People often come up to me and tell me I’m very brave for standing out in the street and playing. Actually, if you really think about it, does busking take bravery? What is bravery? Some dictionaries define it as courageous behaviour. So, what’s courage? Again, a dictionary would say the ability to do something frightening. Another definition is strength in the face of pain or grief.
So from this I can understand that bravery is feeling afraid of something bad happening but performing anyway. But what’s there to be afraid of really? Maybe the people who have to listen to me won’t like what I play? Why is that a bad thing? Is the bad thing the potential to be criticised and then to experience pain? Why do we feel pain just because someone else doesn’t like what they hear? For every 1 person that doesn’t like it, there are probably 10 or more that do. So really, worrying about 1 person criticising us is just focusing on a negative thing that might not even happen. What’s the point in that?
On a rare occasion a kid will walk by with their fingers in their ears making a face at me, or some old guy will come up to me and tell me to stop playing a particular song because he thinks it’s boring. But I’ve been busking long enough to know what works and what doesn’t so I don’t actually care what those people think. Why should I? I know that my opinion about my music is far more important than some stranger walking by.
standing on the street performing in front of some strangers who you will probably never see again is really not that big of a deal.
People who don’t play an instrument (or have another talent) think busking takes courage because they are imagining themselves trying to doing it. They see in themselves that they would worry about all the people walking by and project that fear onto me (or another busker).
I sometimes make a bum note or squeak when playing, or don’t have perfect bowing every time. When you’re busking it doesn’t matter because people walk by and aren’t listening too intently. Or sometimes people who are listening the whole time still think you’ve played everything note perfect. We are our harshest critics. I know I’ve had days where I’ll make a face because I don’t like how I’ve played something, but people will still come up to me and say I sound wonderful. It just tells you we all perceive the performance differently. Since we’re talking about performance, it might help to compare busking with something else, like being on stage. In this instance, the main difference between busking and a booked performance on stage is the potential to ruin your career.
If you’re playing in front of complete strangers who may or may not be listening to you, it will have little impact on your career. This is because you can just pick your stuff up and go to another city and play in front of different strangers. But if you’re playing solo in the Royal Albert Hall, for example, with thousands of people watching you intently and you play badly that’s a problem. People will complain about your bad performance and that will impact your career because they won’t buy tickets again (or they might ask for their money back). Loss of a following is something to be afraid of if you depend on it for your income. There is more pressure to play perfectly in that situation. So, you could say it does take some courage to play on stage, especially as a solo act.
That knowledge is what real confidence is. Busking with confidence is easy once you change your mind-set. So no, I’m not brave for standing in the street with my fiddle and playing a few tunes. I’m just doing my job!
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think it takes bravery to busk? Write in the comments below!
I am an American British violinist and fiddle player. I play full time as a street musician in addition to the live gigs I perform with several bands.