The Busker’s Handbook Tested By Humo Journalist

Posted: September 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yeah, I know, apart from some tombleweeds blowing around, this blog seems dead, but now I feel obliged to add a post. Just to show off in fact.

“The Busker’s Handbook” was actually put to the test by a journalist, trying to survive as a busker in Antwerp (my hometown). And what do you know… he survived!

He wrote a nice article about it in Humo, Belgium’s most famous hipster magazine. Method-acting Journalist Serge Simonart even included some of my jokes (you’re welcome). He also referred to this blog as being “hilarious”, which is a bit weird, since I promote it as “the world’s most depressing music blog”.

Anyway… I hereby claim the usefulness of my “Busker’s Handbook” as proven!

The Native American Midi-Files

Posted: March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

Since I’m of Native American descent myself, it’s okay for me to mock my own people, without being racist.

That said I’d like to complain about a form of busking that has really become a plague: pan flute blowing Inca’s (or whatever tribe they claim to be from).

You know what I’m talking about: small bands of mezzo-american looking guys, dressed-up like there’s a John Wayne Adversary Convention, mismatching colours and symbols from a variety of tribes, wearing bigger feathers on their hat than the winner of the 1974 Mister Pimp Contest. Sure, they might really have native American blood flowing through their veins, but nonetheless they’re as fake as the FX in an Original SyFy Movie.

And I’m not just complaining because they dress like the way we ‘White Men’ expect them to dress,  but also because of the way they make music.

They have a full PA-set installed on the street: speakers, microphones and a console with pre-recorded backing-tracks. Those backing tracks sound awful: midi-instruments and an over-the-top drum sound that even an 80’s pop record producer would have called bombastic. To top it all of, they do a kind of pan flute karaoke, with such an immens reverb, echo and chorus, it’s like they’re doing a gig in the Batcave.

Those are authentic Peruvian microphones

And then there is their repertoire. 90% of the time you pass them by, they are playing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” or “Candle In The Wind”. The closest they come to actual ‘native’ music is “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, which was actually a rip-off of native American music in the first place.

These guys are always accompanied by a small lady wearing something made of lama-wool, selling cd’s with the same crap on it, while shaking to the beat with a string of shells that don’t even live in the Andes.  

No, these people are not buskers. They are part of a commercial entertainment industry which gullible passers-by think are genuine, exotic and authentic, but are in fact dressed-up business men faking to be their own grandparents.

Beware Of The Busker Mob

Posted: March 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

One of the first things I learned when I was a young busker, was that there exists something like a busker mob. I was busking at the exit of a supermarket, earning a conspiciously large amount of money. Then I noticed that everyone leaving the supermarket had change in their hands, because you have to put a coin in the shopping cart to unlock it, which you get back when you stall the cart again. When people already have a coin in their hands when passing a busker, they are more likely to throw it in your guitar case, than bothering to dig up their purse to put it away. Now, I wasn’t the only busker that discovered this lucrative busking spot and after a few minutes another busker arrived and told me that this was HIS turf and that I had to pay him if I wanted to keep playing there. If I didn’t, he told me in vague terms that something unpleasant might happen to me. He actually tried to let me pay some kind of protection money. Of course, I quickly left like the cowardly youngster I was back then. I feared someone named Fat Mickey or Louie the Knife would come and break my fingers.

They don't just carry guitars

So… let this be a warning to you all: when you find a spot where you collect more money than avarage, you’re probably not the first one, nor the only one to discover this. Chances are this specific spot is controlled by the Busker Mob, so either join the gang or find somewhere else to play.

Busker From Hell

Posted: March 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’m an atheist, but I have a very clear vision of what Hell must be like. I recently had a glimpse of it in real life. There is a busker with an accordeon at the entrance of the train station where I live. He’s been there for as long as I can remember (I have a short memory). Normally I pass him by rather quickly, just enough to hear a few notes. Not enough to recognize the song he’s playing. But recently, I stood smoking outside the train station and I could listen to him for a minute or two. It took me half of that time to notice that the guy was playing the same few notes I had heard him play before, OVER AND OVER AGAIN!

Seriously, this guy has been standing there for years, almost 24/7, playing the same 4 or 5 notes in a row! Looking at his accordeon I noticed that some of the buttons on it were totally worn, and the rest looked brand-new. With his lobotomized stare, this poor excuse for a busker gave me a feeling of what a sinful musician’s hell must be like. Imagine eternity listening to the same short musical phrase repeated ad infinitum. Well, that’s what this guy’s life is like.

It reminded me of another musical torture. Once I got stuck during the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. The small boat we were in got jammed or something. The little puppets kept singing their cheerful song, while we were stuck for almost an hour. Like one of these puppets, the busker at the train station just keeps doing what he’s programmed for, playing his mantra, faking to be a musician.

But you’ve got to hand it to him: he’s smart: people leaving and entering the train station are in such a hurry, that they would never notice he’s not actually playing a song. Thanks to my nicotine addiction I discovered his scam.

He could be just a tad smarter though… if I were him, I wouldn’t have taped that worn cardboard McDonalds coffee cup to the accordeon. Especially with his nasty case of B.O., when people don’t dare to come close enough to put money in the cup, otherwise they might get sick. I know B.O. comes with the busking territory, but here’s a good advice for all of you: we buskers don’t care all that much for personal hygiene, so don’t place the money container too close to yourself.

Long Time No Post

Posted: March 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

Has it really been more than a year since my last post?
Well, there are some good reasons for that.
First of all: I sold the movie rights to this blog, so I’ve been spending much of my time in Hollywood for business meetings and the like.
Secondly: contrary to what I preach in this blog myself, I have been ‘discovered’ by a major record company while busking on the street and I’m now a famous singer-songwriter touring the United States.

Or I could tell you the truth…

… and the truth is that I’m a lazy bastard with a very short attention span, who abandons every project after a while. I honestly totally forgot I kept this blog for a few months. Also, Buskerstef Junior was born since my last post. And as parents of young children know: babies absorb your free time like an alcoholic sponge absorbs beer after lying in the sun for a week.

After someone asked me to restart blogging, I decided to check my long-abandoned wordpress account, expecting to find only virtual tumbleweed to pass on my screen. I was surprised to see that I still had a fair amount of readers every week, probably people with some sort of condition like that guy from ‘Memento’, that keep rereading the old posts like they are new ones.

Anyway… I won’t promise anything, but I promise plan to add some posts in the very near future.

Busk On!

Well you know I don’t encourage singing your own songs.

The obvious reasons are:
1. People tend to pay more easily when they hear a song they know.
2. A million great songs have already been written, so there’s no use to add mediocre ones.
3. Your own songs are probably too autobiographic, which means they make people sad. Sad people don’t pay.
4. You are a busker, not a singer-songwriter that can’t get a gig.
5. Your own songs sound like the songs of artists you like. So why don’t you just play their music?

If none of the 5 reasons above are enough to stop you from singing your own songs anyway, at least take in consideration the following useful hints.

1. Only play the ones that are up-tempo, catchy and loud. Introvert songs about how hard life is because that girl doesn’t notice you, may sound good in the privacy of your own bedroom at 2 am, but they sure won’t amuse frantic shoppers hunting for a late christmas present.

emo poetry

2. Easy on the lyrics. People pay for a cheerful and nonsensical “lalala”, not for a 15 page-excerpt of your diary.
3. Add humour to your songs, but don’t shock people. A song about a cow is funny. A song about sexual acts with a cow is hilarious, but don’t go there.
4. No minor scales, unless it is in the style of an old drinking song.
5. Don’t announce the songs as “one of my own”. People won’t listen to it, because they think your songs suck, otherwise you would be an famous artist and not a busker. It is far more satisfying when people say: “Hey, that was a nice song. Whose is it?”

The Future of Busking

Posted: October 18, 2009 in 1

Since there is scientific proof that buskers will be some of the sole survivors of the Apocalyps (see one of my earlier posts), logic tells us Buskers will still be around in the future. Buskers will slowly evolve of course (though not as fast as the rest of Homo Sapiens, since they are…well… buskers) and will gradually embrace technology to make their lives more comfortable.

In the far future buskers will entertain crews of spaceships, as portrayed in this classic Star Trek episode.

Check out the cool guitar! Or is it a broom?

In the more nearby future Buskers will discover the possibilities of the internet, which nowadays they only use to find the chords to “Knockin’ on Heavens Door”.

Google Street will have a busker application, where users can visit streets and actually hear the buskers there play live. The buskers get paid via a PayPall-button.
This system will evolve in a way that the buskers themselves also stay at home. They will play there songs in front of a webcam or microphone. The busker’s avatar will then be seen on Google Street, standing on the pavement.

This way busker’s can annoy people on every streetcorner on Earth! They will even be able to play on the top of the Mount Everest (a silent wish of many a shopper) or – thanks to Google Sky – the polar caps of Mars!
And there are more benefits: you don’t have to stand in the rain and you can have your avatar take all the crap people on the street shout at you. Hell, your avatar will look better (or less frightening) than you look in reality (that’s what avatars are for).

This will even evolve further to the point that buskers will place hundreds of avatars at once, making it possible to play at different streets at the same time. They won’t even be playing live anymore, since streaming recorded music allows buskers to busk 24/7.

In the even more distant future, people won’t even have to use Google Street anymore to enjoy the recordings, but will be able to hear them on their cell phones or in their cars. This will eventually be called RADIO. The songs will be downloaded on something called iTunes and burned into shiny metallic looking disks called CD’s. This may all sound like science fiction now, but I predict it will all happen one day.