Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ten Sense Bootstrapping: A Vade Mecum on the Business of Busking

Plus 1 degree. Dylan, my buddy from the buskerhood, came over for a quick visit. He had just finished his busk and was in the neighborhood. Though it is Winter, Dylan has been busking every day.

I’ve changed my strings to nylon, he said, it helps to keep my thumbs from getting so cold.

And that has been my problem! My thumbs freeze and I cannot thrum. The cold steel strings on my cold steel banjitar very much limit my length of play. (I doubt my banjitar would tolerate nylon strings – though I could switch to an acoustic guitar for my Winter buskapades.)

Dylan’s sole source of income is busking and his niche is the main entrance of liquor stores. Cap-a-pie Dylan wears both a bandana and a toque over his shoulder-length jet black hair, sports golden earrings, has his Canadian tuxedo (blue-jean jacket) collar turned up, extended from beneath his thick black leather jacket. He wears either mitts or gloves that have been cropped at the knuckles (a Dickensian look that helps keep the hands warm). Dylan always wears blue-jeans and high top runners. Not quite dressed for the cold, he says that as customers enter and exit, with every swing of the liquor store he’s enveloped with a gust of warm air.

As a performer, Dylan is a contradiction. In his band he’s a heavy metal lead; as a busker he's an acoustic strummer. Busking is his business, and Dylan knows very well business is not big for a heavy metal busker with an electric guitar and amp in front of the liquor stores.

Busking is a business, and business acumen is necessary for busker success. And so, for those of you who are buskers, this vade mecum will be a reminder of what you’re doing, and for those of you wanting to be buskers, this could be your first operator’s manual.

Ten Senses for Busker Success:

1. Target your audience. You cannot be all entertaining to all types of people. Decide on your niche. Strangely, you’ll discover that narrowing your focus will broaden your appeal. My focus has been strumming my banjitar in certain shopping mall parking lots, and as a result, I’ve been recognized in several places elsewhere as that banjo-busker in the parking lot. I must admit I quite enjoy the notoriety!

2. Dare to be different. Guitar buskers are everywhere! Since I’ve decided to pack along only my banjitar, my business has increased. I’m no longer just another Bobby Dylan wannabee. My consumers enjoy banjo music, at least momentarily whilst walking to and fro the parking lot on a grocery shop.

3. Be a team player. Yes, as contradictory to busking as this seems, being a team player is important. Get permission from the merchant closest to wherever you may busk. In so doing, you’re establishing a business arrangement with another vendor for presumably, a win-win situation. It is hoped that the atmosphere for consumers shall be enhanced while they’re en route to that other business to which you’re entertaining within close proximity.

4. Speed up your act. A quick set-up is imperative for both busker and consumer confidence. Try not to bumble around on a busk. Know your stuff and set up accordingly and efficiently. With facile, grab your instrument, toss your seed money into the case, and play. This should take one or two minutes at most.

5. Give thanks. Greet every potential customer who walks by with a nod of your head. And every time a consumer tosses some coin into your buskpot say thank-you out loud.

6. Be consistent. Once you’ve established yourself as an entertainment fixture on a certain sidewalk or street corner, give performances in a manner to what your consumers have become accustom. Customers who are comfortable will toss appreciation to where they get the same musical flavors from the same spot they enjoy at the same time every day.

7. Smile. People toss coins your way because they like you. And remember, in reciprocal fashion, you like them!

8. Exhibit passion. Establish your twenty-song playlist with pieces you love! Whether these renditions are covers or originals, you pick them because you love them and play them, then, with passion.

9. Sell soft. Show fervor. Never hector.

10. Leave your comfort zone. Be temerarious. Every once in a while, go elsewhere to busk. This could mean tramping hither to different buskspots within your same municipality, or taking buskations thither to wherever. Self-inflicting little anxieties keep things fresh and in perspective.

From a buskologist point of rime, let these 10 senses be the tramontane dime of corporate America, and keep in mind that ... learned people know the rules -- the wise busker knows the exceptions.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Neil. Very cool busking comments. This is John that you met at U of R at the gym and we got to talking. You've inspired me on the busking!
    Will do that this summer as it looks like Europe.
    Invite to hear some tunes. Pop-Rock-Folk Come out to a show sometime.

    Best J