There has been quite a debate going on recently regarding what a busker “should play” when they are performing out on the street. I find it really disappointing when someone writes to me in despair because they’ve been harassed for playing their own original songs when busking. Often they are new to the art, only have a small repertoire and get blasted because they aren’t yet “good enough” to be busking. They have been told by other buskers they should stick to well known songs or get off the street! Many famous performers began on the street and learnt their art as buskers! (See buskerworld famous buskers). I believe everyone has a right to busk, regardless of style or song selection as long as they follow general busking protocols.
Over many years as a performer I have found that all of us are at different stages with our art. We all have differing expectations when we open our case and tune up our instrument. Most importantly, we are all experiencing very different emotions each and every time we go out to busk. As a result different styles, eras and flavours will come through us at various stages in each performance and at every moment in our lives.
The time of day, weather, locality and the number of people walking by, will also inspire each of us differently. A busy street may make you feel like playing something fast and up tempo. A quiet street or tunnel late at night will probably inspire something slower. From my own experience, the mood you are in will invariably inspire what you feel like playing no matter when and where you are. I believe for the good of the artist it’s important that you are able to express this.
For instance there have been times when I have been desperately lonely, down and out when I have been travelling. Inspiration to help me through life at these times has been my performance of songs which I can relate to. This includes performing my own compositions along with those of other musicians who inspire me (I should indicate that these artists may or may not be well known).
In these moments there was no way I was going to play something just to please a passer by who may or may not be listening. ( Yeah, so there are times when I appear to be playing purely for selfish reasons). By performing honestly and not just playing happy, popular songs to impress the public I still made a very good income. In fact, by being open and honest I was always very well received out on the street. I found by playing songs from my heart not only did I enhance my performance, I improved my mood and got myself through difficult and lonely periods in my life. Ironically, those who stopped to listen found solace in my music and by communicating this with me helped themselves and me through difficult times. This is one of the great benefits of busking for both the public and performer.
I’d like to share with you an example of the benefits of this approach to street performance. One of my most popular original compositions is a love song called “The colours of her mind”. It has recently been featured in an interview with the New York Times. This song always inspired me. It made it easy for me to begin a busking session or performance in a new locality. One day, alone and down and out on my luck I was playing this song when someone placed a few Euros in my guitar case. After listening to my song for a few moments they placed an additional 10 euro note in my case and left applauding gratefully.
This was a very inspiring moment in my life. It came at a time when I was struggling in a foreign city, new to my art, had very little income and was very insecure as a performer and busker. If I had been playing someone else’s composition, this moment may never have occurred. A small but never the less, extremely inspiring performance may have been missed. For me this was a turning point in my busking and performing fortunes. It also provided me with a strong foundation for recording this song for my bestselling album “The World Seems happy”. In the studio I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound!
I have often been criticised for this approach, never from the general public, only via other street performers. They argue that “as a busker you are there solely to entertain the public”. I believe strongly in following your heart and doing what you love to earn your living, it doesnt matter to me if you are playing covers or originals. Busking is no different as a chosen career. If you enjoy playing your own songs and can make a living and others happy whilst doing it on the street then go for it.
Busking is a lifestyle, an opportunity to live with a degree of freedom that most envy. Why place restrictions on yourself with what you select to play if that’s not where your heart is. And why judge others for following this dream. Artists like Dylan, Billy Bragg, the Violent Femmes and John Butler became the artists they are by persisting with their own music out on the street! As a result they have saved many young kids like me, keeping us from going down the wrong roads in life with inspiring messages via their songs. From my experience, it’s important to stick to YOUR dream not adapt to someone else’s.
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Johnnie Mac is a world class, professional, leading street performer, turned celebrated musician. He is the only Aussie Professional Busker who provides a fast, reliable and sure-fire Busking System that can transform any busker into a well paid and highly acclaimed entertainer enjoying a remarkably exciting lifestyle. To discover 101 Essential Tips to Have More Fun and Earn More Money Busking visit http://www.BuskerWorld.com/theBuskersBible