Why I Busk...

The first year I got a busker’s license, I never used it. “What if I meet someone who knows me?” “What would people think?” “Isn’t it like begging?” “What if no one stops to listen?” “How much money could I make at this anyway?” “Aren’t I too old for busking?” 

Those were the thoughts trampling around my brain, stopping me from going out there… 

And then Abbey joined the trio. 

Abbey is one of those musicians who doesn’t like to rehearse. (I’m sure you know a couple like him.) Having played in every conceivable band for the past 50 years, having a schedule that has him subbing in 15 different bands, and with prestigious music awards to his credit, he may just have a semi-legitimate case for not wanting to rehearse. 

And besides, said Abbey, “playing without an audience is just plain boring.” 

I explained to Abbey that I enjoy experimenting and working things out with my bandmates. I’m happy to play the same phrase 50 times until it’s tight. And that’s when he said, ‘well, let’s go busking!” 

So we did. And now we busk together every chance we get. Here’s why: 

  1. Busking is rehearsal on steroids. With a new audience every 5-20 minutes, you can rehearse a song over and over again and try something new each time. 
  2. Busking helps you increase your stage presence. On the street, it’s all about engaging people who had no previous intention to come see you. You have to work harder to catch their attention. The street is a great place to get better as a performer. 
  3. Busking gives you immediate feedback about what works. You don’t need expert opinions or focus groups to know that when people turn around, tap their feet or break out in a mini-dance as they walk by, you’ve got something good. 
  4. Busking helps you become a master of your patter, tempo and lyrics. It's like mental gymnastics. Try changing the lyrics on the fly to reference the specific street corner you’re on. Insert a ‘thank you’ when someone puts a bill in your hat — in the middle of a phrase, without breaking rhythm. Respond to someone who is speaking to you, (or wants to shake your hand)… while you’re playing! Or, call out to the person with the super cool shoes, in the middle of a song. That’s mastery. 

The Symbiotic (and Beautiful) Dance Between Buskers and Passersby 

These are all ways that busking helps performers master their craft — but only if you choose to continually stretch your comfort zone and throw yourself into it. Now, what about passersby? Is there any value for them? 

When i was touring Old Quebec City, I passed a sign near the central square. “Share in our whimsical world and help keep street theatre alive.” 

The truth is that we need an audience as much as the people on the street need us. We add to the positive vibe of the city. Maybe it's our way of contributing to world peace...

As Louis Armstrong sang, “The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of the people going by.” And sometimes, those people pause for few minutes in their busy lives, and they put money in your hat.

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