The artist who alters the expected path of your day for just a moment. Expressing their inner feelings and thoughts; their past, their present, their struggle, and their skill. Expressing, without talking. Music to make you feel something. Anything. Music to remove you from your world for a minute, and hold you captive in some other. Expect a little Stockholm syndrome while you’re there.
The feeling when you set up to busk is much like the feeling you get before you go into an interview for a new job. You can be entirely prepared, you know what you’re doing, you’re well practiced, well experienced, confident, knowledgeable, kind hearted – but the bottom line is, the whole art of it requires the involvement of a stranger. You have no control over their part in the process. You can only do you, do what you do, and hope they aren’t an arse. It’s good to do things that scare you. Playing it safe all the time is the equivalent of settling down. It’s nice, comfortable, quiet. And then it’s all over, regardless of what you did or didn’t do. You can’t hide from time.
Busking, street performing, is a beautiful part of life, in my opinion. To witness someone baring their musical soul and art in a busy shopping street or otherwise unexpected scenario is a wonderful surprise. It opens the mind to what is real in the world, to what matters, to what makes people feel alive. The talent you can discover in the streets is sometimes phenomenal. As is the strangeness, the originality, the array of unusual ideas. People are people, they are many, and they are very much by your side. I never get tired of buskers, even during the 9-5 slog – even on a Wednesday lunch break, when you’re as far as possible from either weekend, and you just want to go home and do your own thing. Buskers remind you that it’s possible, or that things could be very different, harder, maybe, more interesting, if you wanted it, less secure – less reliable. They remind you of something, and it’s good to be reminded. It’s good to be inspired.
The day of the busker has long since arrived. Across the world the number of musicians and bands and artists actively seeking out their audience and their recognition has quadrupled in recent years. The streets are the perfect stage. The busking amp is a must have accessory, after the guitar, the microphone, the loop pedal. The streets don’t insist upon a start time, they don’t make you dress a certain way, they don’t dictate how long your set should be. (There is etiquette involved, of course, but most people know how to respectfully add their art to the lives of strangers, and they know when to fall back as well.) The streets let you be yourself entirely. And that’s a wonderful thing. A big responsibility, but wonderful nonetheless.
You are the artist, you are the sound engineer, you are the host, you are the shop keeper, you are the security. You are the show. Whether it’s quiet, emotional, acoustic numbers you’ve written – that you hope people will enjoy or relate to. Or whether it’s a one-man-band set of extravagance that you’ve trained and trained for in your bedroom or basement or van. Maybe it’s just you and the mic. Maybe there’s no mic; maybe it’s just you and your voice, your body language. You are the show. This is your time. This is your moment to shine.
I wrote about my first ever busking experience a couple of years back. It’s weird for me to read it now, I don’t really have any nerves setting up or playing anymore. For those of you who do though, it might help to know how normal that is for most people, and how it really does get better over time. I guess the almighty advisers were right – experiencing, actually doing, is most definitely the best way to develop your craft, in any and probably all areas of life. Get a little Shia LeBeouf on those challenges and just do it. People generally aren’t mean. Some are, but that’s their problem, not yours. Shake it off and carry on, because the next three people you meet will probably far outweigh the last – in kindness, friendliness, and an overall welcoming attitude.
Most people live and let live. Many even live and love the art of others. The best case scenario is you make a fair bit of cash and meet some wonderful people who reaffirm your faith in humanity. The worst case scenario is you go home empty handed, having greatly improved your performance and playing from practicing for so long in a public setting. Not a bad way to spend an hour or two.
If any of you know the identity of the artists busking in our featured photos, please let me know – I’ll gladly update to credit, and link to their music if possible. Same goes for photographers. The top featured black & white photo is by Vicki A Alford. I love what’s been captured in that one. It’s not just a shot of a busker. It’s a real moment, frozen in time; loaded with emotion of it’s own, then shown to strangers to elicit all kinds of alternative emotional responses. It’s one of those moments that otherwise just passes by; as they do, in their millions, each and every day of our lives.
It’s interesting actually that I chose these photos without haven’t heard the music. Music being the point, but a physical image being the necessary language to express it within an online article. They work well together, these art forms. Busking is phenomena that fuses them as well. You hear the busker from a fair distance away, and if you like what you hear – you seek them out. You wander closer to find them, to see them.
The language of live music makes a lot more sense when you get a clearer image of what you’re hearing. The physical image, the biography, the history, the CD for sale. Whatever it is you’re looking for. You seek them out. You want to enhance your experience, maybe show a little gratitude. Or, perhaps not – I could be wrong. Maybe you’ve had a bad day. Maybe you want to tell them to shush. Perhaps you should give it a little longer next time, or walk away if you don’t like it. Try a little live and let live.