Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reborn Free: An Essay on the Busker Personality

The personality of a busker, being of that freelancer ilk, typically cannot stand the idea of schedules imposed by a caucus of others. Going solo, we buskers are generally free from others’ interferences, office politics, and colleague interdependence. Any musician (of sorts) who seeks catharsis from the so-called structured working environment, who ever yearns for that perfect metier, could have the potential to be a successful busker. But to be become that wanderlust, romantic, free-spirited minstrel requires confidence, self-promotion, and focus.

Being part of a team, you can mostly hide within your work group. Confidence is not always a necessary requirement to get this or that job done. On your own, solitarily singing on some city sidewalk, or strumming your guitar in some park, takes incredible confidence, and to gain this confidence takes practice, practice, practice. Playing and singing in front of any audience for the very first time is heart stopping. As an SATB choir member, especially if you're singing in the high (soprano) and low (basso profundo) registers, you can choke a bit if need be, and only your nearby singing neighbors would know. Being in a folk or rock buzz band, when the going gets rough you can always get by with a little help from your friends. When you are a busker, however, you bare your soul every time you're on the pitch, relying only on yourself, and everyone of your audience members is ever aware of any self-imposed glitches. After a few hundred times, the busking does get easier, but I still get butterflies while setting up in new locations.

The first act of self-promotion is to seek permission. Seeking permission usually means attempting to buttonhole the shop keeper within the nearest proximity of your chosen busk spot. Again, after hundreds of these sorts of discussions, it becomes rather perfunctory, but until that time, it is a nervous rehearsal of selling yourself and explaining your purpose for wanting to be there, rather than elsewhere. The idea is to convince shop keepers, in demure fashion, that you are not some anachronistic scrounge, but instead you are a welcoming cultural gust that will potentially enhance, rather than cabbage, their sales. Just this week while scouting new territories, from two of the places I got these responses: Put that request in writing then bring it back to me, ok and Don’t hold your breath - we get beggars asking for money all the time (the first response really meaning a cowardly rather than a vis-a-vis no; the second response being downright rude, proving that busking can, indeed, be a demeaning kind of business at times).

No matter the clime, buskers must have the capacity to shut out distractions. A busker must always be deciding on new material, new presentations, and new locales. Earning an income as a busker is to busk, busk, busk, busk, busk. After four years of being in the business, I am finally getting it, finally honing some of the techniques to earn a bitty and ancillary income from busking. At last I have finally come to realize that if I go to a specific place at a specific time, I can predictably make X amount of dollars. For example, busking at a grocery store in mid-afternoon will produce few coins, because there will be few shoppers. Busking at that same spot just after five o’clock in the afternoon when most people have ended their work day and are shopping for their supper foodstuffs, will produce the most coins from that same location.

The skinny of all said, staying at a real job is much simpler than being a busker. In a real job you do things for others because you are accountable to others. And self-disciplined or not, to keep that job all you have to do is jump to others’ whims. But being a busker you, though you have the autonomy to do things that are meaningful to yourself, you are accountable only to yourself, and that demands self-discipline. To be a busker, if you have the confidence, the self-promotion, and the focus, you have the necessaries to break free from the clocks of others.

In relation to the above notions, here are some Psychological Candies to crunch on:

  • We are all of us thinking we are standing alone, when in fact most of us are standing amongst a flock of sheep.
  • Couch potatoes cultivate vegetable brains.
  • Loneliness is the pain of being alone – Solitude is the glory of being alone.
And the Chaucerian Parade this week:
  • All set to busk on a windless and sunny Monday, a brutish canine is chained to my usual busk spot. Side stepping and playing around the nasty beast (it wasn't really a nasty beast but at the time ...), it keeps snarling and barking at my tunes. Silently, I decide to await for the owner's return. Finally he shows, unties his dog, and smiles at me. I return his smile thinking to myself that I need new material.
  • On a very drizzmal Sunday afternoon I have earned a paltry eight dollars, the coins visible in my banjitar case. This beggar comes along and insists on borrowing a toonie for a cookie at a nearby coffee shop. He says he will pay me back. I refuse. He insists. I relent. (Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble!) I go home with six dollars worth of coin in my pocket and cookie crumbs in my banjitar case.
*If you have some characters from your own Chaucerian parades whom you want to share with the rest of the world , please email the details to me at :

'Tis time to find your freedoms and jubilate, buskers …
because that clock on the wall is just gonna keep on ticking!

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