Sunday, May 19, 2013


Everyone connected to the buskerhood knows that buskers need to be public perks, not public pests.  Having an eye for the most successful business arenas, buskers that are thoughtful (and successful) are cognizant that it is Consumer Flow that determines the value and politics of any selected pitch.

My familiar busking stranger, Greg, has just such an eye.  He always busks in places where the crowds are in constant flow.  During the daylight hours, Greg, will pound his guitar as he stares down at his open guitar case (really at the cheat sheets contained) two to three hours non-stop just to the side of the only entrance to the government run liquor store.  At night he busks in front of the downtown bars.  Greg never looks up, never acknowledges a customer, and always has a rolled brown-stained flattened cigarette stuck on his bottom lip.

On Fridays and Saturdays commercial liquor outlets and downtown liquor parlors represent the epitome of consumer flow.  People are in and out and out of these establishments, buying their booze all day long, and these are the people working for weekends.  My logic suggests that liquor store busking is lucrative for a couple of reasons.  First, Friday night is hammer time, the time to party hardy.  With the workweek officially over, the weekend encourages the working stiffs to get lucky, and in this delicious anticipatory moment they cannot help but feel munificent.  All buskers know that these tippled weekenders are far more generous than their doppelganger weekday sober selves.

Secondly, no matter to what level of drinking the beery buyer has succumbed, the imbibing consumer will always feel superior to the guy strumming the guitar on the sidewalk.  No matter the commitment dipsomaniacs are to their drink, in that one generous coin-tossing moment, they are convinced that they are of higher strata than that of a busker.  Such an appeal to arrogance is a consumer flaw designed to be in favor of the busker aware of consumer flow.

Other places of quality consumer flow are mall entrances and street corners.  Any pitch where the customer can walk, stop, talk, walk, and take or leave whatever the busker has to offer is an ideal performance pad.

Opposite the notion of Consumer Flow are places of Consumer Confinement, pitches where thoughtless buskers ply their wares to somewhat captive audiences.  CafĂ© and coffee shop patios, bus stops, and movie lines are some typical examples where consumers are seemingly confined, places from where they cannot escape without a certain fuss.  No matter how talented the busker, not everyone will be in appreciation.  People are on patios to snack and chat, not necessarily to be forcibly entertained.  And the same goes for bus stops and movie queue lines.  People ought not to be coerced into auditory amusements.  A queue line busker is a campy busker.  Consumer choice should be the code of the busker.    

I know another familiar busking stranger, Ned, who employs the busking tactic of Consumer Confinement.  Ned hangs around a couple of outdoor patios, a specialty coffee shop and an Irish bar, that are situated right in the heart of downtown Regina.  Ned is an overweight, scruffy cadge who sings loud and long with an outstretched palm.  Even though Ned has a decent singing pipes, his confined consumers are, more often than not, visibly perturbed by his presence.  (Not strangely, his bread and butter consumers are not those seated in the patios, but those who happen to be the passers-by.)

Sometimes Consumer Flow and Consumer Confinement can be negatively intertwined. Even when pitching their wares in areas of Consumer Flow, some buskers can go awry.

I know a particular cowboy busker, Will, who opts for the places of Consumer Flow but behaves in a manner that makes his customers feel in the state of Consumer Confinement.  Will struts about, a transmogrified cowboy bedizened in glitter and fringe, strumming his jumbo guitar on the front walk of a very downtown liquor outlet, singing the songs of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. However, whenever anyone approaches, Will tends to yodel cowboy tunes right into the ear of the potential consumer, and follows the person right up to the entrance.  Rather than a front walk asset, Will is really the creepy cowboy giving consumers the heebie-jeebies and receiving little coin in return.

Some strategems for the Consumer Flow busker:

  • Tittup and sashay … don’t writhe and be wifty.

  • Wear a smile, not a mask … never cover your visage.

  • Hum, whistle, and sing while thrumming and strumming.

  • Ululate on dark summer evenings … and you may be mistaken for a werewolf.

  • Enjoy freeganism.  Sometimes I'm asked to busk at the Copper Kettle take-out where the crowds are thin but the pizzas are thick  … and free!

  • Don't be starchy.

  • Don’t be milquetoast.

  • Don’t be a sycophant.

  • Always be humble ... but remember (pun intended) ...



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