Street Performing 101…

When I was a kid starting out, I used to take a bus into downtown and street perform. I still ocassionally street perform, but not usually in the normal context of plunking a table down on a street corner. When I perform at fairs, sometimes I will do a “found space” show. These shows happen on the fairgrounds and are pretty much street shows. The main difference is that the show doesn’t end with a hat pitch. I don’t ask for money.

Yesterday I performed at a busker festival, and I was one of the paid acts, so I didn’t have to ask for money. I did after my first show, but the second show I couldn’t because there was a presentation after me and they wanted me to hold the crowd and introduce the guy that was going to talk.

From the one show I did where I did a hat pitch, I remembered how important it is to actually have a hat pitch. My non existent hat pitch didn’t really work. There are essentially two elements to a good hat pitch. First is the plea, you tell them why they should tip you. Usually these start with, “This is my job…” and then tell about how tips are your income. You then do your final big trick and go into the call to action, where you tell people to put money in your hat. There are a million stock lines for this, like “Remember Tipping isn’t just a city in China…” Things like that. It’s the running lines of patter during the hat that fill the awkward, empty silence and while people are digging out their wallets.

In my opinion, having a strong hat pitch and a good show will make you more money street performing than having a good hat pitch and a strong show. If you’re thinking about street performing, be sure to work on the hat pitch!

Subway Stradivarious or Bucket Drummer

A few years ago the Washington Post did an “experiment” where they had a concert violinist play a Stradivarius for people in the subway  (You can read the article here).  This recently popped up again on my Facebook feed and and I have some thoughts on it.   Here’s the video: You can be the best … Continue reading “Subway Stradivarious or Bucket Drummer”

A few years ago the Washington Post did an “experiment” where they had a concert violinist play a Stradivarius for people in the subway  (You can read the article here).  This recently popped up again on my Facebook feed and and I have some thoughts on it.

 

Here’s the video:


You can be the best musician, play the best instrument, but that doesn’t mean you are the right person for the job.  Street performing is a skill, just like playing in a theater is a skill, and those skills don’t necessarily translate.   I bet the guys paying drums on a $2 bucket were making a lot more than him.

 

So why didn’t the violinist build a crowd?

 

Years ago I was told by Tom Frank that before picking a spot to busk, you look the people’s feet.  Are the fast or slow?  The violinist picked a commuter spot.  Not a good choice and any experienced busker probably wouldn’t line up for that pitch.

 

Look at the location, you really can’t build a crowd without completely blocking the foot traffic.  It’s essentially between two doors.  If someone wanted to stop and watch, it wouldn’t be comfortable. They’d have people walking in front of them, or into them.

 

They also picked doing it at “rush hour”…guess why they call it rush hour?  People are in a rush!  You’ll do better before or after rush hour when people have more time.

 

Based on a Q & A I read from the author of the article, that place normally doesn’t allow street performers, so they had to get special permission for it.  So the place didn’t have a street performing culture, which is another big factor.

 

Look at the successful street performers, where do they go?  Do they go where business commuters go, or do they go where tourists go?  Spoiler alert, they go where tourists or people not on business are.  Those  people have more time.  I’m very curious how well the violinist would have done if you put him in a place with a street performing culture?

 

Even if you gave him a good time at a good spot, he wouldn’t have done as well as the guy playing the bucket on his first time out.  He’s playing “ambient music” versus “interactive music”.  Ambient music people walk by, stop for a bit, toss a buck in the violin case and go about their day.  Interactive music would be he says hi people, has little “bits”, sees a guy wearing a band shirt, calls attention to it and  plays the hook from one of that bands songs.  It’s a different style of performing, you can’t do you “theater act” as is on the street and expect the same results.

 

I guess the takeaway from this is that if you are moving venues as a performer, you should expect a learning curve!

Louie