The primary not-so-secret formula for busking success is preparation, preparation, preparation, in both the technical and tactical sense. The technical preparation for a busker begins with practice, practice, practice. Once a song has been thrummed one hundred times, it could be ready for street play. It takes a grand of sweat to beget but one dram of ear candy. In Australian words, it takes lots of hard yakka to produce a middling of soft melodies. For street performances, it is necessary that buskers have a technical competence grasp of their chosen instruments.
Nowadays when I busk, I play only random riffs. Rarely do I hold a circle court of listeners, applauding to my tunes. I’ve a dozen or so riffs that I string together for practice strums and frails on my banjitar. My sidewalk consumers always seem to just pass me by, one of every sixty or so tossing coins into my open banjitar case. It seems I am always practicing to discover new orders for the same ol’ chords. My latest strums for this week have been simply A …B …C …D (X3) E …F … G … (back to) A, and also Am …G …D … Am (X3). These are easy and effective chord combinations, which I purposely complicate when I vary the strum patterns and employ different finger styles and frails on each and every set.
Once you’ve established a signature playing technique, the next aspect of preparation is tactic. Your costume is one of your tactics for enhancing your street performance. Metaphorically, when it comes to performance, there is no such thing as bad climate, only bad costumes. Consumers, by their nature, are willing to pay for their outdoor listening pleasures, and on the pitch, first impressions are everything. Every customer you meet on the sidewalk is a vis-à-vis communication of usual phatic, sometimes philosophic enterprise; therefore, your look will directly reflect your take. If you look bad, you’ll be sad; if you look good, you’ll be glad.
Generally speaking, a costume ought to be a raiment of ritzy rather than of rags. Clothing transformations can as simple as a blink of the eye or a fillip of a finger. If you sing cowboy songs, don a cowboy hat. If you’re singing folk tunes, t-shirts and five o’clock shadows are always in fashion. A fellow busker, Devon, was a folk singing Bobby Dylan on the upper causeway in Victoria, complete with his attached harmonica. Another fellow busker, Dave, always wears a baseball cap and rolled up long-sleeved shirts whilst he fiddles away at the Farmers’ Market in downtown Regina.
In many entries previous, I’ve written about my personal busking persona that presents itself in my costume. Cap-a-pie I wear a bowler or tam, a crisp long-sleeved with collar white shirt, faded jeans, and walking boots. If the sun is hot and the back of my neck is getting dirty and gritty, I’ll jettison the long-sleeved shirt for a white tee. And when the sun is bright, bright, I’ll don a pair of shades.
What you’re selling on the sidewalk is a continual confection of you. As a busker, you become who you want to be. A busker is one unfettered by convention, doughty in nature, and whimsy in enterprise. In the baptism of fire, a successful busker must remain jocund, providing an audible olla prodida of pomp and passion, no matter the social condition.
The secondary not-so-secret for busking success is location, location, location. The venues for buskers are many and varied. In Regina I’ve mainly three buskingdoms, so to speak: the Extra Foods parking lot on Broadway, the Canada Safeway parking lot on 13th, and the downtown Plaza next to Victoria Park. Places where crowds of people congregate are the only places to busk. Such places include city parks where people picnic at lunchtime, outdoor malls where people shop throughout the day, entries and exits of amphi-theatres where people come to chill in the evenings. Strumming near cafe patios and fast food outlets, too, can be lucrative. Busking on primary and secondary sidewalks in busy downtowns is always rewarding, both socially and monetarily. An when I get the yen to busk elsewhere, away from my usual stomping grounds, I simply head out on buskations.
If you happen to live seaside, then you can busk seaside. If you live landside and feel the need to busk seaside, you must plan for coastal buskations. Some of my buskation whimsies have taken me to dusty Prairie bugtussles; while others have taken me to where the white seagulls squawk in cerulean skies, to where the sea spray refreshes picture perfect pitches, and to where endless smiling consumers toss coins and bills into my banjitar case.