I’ve been playing on the streets of Europe for the past few weeks. It has been interesting. My scriptwriting teacher used to say, you can’t say nice or interesting cause that doesn’t mean anything. Let me elaborate what I mean by interesting.
First of all, people talk to me! They tell me if they like what they see and hear. Even if I just sit somewhere and practise, they come to talk to me. Some just want to try a few chords on the guitar, some want to hear me sing. They tell me what they want from life or just pass by and thank me for letting them play.
I’ve been offered a gig too. Maybe next time if I stay longer in Vienna I’ll consider. Some people come and ask for their favourite song. That’s a bit tricky, frankly because I might not know the chords. If that’s the case, I try to come up with something that we both know. They sing along and we have fun. Yeah, some people stare, but that’s okay. So far the most fun was to watch a small girl with her mother while I was singing 4 Non Blondes’ What’s up. She was so alive, just there in the moment, dancing in circles and stopping occasionally to get some coins from her mother and to put it into my hat. It was so much fun to watch her.
The other thing is that I found the most interesting and here comes the lesson in sales, the people I think will give me money, they don’t. And all the ones that I think that no, that person will not give me any money, will give me money usually. To put it short, don’t sell to the people you think will buy your product, sell it to the people who you think are least likely to buy it. Or something like that.
I can’t say that I’ve had any epiphanies or anything. More or less my experiences so far reinforced my belief that music is not about me, it’s about them, the audience. A good performer makes the audience feel special. And well, since you never know what you gonna get on a street, I think it’s a great place to learn to try to really entertain and forget about yourself.
It took me almost a week to pick up the courage to play on the street. I did a pretty good job convincing myself that I wont do it cause it’s illegal in Hungary, but that was not the real reason. I really was afraid, afraid that my life would never be the same, that I’d dunno… that I’d pass the point of no return in screenwriting terms.
In the end it wasn’t that difficult. Well the first step was. It’s like in snowboarding when you drop into the untouched slope in front of you. At first you are afraid that the mountain will come down on you and you wont survive it. After a while you realise that your fear is receding, you are alive, nothing happened,the fear is gone and you focus on the ride.
It was Friday, around 3 pm and I deliberately chose the Nyugati subway station in Budapest, because I knew there would be plenty people around. When I arrived there were already musicians in the spot that I though would be ideal. Relieved and disappointed at the same time, I went to the nearby shopping mall to wipe my nose. I was contemplating about giving in and just leaving. Leave all this to another day. I knew that there would not be another day, if I walked away now, I would not come back. I would by a plane ticket home and that it. I finally realised that I owe it to myself that I try.
I walked back to see the musician leaving. I asked them if there had been any trouble or anything when they played on the streets since it’s illegal, with 2 policeman patrolling the area. They said the only thing happened to them was that last year someone, police or whomever took their names and addresses, but nothing happened. I thanked them They wished me good luck and I wished them the same.
I got out my guitar. I tried to tune it. I didn’t realise I will not hear anything, only the noise of people passing by. So much for tuning. Never mind, I thought, it’s anyhow barely audible. I put my hat on the floor in front of me with some change and my water bottle in it.
With shaking hands I stroke the first chord. D major. I don’t remember what I was thinking, there was just this weird sensation, butterflies in my stomach, you name it… Yes, I was nervous. I sang a few lines and 3 ladies approached me. They asked me to sing their names and in return they’d bring me good luck. I tried my best, which at the time wasn’t much. I was still too focused on myself and too terrified. Anyhow, they seemed happy with it and they left, dropping a few coins in my hat.
Then I tried again. “I have climbed the highest mountains…”and so on, on and on. I realised I have to focus on the people passing by, I understood that no matter what I sing, frogs are unlike to come out of my throat. And as far as my guitar playing, well, it was just crap, but that also improved as time passed.
I was happy that the guitar was in my hand. I felt it was a shield that I could relax into. I noticed my shoulders relaxing, I noticed how my whole body started to sing and I also noticed how my mind started to calm. Like a mantra I was telling myself just watch the people and so I did. I messed up in the words, in the chords, in everything probably, but none of that mattered.
I loved to see the reactions of the people, a young girl that passed by took the phone from her ear and held it out in front of me, a guy who was working on the other side came to talk to me, asked if I can play Highway to hell. He told me how nice it was to hear me sing and how much better he felt doing his job, which was handing out flyers. A 6 year old kid stopped in front of me and stared for a few minutes. I asked him if he wanted to try, he shook his head, he was so scared. Some people passed by and gave me some coins. A lady that was definitely a tourist gave me my first paper money. 500 HUFs, about 1.80 in euros. I kept singing the same 4 songs all over again, I was still nervous and I seemed to forgot all the other songs. But I figured none of that mattered. The people weren’t there long enough to know, at least not most of them. The police patrol was standing on the other side, they didn’t seem to be interested in what I was doing. Then a middle aged gentleman came and put some money in between my guitar strings. I discovered they were 10 Swiss francs. All in all I stayed for less then an hour. I made less then 10 euros, but it was never about he money.
I was so happy with the fact that I did stand there and I did it. I wasn’t passing any judgements or at least not too much on how I was actually doing. The most terrifying part was over, the first step. Although I keep hearing in my head the sentence that someone told me after my first and only jump from an airplane. “The first jump is easier, you don’t know exactly what you are up against, the second one is the hardest, you know exactly what to expect”. I sort of agree with him, that’s exactly the reason I never jumped again. But that’s another story.
I did asked in the beginning of the week from a guard in Deák Ferenc tér how is it really with busking. He said, you’d need a permit. I asked from where can I get a permit, he told me the particular place, a different on for each district, then he added they don’t give out permits for playing music. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? For a short while I was considering selling socks while playing. I guess there is no need for that, just start to play and move on if they tell you to.
Now I’m in Vienna, it’s a public holiday, the streets are quiet. Yesterday I did something that I haven’t done before either, I went and practised in the nearby park. Nobody seemed to be bothered on the contrary, a guy walked up to me and asked if he could try.
What I learned from this? Many things, most of all it was again a clear example of how nothing really is as our head is trying to tell us. I should definitely take that second jump.
And since in Vienna, I do think this is a great song a good singer and no, it’s not because he is a bearded lady or whatnot…