Is Busking Still A Thing?

February 21, 2018

When I landed in New York City in 2013, I was all energetic, pumped, I couldn’t stay in place. For a little guy coming from Burgundy, France, arriving in such a big city to live your life as a Jazz Singer, this is just the most exciting thing in the world.

As I didn’t know anybody, living in New Jersey, I would go everyday to Manhattan to try to meet people.

By networking in different concerts and making some friends here and there, one of them told me to start busking in Times Square.

It was a long emotional journey for me in order to get there because while I had a strong confidence in my performances, here, I would be unexpected, in the middle of the crowd, without any microphone or anything.

I decided to go in the middle of an improvised terrace on Times Square by the Red Stairs and… Started to sing.

What a strange feeling. You feel happy yet you feel naked, everybody is watching you. Some are delighted, some are bothered, some don’t care… A reaction for everyone.

After that night, I realized how much potential busking had. Not so much that I made money, but it was a direct and kind of forced interaction with a large crowd.

However, you may know me, I am not the guy that goes without a strategy.

At that time, all I wanted was to be signed by a major or be “discovered” because I didn’t know better. Actually, I didn’t know anything. I was young(er) and dumb.

As a matter of fact, I realized that people in Times Square would be tourists and therefore, would never be here to work or “discover” me. Better off going to a place where people live, yet are working in that Industry.

It didn’t take long for me to figure it out: I would sing in front of the Italian restaurant Patsy’s, famously named better restaurant in New York City by Frank Sinatra himself. That place had hundreds of pictures of celebrities on the front window and was a block away from Universal Music Group.

I will not tell you everything that happened here because you would have 10 hours of reading content here but maybe I should make a documentary about it.

To be short, it brought me a lot of opportunities. Between the local mafia asking me to sing for “Cookie” over the phone and giving me $100, to Canadians inviting me to sing for the night in the restaurant, to the owner of Patsy’s offering me tomato sauce after his live performance on TV, to shaking hands with Wynton Marsalis telling me I had “a beautiful voice”…

All this in only a week and a half, 3 hours a night every night. Imagine if I stayed consistent doing this for months…

But believe it or not, I grew tired of doing this. Winter was coming, it started to be cold, the trips between Bayonne, NJ to 59th Street in Manhattan were expensive, I was tired. Really tired.

Do I believe in busking? Absolutely.

Actually, I am fascinated by this experience I had doing it. It is a whole ecosystem out there, with a lot of very talented performers.

For example, the guys you see playing in the Paris’ subway stations actually have to pass an audition in order to be there with their cellos and accordions.

New York City’s Subway (MTA) has a full form for you to sign with special slots available and a fee to pay if you are in need of a speaker for your performance.

However, you are completely free to do anything you want in the streets since you are covered by the first Amendment and you are in a Public space.

Only once, did I have a problem and that was with the bouncer of Universal actually. He came to me when I was on the other side of the building, telling me to “get the f*** off” or he would “break my legs”. Pretty inconvenient but what do you want to do?

I think that in an economy where everything is so digital, that “live” thing is still not dead and can bring a lot of good things if you are talented and have something to offer.

I mean, the Naked Cowboy of Times Square has a full career from that.

Thanks for reading! 🙂 If you enjoyed this article, hit that clap button below ❤ Would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.

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