough money for dinner)— I’m sure my rate would have improved later on in the evening with a few more drinks in everyone’s system 🙂

My initial reservations about busking come from a place of self-consciousness and a vague sense that busking is somehow a seedy or disreputable activity. Yet my better judgement knows that it is a perfectly fine and honest pursuit for me. I am talented, and playing good music for people to hear for free. I am not begging, or demanding payment, but if people so choose, they can drop a dollar in my hat. Furthermore, street performance is an ancient art! The street is virtually the one consistent stage for musicians and artists from antiquity to today and I should be proud to carry on such a legacy. Finally, the street is perhaps the purest test of whether people like your music— they didn’t come to hear it, they aren’t invested in it, but if they turn their heads, stop, and take time out of their day to listen, you must be doing something right.

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