Thursday, 22 August 2013

Changing Our Views About Busking

"They sit at the bar,
and put bread in my jar,
and say 'Man, what are you doin' here?'..."
Piano Man by Billy Joel, November 1, 1973. 

There seems to always have been a misconception in the Performing Arts, from the audience's point of view - as well as from certain Artists. Busking has a very long history, many talented performers have fed, clothed, housed and educated their families on the back of the good old fashioned 'Busk' - there is no better way to hone one's performance skill than to busk. Busking is also really good at totally deflating any residual ego that is left in you as a performer. It is flippin' fantastic!

The hubbub of happy chatting people behind me while I play, is a wonderful testimony to the fact that the venue, and music, are providing a bustling energised environment. That moment where a really special song brings the room to a quiet stop-and-listen is a highlight - and truly treasured as such. That one person who tells you that you are too loud... that person who stops and has a little cry when a song touches close to home... There is nothing like it. Busking is music on the frontlines.

In a recent review (a very nice review by an awesome lady) the line that made me stop and think (and the line that makes venues question having buskers such as myself) was referring to the fact that it is a "pity" that singers have to busk to earn a living.

Is it a pity?

Or is it a fantastic platform for feedback and skill-building without the added pressure of paying for venue hire etc?

The options available to Performers now are:
a) Get signed by a big label. (A pipe dream for most of us, no matter how talented - and not exactly what every performer wants) ((With the Pop Industry's predilection for Body suits... i'm just not a candidate!))
I just can't see myself pulling off this look.

b) Hire a local venue and be the star of the show: Playhouse / Live - The Venue / The Catalina Theatre / The Stable Theatre / Heritage / Seabrookes / Rhumbelow etc. (all of which are booked well in advance, and cost an arm and a leg to hire.) ((Audiences aren't guaranteed)) (((Not every singer knows how to write up hot press releases / get edited publicity shots done / Find R5000+ for Posters and Flyers (who will design those?) / strike up friendships with Editors / Find their email addresses without seemingly stalking them / Get the general public to miss a Rugby game / Soccer World Cup / Olympics / The Bachelor, in order to hear you croon about your love life etc.))) ((((Sound guys? Lighting guys? If not a soul arrives who will pay for it all?))))
"Err'body sing with me! la lalaaaa... Err'body?..." *crickets*

c) Sit at home and cry into your cup of milo, while mixing tracks on your 2005 Windows 98. (Using free software that your Ginnie-Gans passed on to you, because you have no work and can't afford internet.) ((because you haven't performed in a year. Soundcloud recordings are not performances. Yes i'm talkin' to you.)) (((Because you are too cool to Busk *finger snaps*)))
"Just wait... I've almost got the bass line... to sync with the drum loop..."

d) Find a friendly venue where you can perform reliably, hand out business cards and connect with the people in your area. (known as networking) ((Known as 'working for a living'))
"Sure!... You can ABSOLUTELY part-pay me in cake. AB-SO-FRIGGIN-LOOTLY!"

So IS busking for a live and appreciative audience, in a warm and welcoming environment such as a restaurant a 'pity'?

I don't think so. I want to challenge YOU to change your preconceived perception of this type of platform.

I do, however, understand the sentiment behind the comment. The well-wish that the performer in question 'reach their dream or full potential' is very sweet - and performers enjoy hearing as much, it is an ego boost in an industry where such boosts are few and far between.

ATTENTION PERFORMERS: Make USE of your local restaurants, and of any spare square meter of pavement you can legally use, fill Durban with song and create the same type of vibe that European countries enjoy. Don't turn up your nose at a 'free gig' - take your glass jar and perform your heart out - you may make a 20, or 50... or if you are lucky, you may just perform for someone who holds the key to your success.

Lastly, work hard. Be neat and tidy. Don't drink on the job!! Arrive on time, be honourable towards your venue owners. They are happy to have you, but you have to show them respect. Busking is a 'workout' - don't be lazy. Like I said, Busking is the 'frontline' (That's 'war-speak' people) and NOT easy. BUT it is worth every effort. ANY opportunity to perform is a GIFT, see it in those terms and you will TRULY reach some new level in your art. And finally please, PLEASE, don't look down on those hardworking Muso's who sit and play in all manner of environments.

A kind word goes a long way to making your busker's day.

Take care all. Xx

Sandy Bigara

"Busking according to Wikipedia: