It was a gloriously sunny day yesterday – perfect for busking at the festival. I arrived just before 11 am to find my spot by the castle and start playing. I had to ask one of the other buskers where to go. Luckily the organiser was nearby. He ticked my name off the list and showed me where to set up. I’ve never played at a busking festival before. I’m used to just showing up wherever and whenever I feel like (of course within the requirements of local councils). Some friends of mine were also busking there and we ended up in direct competition with each other, which wasn’t ideal.
My audience was waiting for me before I even started!
People came into town knowing there was a busking festival on, so there was an unusual amount of interest in what I was going to play. Normally people are curious when I start setting up, but they don’t gather around in a semi-circle. I managed to get set up pretty quickly like always. I could hear the other players start their sets in the distance as I was setting up. I brought a friend with me to take some pictures and record some videos, but there ended up being lots of people taking professional photos anyway.
Picking my songs took a little more planning
Since my busking friends were playing Irish tunes on fiddle and guitar, I tried to avoid playing the same type of music as them. We were the first buskers of the day and we were all given a couple of half hour slots. I had half an hour in that spot and half an hour in another spot. It started out a bit slow but I eventually gathered quite a bit of a crowd which was nice. On a normal day, people only pause for a song or two. Sometimes people will sit on nearby benches to listen to me for longer. Also when I’m standing across from a café, people end up listening for a lot longer because they’re eating their lunch. Another novelty was that I got a lot more applause between songs yesterday than I normally do, especially after I moved to my second spot (which was not very far away).
I don’t have a specific set list - I just play whatever I feel like at the time. But since I only had such a short slot I was careful to choose a wide variety of songs so that everything sounded different and exciting. Some slow, some fast. It’s nice when people want to dance when you’re playing as well. At the very least, when they’re tapping their feet or mumbling the words to themselves you know they’re enjoying it.
With so much competition, I was surprised when I heard the clunk of coins dropping into the bucket that the organisers gave me. When you aren’t using your case to collect money, there’s no way to tell how much is in there until the end. That makes it harder to judge how to adjust your playing style to bring in more money. But as long as something was being thrown in there I just had to trust I was doing ok. Surprisingly one of the other buskers even gave me a few coins when I did my second set. My friend told me afterwards that people were commenting that they thought I sounded really good, which is always a nice little confidence booster. Also some people said to me that I have a nice tone to my playing and they enjoyed it. You have to put yourself out there and you never know who’s watching and how the day is going to turn out. But it’s always good to put a smile on people’s faces.
I spent the next two days practicing the songs I was going to play and thinking about what they might ask me. On Thursday I managed to find the studio with lots of time to spare. There was a lot of waiting around and then sudden action while I was there. I brought both my electric and acoustic violins and my bag with amp and cables just in case. It was really difficult dragging it to the studio in the 10-15 minute walk from my parking spot… especially since it was extremely hot that day. I was glad to sit down when I got there!
The interview was pretty straightforward. I did have to weed out a question or two before we started though! It was the interviewer's first time on the radio as well. I was a bit surprised that it was all focused on me and that they didn't ask me anything about the festival itself. That's good though because I didn't know much else besides the basics since I didn't organise it!
I wanted to play my electric violin because it’s a much higher quality instrument than my acoustic. However, the cables they had couldn’t put enough of a signal through the system, so I had to use my acoustic. Also the electric violin has a very flat sound to it because it’s designed to have effects added to it. They wouldn’t have been able to add the effects but they said anything that goes through the radio will have some enhancements to the sound anyway.
So I had to wait with my acoustic while they did the first part of the show. I tried to do a bit of warming up but I was in a very large hallway which carried the sound well. There were also people sitting in that area and I didn’t want to disturb them. Although, one lady commented that she could listen to me all day! I should’ve spent longer tuning my instrument anyway, because my E and A strings went flat and I only noticed it when I was playing Ain't Nobody by Chaka Khan next to the actual studio just before I went on.
I was going to play Quizas, Quizas, Quizas for my first song with backing music. However, when I started to play along, the backing suddenly stopped working. They had to cut it and play a song from the charts while we figured out the solution. They asked me to play my acoustic set first to buy some time so I played a few Irish reels.
I originally imagined that I would be standing to play into a mic, but the mic was connected to the desk so I had to sit to play and lean the violin toward the mic to make sure I could be heard. Was a very awkward position to play in because my bowing hand would occasionally run into the edge of the desk. It’s strange because I normally only play in a studio when I’m recording something. So there are chances to redo what I played if I make a mistake or don’t like how I sound. Also I can adjust my distance from the mic if the playback doesn’t sound quite right. But being on live radio is very different because you just have to keep going. It’s a little nerve-racking knowing it will be recorded that way and you can’t change it afterward.
So the backing tracks were in an app that I use on my tablet. They figured out that they could record them into an mp3 on their system. The technical guy recorded the first one, then played it back and it worked perfectly. So he then recorded the second one and I was ready to play along. When I noticed that my tuning didn’t sound quite right, I tried adjusting my playing to correct it, but that doesn’t always end well!
So after it was all done, we took a group picture (which I will add once I find it). Then I left my equipment there, walked to my car and drove it back to a temporary spot on the university grounds so I didn’t have to drag my stuff all around town again. Glad I now have that experience under my belt.
I want to hear from you!
The recording can be found under the Listen section on the My Music page. Are you a musician who played at the busking festival? Have you played at another busking festival? Or have you played something live on the radio? Write about your experience 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.