Playing to a Slow Room

Last week I drove out to watch my buddy play guitar at a casino. There’s a lot that you can learn by watching people who perform things that aren’t magic. Joe plays guitar, but he also does an act with comedy songs. In this venue he does a mix of the two. He plays cover songs, and throws in a comedy song here and there.

It was a slow night in the casino restaurant that he was playing in. He easily could have phoned it in and played some ambient cover songs and got his check and everyone would be happy. That’s not what he did. He played with energy, talked to the crowd, did bits and played a couple of comedy songs. And over the course of the hour I watched him play, I saw him win over the tables that weren’t initially watching.

The huge take away is to never phone it in. That doesn’t mean necessarily doing your show as planned, as sometimes that’s not what the audience needs. However no matter what you do, give them 100%!


Ambient Busking…

Recently I took my street organ out to do some busking at the Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Street organ

Performing an ambient set, versus doing an show is very different and something that’s new to me. It’s a very different mindset than trying to build a crowd. It’s shorter interactions with people than when doing a show. What I would do is spot people about half a block away and try to pick a song that would get them dancing as they approached me.

@vintageorgan Dancing Queen on the Street Organ! #abba #dancingqueen #pikeplacemarket #streetorgan #coverband #louiefoxx #barrelorgan #busker @pikeplacemarket_official #streetperformer ♬ original sound – vintageorgan

While I was there I ran into puppeteer Rob D’Arc! He also runs a flea circus and we’ve working together a few times over the years.

street organ with rob d'arc

In an hour of street performing I made exactly $40

street performing hat

What I learned it that doing ambient street performing you have a lot less control of your “hat” than you do when doing a street show. With a show you can pitch your hat, with ambient, you don’t have a lot of time to catch people.


Ambient Entertainment

Recently an aerialist that I’ve worked with posted a picture of themself working at a corporate gig.


It’s a great picture and she’s an amazing act.

However the picture also highlights what’s wrong with many corporate gigs. They pay a lot of money to the acts, then they just waste them. I cropped the picture above, below is the uncropped picture:

corporate ambient entertainment

They have her performing while no one is watching. Everyone is chatting with other people at the table, virtually no one is facing her. Whoever booked it is really throwing away money on an amazing act.

YES, I do understand that it’s ambient entertainment. However, if she wasn’t there the event wouldn’t be diminished, or if they had he do a formal act it’d be much more memorable.

I’m writing this as we get into the corporate holiday party season where pretty much every magician has work. When you book that gig, are they booking your stage show during the meal? If so, then you’re ambient entertainment.

Personally, I won’t take these holiday parties if I’m performing when food is being served or there’s still food on the tables. This is because my show doesn’t work as ambient entertainment, the audience needs to pay attention to my show for it to work. Sure, I’ve taken shows where I’m performing during the meal, but usually not during December when there’s soo much work that I can decline them and something will fill the spot.

Think about what your show needs to succeed, and ask for it!


Busking in Sydney

Walking around the area where the cruise ships dock in Sydney, Australia, there are a good amount of street performers. Lots of ambient, music acts and a couple of them were cultural acts. I’ll talk a bit more about the acts in a bit, however the thing I noticed was all the acts with amplified sound used the Roland Street Cube EX. That’s the same one I use for my street show PA, so I guess I’m part of the “cool kids”.

One of the first acts we came across was this kid who was playing guitar. The sign he has in his case says that he’s deaf and he’s actually playing.

I’m not a guitar player, but to my untrained eye, his hands didn’t really match up with the sound. I could totally be wrong, but if I’m right, it’s a solid hustle!

Then there was this guy with the drum.

For the little while we watched him, he didn’t really do anything remarkable. I’m sure that he’s great, and that’s simply based on his sign boating about how many social media followers he has.

That’s the take away, signage is a lot more important now to busking than it was when I was a teenager and did it for money.

Then there were two cultural acts. The first one was just guy singing and making music.

It was really an ambient act with no engagement with people (that I saw).

However the second one was a group and the guy had some showman ship flair!

Of all the acts I saw, he was the only one that built a crowd. He did little talks and call and response things, like “we call this a ____…everyone say ____” and talked to the audience.

With a big cruise ship in town and it unloading and loading passengers, doing something cultural is smart. Ship passengers want to feel like they’re learning about where they’re visiting, and I think this was the act that connect with the audience the most because of that.

Also, while I’m not knocking the other cultural act that was using a percussion instrument, I’d bet 90% of the tourists want to see the digeridoo. Sure there’s a lot more to aboriginal culture, but honestly are you busking to teach people or make money? Yes, you can still teach people and if that’s in your heart, you absolutely should do what’s authentic to yourself and goals. However if you’re going to try to convince people to give you money, you need to figure out how to deliver that message in a way that will reach them (and their wallets).


Yelling into a Wall…

This week I’m performing at a very small county fair. There’s an act that’s a “found space” act here. Essentially a found space act is one that isn’t on a stage, so very similar to a busker or street performer, however they don’t take tips. He’s a singer that basically does cover songs. All day … Continue reading “Yelling into a Wall…”

This week I’m performing at a very small county fair. There’s an act that’s a “found space” act here. Essentially a found space act is one that isn’t on a stage, so very similar to a busker or street performer, however they don’t take tips. He’s a singer that basically does cover songs.

All day he’s been essentially playing to no one. He’s had no crowd all day. One thing I learned from a guy named Skip Banks, who is an amazing act at fairs and knows how to draw them in. He has a theory that you need to make the audience comfortable. That means giving them a place to sit and watch your show and shade.

Doing found space entertainment as “ambient” entertainment really doesn’t add much value to the event. If you are doing ambient entertainment in a wine garden, it makes more sense, than in a random walkway.

This act would be way more successful if it tried to engage people. He could do this by simply by changing lyrics to song to thing that are happening around him, or talking to people. Instead he was a human jukebox on auto play.