5 things that go through your mind as a street performer
This year for Bastille Days, I was hired to be a “roving street musician” which required me to walk around and play un-amplified music for people. I quickly found out that it was quite different than performing on a stage, and here are my top 5 things that go through your mind as a street performer.
5. You immediately become envious of “stage” performers
When I stood on the street corner with only my guitar, I immediately looked over at performers on the stage I played on last year and thought “you don’t know how much power you have with amplification” as I strained my voice to try and be loud enough for people to hear me over the crowd of folks walking by. Sometimes I felt more like a nuisance than a benefit to people. As a street performer you don’t really crave tips (tips are always nice) but what you really want is acknowledgement of your existence. You want to know that you matter, that people care, that people like you, and that someone is listening. That’s why the one guy or girl who stands right next to you and listens makes your entire day worth while.
4. You play your “go to song” as often as possible
With people passing through, it’s often beneficial to play something that will catch people’s attention more often, and since your crowd is constantly moving it’s less likely that people will hear you play a song more than once. I played my favorite original “When I See You” at least 3 times per day during my time at Bastille Days and Herman’s Hermits “I’m Into Something Good” at least 3 times a day as well.
3. You develop a relationship with other street performers
At Bastille Days there were multiple other performers who were on the street. Two of them were “living statues”, one of whom set-up across the street in front of me almost every day. She was dressed all in white and never spoke during her “performances”. She was elegant and attracted many people. I felt we developed a connection being on the same level every day and when we did finally get a chance to talk, we had a mutual respect for each other. We were “street performer family”.
2. You desire a human connection
When people constantly pass you by and act like you’re just scenery it’s hard to stay positive. You really do just want to connect with people in some way. I combated this by varying my performance style. Sometimes I would find a quiet spot and just play, and other times I would approach people. I was very careful in my approaches because it was my last goal to creep people out. I would go up to them and explain I was a hired street performer at the festival, state that I wasn’t asking for money, but tips are appreciated, and ask if they wanted to hear some music.
The effectiveness of this varied, but it did help me connect with people. One of my favorite interactions was with 3 college students from out of state. I played them a song or two and then we talked about life, biology, and Pokemon Go for 30 minutes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I definitely played “She Will Be Loved” for 2 high school age girls who only wanted to play Pokemon Go, and I can’t be sure they actually heard any of it. Either way, approaching people helped me feel more connected and helped me feel like someone during my time as a street performer.
1. You develop a groove and get better
On day one, I had no idea where to go or what would work best. I’m pretty sure I walked around for about 45 minutes just trying to find a quiet place to perform. By day 3, I knew all the best places, the best times to play, and the best songs to attract people or interest them. With anything, the more you do it, the better you get, and street performing is no exception.