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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Column: Stay tuned

If you are an up-and-coming musician and have chosen to bless the world with your unique and refined talent you must not take this decision lightly. Street musicianship is not a job; it’s a lifestyle. Well, hopefully it’s not a job. Stay in school, kids.

There are two types of street musicians. Well really, there are far more than just two, but we will speak in grand generalizations to save time.

The first is the artist with something to prove. This wandering soul seeks to convince the audience and themselves that they have something worth sharing. This works as a wonderful motivator in the beginning. The quest for validation drives the performer forward, and with each compliment or sizable tip the artist feels a fierce rush of ambition, every tidbit of praise fueling the search for the next. This cycle however can easily crumble.

The problem is that if the market is flooded with compliments, their value starts to decrease at an alarming rate. Before you know it, praise will be expected and you will receive it, not with grace and appreciation, but instead with the air of someone collecting their monthly paycheck. Do not let yourself fall into this routine of entitlement.

The second type of street musician stands on more solid ground. This musician separates him or herself from their work, and feels pride in their craft in the same way a parent might when hearing that their child is succeeding. This sense of pride rarely deteriorates into entitlement.

Question your motivations. Obviously what you seek foremost is to be seen as a music maker: bringer of joy and inspiration to those going about daily tasks, shedding meaning onto otherwise drab lives, creating art! Unfortunately there are often other roles you unintentionally fill.

These include: conversation disturber, space taker and in the rare but not unheard of case, dirty hippy. You must embrace all of these roles in order to feel truly comfortable playing on the streets.

You must also realize, that in the nature of all art, you will never be appreciated by everyone. On your best day, there will still be someone nearby who finds your performance incessant and distracting, and on your worst you will be ignored.

But as those who intend to take up the trade of entertaining strangers, you must understand that sometimes, for whatever reason, you will be virtually invisible to the public you have subjected yourself to.

I deal with this confusing douse of insecurity by assuming there is something wrong with my audience; but again, this tactic is only necessary if you feel entitled to their acknowledgment.

The trick is to remain separate enough from your music that you can appreciate it as if you were a member of your audience. As a chef you would want to enjoy the taste of your own food without getting fat; it is the same with music.

So now that you have considered the philosophical nature of your desire to perform for the public, where do you go from here? Personally I feel the simplest solution is to start small.

Sit in a corner and play guitar quietly. Maybe mumble a bit of your favorite song while avoiding eye contact with anyone who passes. If you have stage fright, this method has the added benefit of everyone being too weirded out to approach you.

Second step is to dress well enough to deter assumptions that you’re homeless. Nothing too fancy — take a shower before you leave, perhaps wear shoes. This step is important in allowing you to maintain your small corner of public space without some store owner or other public authority explaining to you that you can’t sleep here.

Step three is to ignore the first step. There’s no point in being quiet or humble. Relax and feel confident! You might as well, if you embarrassed yourself then it was a good learning experience, and if you’re under 25 like me, even the strangers who aren’t your biggest fans are generally pretty merciful.

Remember that while street performance requires a symbiotic relationship with its audience, you are also doing this for yourself. Sharing your talent with strangers can be exhilarating.

So get out there! Risk looking stupid, don’t get kicked off private property and add some melody to the world.


To win a rap battle, challenge ELLY OLTERSDORF at eroltersdorf@gmail.com.



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