People complain about and ignore buskers all the time. They say these street musicians are no better than beggars (which is absolutely untrue, lookup the definition), that if these people were truly talented they wouldn’t be on the street (also untrue, please see Joshua Bell video), or that it’s not worth the time to watch to them perform in order to determine if they actually are talented and deserve your hard-earned dollar. These people don’t know what they’re missing, are just plain wrong, and I’ll give you five reasons why.
Number One: The Artists. Many busking musicians are actually highly talented and respected artists, believe it or not. Their presence in the community adds ambience and artistic flavor to your local park, train stop, or neighborhood street. You could be passing by another Joshua Bell (one of the best violinists in the world who played at a D.C. metro stop, and only a few people out of more than a thousand paid him any attention).
Number Two: Amateurs. On the other hand, a lot of street performers are new or inexperienced musicians who are learning to perform in front of people for the first time ever. This is a learning experience for them, enabling them to not only overcome any stage fright they might have but also teaching them about how to market themselves, an invaluable lesson in entrepreneurship if they hope to make music their career. It is also just a time for them to practice and enjoy some time with their instrument. If they happen to earn some money while playing, then all the better! Especially when it comes to child buskers. While many kids work part-time service industry jobs for minimum wage or babysit for $5-10 an hour, as busking musicians they could be earning up to $50 an hour to put towards college or a better instrument.
Number Three: Supporting The Arts. How many people actually pay the full recommended amount when going to a museum or historical landmark or public concert? How many people can actually afford the cost of tickets to all the concerts they want to go to? Not many people, and unfortunately, the arts suffer for it. The phrase “starving artist” doesn’t come from nowhere; the cost of an instrument, a case to protect it, equipment to maintain it, lessons, are all rather hefty expenses on top of the cost of living. Be generous and toss a street performer a buck or two. Show appreciation for their love of their craft. You might just be buying them dinner, or contributing to their child’s birthday present, or even just helping them get to the next town over.
Number Four: Entry into the Workforce. For many musicians, playing music is not a hobby, it is their life, their livelihood. Musicians have to constantly scramble to find their next gig, even top level musicians, like Stevie Wonder’s backing band, have to hunt to make sure they’ll have income when a tour or a season ends. I’ve never heard of a career musician only having one gig at a time, so for many of these professionals, busking is a way to make up the loss of income between jobs. Often times an artist can get discovered while busking, or, at least, get hired for a future gig.
Number Five: Pleasure. You might just enjoy yourself. No, seriously.
It is true that not all buskers are worth your time. Many are in fact without talent, possibly the person playing an empty bottle as if it’s a drum for hours, or the bum outside the corner liquor store drunkenly mistreating his dilapidated guitar for more booze money. But people do need to stop and smell the roses every once in a while. Take a gamble on the next street musician you see. Give a little listen.