By David Morin
I am often asked why I continue to busk when I have access to so many opportunities to play in venues and I understand why people are perplexed. Most people may think it’s a low-brow form of entertainment, and in all honesty they are partially correct, but mostly I think, incorrect. I quit my job in 2010 to play music full-time. If it wasn’t for the cold hard streets, I wouldn’t have the fans, the amazing team, and the loyal management I have today. I treat busking like a small business and every season my business grows exponentially.
People are used to a certain aesthetic when digesting an artist and there is nothing glamorous about street performing. It is a dirty job and it’s easy to become amalgamated into the street. I often feel like I’m overlooked and seen as another permanent fixture in the city, like a lamp post or a fire hydrant, and there is nothing terribly interesting about a waste basket or a parking meter.! Suffice to say, busking as an art form is not appealing to the larger proportion of performers, but herein lies the challenge and reward. Of course, I initially had my doubts about setting up my pitch as a means of survival, but the wisdom, experience, and opportunities I have accumulated along the way have proven invaluable.
First, busking is an ingenious marketing strategy. I’m not very good with numbers, but on average I impose myself to roughly a thousand people an hour. All these people are potential fans. Marketing companies pay top dollar to market products on the street (gum, soft drinks, snacks, etc..), and I get to do it at next to no cost.
Busking has also made me a better performer. My friends and colleagues frequently note that they have witnessed me grow as a performer, singer, and guitarist since I hit the streets. I play everyday and treat busking as exercise, keeping my voice and creative mind in top-notch shape. Some of the most talented people I know owe their incredible skills to the street (I know a guy that can juggle a baby). It takes thousands of hours to achieve what these people have accomplished. I believe busking exercises your body, as well as every cognitive ability you have. You must be your own bouncer, your own accountant, your own lawyer––all while maintaining an audience’s interest. To any aspiring artis, I recommend they challenge themselves to be vulnerable. Get outside and become a better performer.
Busking’s lessons have also given me confidence, not only as an artist, but mostly, as a human being. When I started, I was infatuated with the fact that I could make enough money to pay my rent and live quite comfortably–– yet I still had no idea how beneficial my new business was going to be for my entire being. As I progressed and started to really iron out my performances, I started to make more money, and began hosting larger crowds. It was actually becoming somewhat glamorous. This was when the real magic began: I realized the lack of stage divide allowed everyone to come up and shake my hand. I could feel the humanity. I could feel the warmth from people who, before, had seemed so cold and disconnected. I was on the receiving end of hugs and kisses and I could feel the effect it had on me, and on those around me. It was a show for the people and I could see all the social dogmas fade away. I would watch as a single mother and a homeless man exchanged smiles; as a businessman and a street vendor would start dancing. I began to realize that this was bigger than me. It is about community.
I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s cheesy because it’s true. Not only did I find myself increasing my abilities as a musician, I was learning how to be compassionate, caring and a man all the wiser.
Yet busking can also be a dangerous job. I’ve had to protect myself from drunk people, physical threats, thieves and the overall craziness of the street. I’ve also had to defend myself against those sworn to protect me. In September 2011, the day after my birthday, I decided to go out and play on my favorite corner. I hadn’t even finished setting up my gear when I was approached by police officers. They told me to stand against the wall and confiscated my gear. They took almost everything. My laptop, guitar, loop pedal, microphones, cables and speaker. All that was left were a few CDs on the ground. I was arrested that day.
You see, in my city, you may not perform on the street without a permit, and what people here aren’t aware of is this disclaimer: No permits will be issued for voice amplification. I had to hire a lawyer and defend a criminal charge: Mischief (yes, that is an actual law) under a subsection that stated I was “obstructing the lawful enjoyment of public space.” I was devastated, and also offended, that the city thought I was not adding to the enjoyment of public space. Ultimately the city of Vancouver decided to wave the charges with conditions; those conditions being that I couldn’t be within a two-block radius of the entire street.
To be fair, I should also point out I’ve busked before and after my arrest a great many times without any issues with the law, in fact, the tide seems to be turning in our favour and the mood on the streets feels way better with the police than it used to.
Ultimately, being a busker requires tough skin, but the benefits far outweigh the dangers. You realize this when you see a homeless man who has nothing put what little money he has into your guitar case, and you know you changed his moment.
Debut Single News
‘Life Goes On’
Single Release: 2nd March 2015