Street performing, also called "busking," seems to be part of paying ones dues as a musician. My friend Lon asks about my summer plans to do some street performing and thus gauge interest in my original music. To answer his question, I have done some street performing downtown during the Taste of Chicago, on Michigan Avenue outside the Pottery Barn, on the lakefront in my own Rogers Park, and outside of Selmarie Cafe in Lincoln Square. This is what I have found: I'd starve to death if I tried to live off of what I make busking, and it wouldn't be a slow death either. I'd pop right off, after making a single loaf of bread and some peanut butter stretch as far as possible.
Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic, but for me the glass is often half empty, especially now as the theoretical possibility of unemployment -- ever present in these balloon-popped 00's -- becomes very real. I supposed IF I were to busk every single day for hours and hours, I'd pull in enough money to eat on, but not enough to pay the rent.
If anyone has any suggestions of better places to play, let me know. When I do it, I pack up my electric bass, battery-powered amplifier, microphone and stand, a big bottle of water and some snacks, and head out. I hoped some street performing would give me a better idea of what audience my music works best with. I imagined that by the end of the summer, I'd have a better idea of what venues to get gigs at and what population my self-promotion should target. But I really don’t have any more of an idea than I did in June.
Street performing can be an interesting adventure in and of itself. A few years ago I got a CTA permit and sang in the subway for several months. At Christmastime I had a great time singing carols because I love Christmas and I love carols. Most people were nice about it, or at least tolerant, and I made a pretty good fistful of cash. The most unappreciative listener was a scruffily-dressed, not-quite-sane-looking guy who strongly objected to "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I can't say I blame him; it's a pretty tedious song. But I was committed to finishing it, even when he yelled at me to shut up, then walked over to me and yelled at me to shut up, and then got right up in my face to yell at me to shut up. When he was just a few inches from me, I interrupted my singing (but not my smiling) just long enough to brightly point out to him (as it said on a sign I had posted), "For five dollars I'll stop singing completely for ten minutes!" He continued to stare at me as I continued to sing. I don't know what would have happened next since he certainly didn’t look like he had five dollars on him, but then his train came and he left. I probably should have been more worried considering that he seemed a bit crazy and I'm not very big, but somehow performing gives me the confidence to face anyone who wants to tangle with me.
Nothing so interesting has happened to me lately. I sing and play and sing and play and make my dry comments in between songs. I point out that I have yet to compose a bona fide love song, call myself a "cheerful pessimist," and occasionally draw attention to the this-is-supposed-to-be-my-life? origins of a song. I love being onstage, even if it's really the sidewalk. Performing puts me in a good mood, I don't know why. Just imagining that I'm making a connection, even if I'm not, helps me feel that I have a place in the world and that I'm not as alone as my solo home address indicates. This blog does pretty much the same thing, especially when people comment, so please comment! Blogging is good because I don’t have to schlep heavy equipment across the city, but singing is good because I get to feel happy.