Archive for August, 2009

Everybody hates muzak or elevator music, so I came up with an alternative: why not trade this awful excuse for music for real live artists?

Wouldn’t it be great if you called a helpdesk, knowing you will have to “hold on for a few minutes” (helpdesk minutes are standardised at 500 seconds), that – instead of an eighties midi-version of a lame Elton John classic – there is a busker on the other side.

Even if he is artistically challenged, it would me more fun to listen to a busker screwing up “Smells like Teenspirit” than at an instrumental lounge version of it.
Hell, he could even ask you what else you’d like to hear him play.

The same goes for elevators. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of hearing the one-finger-piano-version of a Disney-song, you would be welcomed by a busker (dressed like the matching Disney character) when the elevator doors open?

It might get crowded

It might get crowded

Even if the crappy soundsystem in the elevator of your office building doesn’t give off the same amount of smell, I think people would still prefer the busker.

In supermarkets, buskers could play songs and meanwhile announce the discount on tampons in isle 3. Wouldn’t it be nice if you were a regular costumer and the busker would play your favourite song when he sees you entering?

Train stations and subways would be a more friendly place if buskers would kill your time, and ease the pain, while you wait for your connection that’s overdue again.

Though sometimes it makes taking the subway even more scary

Though sometimes it makes taking the subway even more scary

And the best part is… as a listener you don’t even have to pay the busker! Well, you never HAVE to pay a busker, but now you don’t even have to feel guilty about it, because the companies will pay them.

Have you any idea what it costs a company to play licensed crappy music while you starve to death waiting on the phone, or hoping to reach the 52nd floor before you that song gets stuck in your head the next 2 weeks? Well, I don’t either, but it costs more than what a busker would gladly accept for the same task.

Here’s an article from The Washington Post. Apparently these guys thought they weren’t annoying enough simply busking. They had a repetoire of exactly two songs, the kept playing over and over again.

You would think they got the hang of it after a zillion times, but the article says they still sucked!

I can’t stress this enough: expand your repertoire!
I’ve mentioned it a few times in this blog, so look up these posts for usefull hints and tips (I’m to lazy to link ‘m here myself).

2 bothersome buskers banned in English city

The Associated Press
Friday, August 21, 2009 1:18 PM

LONDON — A city in central England says two buskers who plagued a suburb by repeating the same two songs have been banned from performing for two years.

Birmingham City Council said Friday that the men angered residents with late-night and out of tune renditions of two tracks – “Wonderwall” by Oasis and “Faith” by George Michael.

Acoustic guitar player James Ryan, a 40-year-old, and 39-year-old Andrew Cave – who used garbage can lids to accompany Ryan – were banned from busking by a judge at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court.

The pair are barred from entering the Birmingham suburb of Moseley Village and from playing musical instruments there.

The council says both men are also banned from begging anywhere in England or Wales.
© 2009 The Associated Press

Mother and child beggars:

they seem harmless sitting crouched on the pavement with a sleeping baby in their arms. Shaking a worn hand and mumbling something in a foreign language. They usually have a cardboard sign with intentionally bad spelling (unlike this blog, which is spelled badly out of ignorance) about the country they are from and why they need money (usually not to go back). Every week they change the name of the country they’re supposed to come from, depending on which country is in the news because of a war, famine or natural disaster.

It's so sad I can't think of a funny caption. Well I can, but it wouldn't be politically correct.

Why are they your enemies? Well, first of all out of spite: they make more money than you doing nothing. And second because they make use of the same talent you have trained yourself in for years: making people feel sorry for you, so they give money. Yes, I know I said that there was only one thing more sad than a busker, and that’s a busker with a scrappy dog. But that wasn’t entirely true. It really breaks a hard to see a baby sucking it’s mom’s teet, when that mom is only 10 years older then the baby or when she’s in her twenties but looks 50. Make sure people on the street pass YOU first before they see the undynamic duo. They might feel more sorry for them than they do for you. And they do so rightly. These two will probably need the money even more than you do.


A word of advise: don’t busk in streets where prostitutes hunt for the cash of horny men whose wives think “oral” and “anal” are ways to take a medicine. They don’t want to be noticed while trying to walk as fast a they can without actually running. And they will pretend not to notice you. The only way to make money from guys like that is when you call them by name and say “Hi, Walter! What are you doing here?”, so they give you money to keep your mouth shut.

Would you notice a busker when walking through this street?

Would you notice a busker when walking through this street?

Prositutes aren’t really enemies, they just create an atmosphere on the street that keeps people from noticing you. And why would people notice you when there’s half-naked girls standing around you, asking if they want to have a good time?

It’s a classic sight: a busker plays a John Denver evergreen while a scruffy dog feigns to sleep next to an upturned hat.

Since the invention of the sidewalk, buskers have been accompanied by man’s best friend (or in some cases the busker’s only friend).

Though you may look pityful doing your busker thing, there is nothing more heartbreaking than a dog that has to spend it’s life alongside a street performer. And when people feel bad about something, they tend to ease their pain by donating money.

A scruffy dog by your side increases your income. In fact, if you were really honest you had to split the nickle harvest from your guitar case 90%-10%, where 90% goes to your dog.

Its all a question of talent

It's all a question of talent

Sad looking busker dogs attract more people to your performance than those fancy jazz chords no-one seems to notice you incorporate in your songs. But there’s a catch. Remember the anti-humour joke about the shaggy dog? (You can read it here The dog shouldn’t be TOO shaggy. That will just scare people away, afraid to catch a disease when they come too close.

Since Lassie got cancelled, it just went downhill for the poor dog

Since "Lassie" got cancelled, it just went downhill for the poor dog

Here are some guidelines in chosing a dog that’s a fit companion of a busker and the increase/loss of income associated with the dogs features.

This dog wont make you more money

This dog won't make you more money

– Damaged or missing tail: +10% (uncapable of wagging a tail makes a dog look sad)
– Damaged or missing an ear: +10% (looks like he’s been into a fight and lost or possibly had a rough childhood)
– Missing an eye: -10% (a gaping hole in a dogs skull won’t lure kids into throwing you money)
– Wearing a scarf: +10% (enhanced cutenessfactor “Oh, he thinks he’s people!”)
– Bad fur day: +20% (a healthy fur suggests a nice warm home with a bathtub)
– Missing leg: -25% for each paw missing
– Droopy eyes: +25% (this is really one of the best features your dog can have)
– Being able to play dead for hours: +20% (people will think malnutrition took all the life out of the mutt)
– Being skinny: +10% (this is a tricky one. A bit skinny is good, very skinny makes you look like an animal abuser and loses you 50%)
– Being of indiscernible breed: +15% (the cheaper the bastard (sic) looks, the poorer you seem)

Lets do that Howlin wolf cover again

"Let's do that Howlin' wolf cover again"


This post’s title or something resembling it, often finds its way to the Busker’s Handbook mailbox. Well, if you feel that less then 0,1% of all buskers becoming famous is scientific proof that busking is a fastlane to stardom, be my guest.

On the website (pretty fine source for buskers actually)  there’s an elaborate list of famous artists that have busked sometime in their carreer. Nevertheless: not many became famous because they were buskers, but in spite of. Very few of them were discovered on the street while doing their thing.

Don’t expect fame to grab you by the neck and drag you to a major record deal, just because you’re singing a song on the street. What really got most of them to become famous is the fact they knew people. Having a large circle of friends and acquintances, chances are that someone of them has an uncle that owns a club where you can play, or a neighbour who cleans the lavatory in the building of a record company. It’s not the busking that is your ticket to stardom… it’s the people you know that recognise your talent and circle interesting social networks.

The fact that there are famous people who were once buskers, doesn’t mean anything. Just that they haven’t always been famous. Some former presidents of the USA were great horsemen, but who would try to become president by learning to ride a horse?

It all comes down to this:
– Do you busk because it’s a fun way to earn some money? Than by al means enjoy yourself.
– Do you busk to get famous? Busk less and socialise more.

Chances are you know a lot of people as a busker. People who live on the streets, people who clean the streets, people who chase you away, people you owe money to, cops who keep asking for your ID, streetgangs, … But that’s not really the sort of network that will get you a gig or a chance to get heard by a radio jockey or A&R person.

One of the most quoted “busk-to-richess” stories is that of John Bon Jovi. Well, maybe it’s true, maybe he really was discovered while busking and now uses 100 dollar bills to clean up his dog’s poo. But do you really want to be the next Bon Jovi, when these accompanying looks are required?

In the 80s, looking manly was considered gay

In the 80's, looking manly was considered gay, hence this 'straight' rockstar look

Yesterday I and thousands of other people paid big money to … watch a busker perform on a stadium sized stage!
Yes it’s true, hordes of music lovers were glad to pay to watch one man with an acoustic guitar perform for an hour and a half.

Well, sure it was the notorious Pete(r) Doherty of Libertines and Babyshambles fame and not some busker they found on the street. But that made me start to think what does he have that buskers lack?

Talent of course (I’m a bit of a fan myself), as well as a singer, guitar player and songwriter. But how many times haven’t we seen and heard a lowlife busker with skills that could make him the next Bob Dylan?  And I know that according to the press nearly everyone in the vicinity of a guitar is the next Bob Dylan, but evenso…

Anyway, I believe I was able to pinpoint exactly what it was that made us stand in awe for Doherty: his private life. Or what the British excuse for objective newsgathering wants us to believe is his private life. A lot of people weren’t there to hear his songs, but just to see if he would make it to the stage.

-“I heard he’s in jail”
– “No, I read he’s gone cold turkey in a rehab center”
– “You’re full of shit… I just got texted that he doesn’t want to leave his hotel room before someone scores him some crack.”
– “That’s a lot of bull, man! He fell unconsious after painting a canvas with his own blood.”

That’s the kind of conversation that was going on around me.

When he DID arrive (on time even) and he seemed to be in the best shape you can imagine someone like Pete Doherty to be in, there was even an air of disappointment going around.

– “Now I can’t tell my friends he was too cool to show up!”
– “He doesn’t seem to be high either!”
– “Damn… his voice and guitar playing are more than tolerable.”
– “Yeah, what a total rip off. He’s not even drunk.”
– “He might still get arrested for possession.”
– “Yeah you’re right. Let’s watch the rest of the show. He might still do something totally junky.”
– “How does this camera of my cell phone work? Yes, I’m ready: ‘Tell us to fuck off Pete!'”

The Peter Doherty the audience wished to see

The Peter Doherty the audience wished to see

But he didn’t. He loved us and we started to love him as a real artist, not as the drug icon we always read about.

The clean(?) and well-mannered Pete the audience got

The clean(?) and well-mannered Pete the audience got

So what’s the point of this post?

Well, buskers can learn something from this. Build an image: take drugs, date models, get kicked out of airplanes, bars and tv-shows, get arrested, punch photographers in the face, diss other artists, create unconventional art with bodily fluids, …

Maybe most of you already did all this (except the model dating of course), but make a reputation for yourself, even if it is totally fake. And when people come to see that weird asshole they heard some much bad things about, grab there attention, show them what you’re really made of and play a great show!

It works for Pete.

  For a band this means… For a busker this means…
Rehearsing getting together in a soundproof room to play songs over and over again, until you know them by heart and they sound great The same stuff you do on the street, but now in your bedroom
Gig Performing for a paying crowd at a club or venue short for giggle. What girls do when they point at you and call you names
Guitar-solo The instrumental center piece of many songs, featuring virtuoso licks and tapping on an expensive Gibson, while the crowd goes wild and starts demonstrating their air guitar skills When you forget the words to a song and just play the chords until you remember them
Fan Someone who worships you and your music and pays a serious amount of money to prove this a device that blows air around and is hit by shit on a regular basis
groupie a hot chick who wants to sleep with you just because you were on stage Something that only exists in dreams or legends, like unicorns and fairies
recording Committing your songs to tape or hard disk in an expensive studio before they are released on an album that will sell a million copies someone who uses his cellphone to film the street where you happen to be singing
hit when one of your songs is played on every radio and is legally downloaded so many times it hits number one in the charts (1) a famous song of which you play an irrecognisable cover version

(2) What you get in your face for doing (1)