Ben Fisher’s Guide To Busking (Street Performing)
Ben Fisher is a wonderful songwriter, performer, and all -around great guy. But he’s also a masterful street performer (or busker), and this is a very fine art as I’ve discovered. For a while there was a video going around of world-class violinist Joshua Bell failing as a busker on the NYC subway. Everyone said this was an example of how great music is mostly ignored by the unwashed masses. BULLSHIT! It’s an example of how difficult it is to make any money if you don’t know how to busk. No one, I repeat NO ONE , can stand on a street corner and watch the twenties roll in just by playing amazing music. Nope, you have to connect with your audience, and connect with an audience that’s moving rapidly past you. You have to stake out the perfect corner, judge all the sightlines, and reconfigure your music, singing, and playing to break through the sounds of the busy street. You have to endure rainy/windy days, indifferent masses, and even thieves just to make some money for the day. But the best buskers can rake it in and have a great time in the process.
Ben Fisher is one of those buskers in Seattle, a town full of buskers. Sure, he plays at Pike Place, where busking is carefully controlled by a central agency and where there’s a historic expectation to see great buskers. But he also plays on University Avenue, one of the grimier parts of Seattle and the home of the real buskers. He plays farmers markets and anywhere he thinks a crowd might gather. He knows how to busk and he respects the art.
In honor of his current Kickstarter campaign, we asked him to break down the Do’s and Don’ts of great busking.
Ben Fisher’s Busking Do’s and Don’t’s.
1) Don’t ever let a dollar bill blow out of your case, down the street, never to be seen again. Yes, it’s just a dollar, but you’re going to feel crummy about it all day. Run your ass after it.
2) Don’t assume that someone you often play in front of doesn’t like your music because they don’t tip you or talk to you. There’s a guy that I’ve been playing in front of for years, that I’d recognize anywhere. I’ve never said a word to him, and I’ve never gotten a dime from him, but last week he came up, dropped a wad of ones in my case and asked if I knew any Ryan Adams songs. There’s no rhyme or reason to much of busking.
3) Don’t buy produce the day before you busk at a farmers market. If you’re lucky, vendors will drop everything from beets to kale to apples to carrots to ‘special’ fudge in your case.
4) Don’t leave your harmonica within arms’ reach of a toddler. They will play it.
5) Don’t play the same song more than once during the same busking outing. Learn some more songs.
6) Don’t scoff at change. It adds up.
1) Do bring strings. For the love of God, bring extra strings. When you’re busking, you’re playing loud, and it’s inevitable that you’re going to pop a string once in a while. My record is five strings in a two hour period. Bring extras.
2) Do get out there when it’s overcast/raining. There won’t be as much competition, and sometimes people are even more generous in nasty weather.
3) Do bring your CDs with you. Though there are some spots you can’t sell them, like the bus tunnels, on a good day you can bring in as much money from selling CDs as you can from tips.
4) Do say ‘thank you’ when something drops into your case. If you’ve got a mouth full of words because you’re in the middle of a song, give a little bow or a smile or something. So many people walk by you without giving a rip. Make the ones who appreciate you know that you appreciate them as well.
You can find out more about Ben and enjoy some more of his life musings via this Inside the Songs Feature we did with him a few months ago.
Ben’s Kickstarting to raise funds for his new full-length album. It’s kind of like digital busking! Drop some money in his bitmapped hat. The fund drive ends March 10, so help him out!
BUY Ben’s previous albums on Bandcamp