So, we're trying this new performance tactic. Actually it's not all that new, but it's the first time I've tried it in New York City. I used to do it a lot while I was living in Tulsa mostly during the first Friday art walks in the Brady Arts District. Jake and I met our friend in New Orleans to do it for a week during Mardi Gras season. We each have a license to do it in Chicago. What is it?
We've been playing music for strangers in the streets and in the subway tunnels with a box in front of us in hopes that people enjoy what they hear and want to throw us tips. It's called street performance or "busking."
We've made more money busking the past two days than we have at any of the three bar gigs we played last week. In the past I would have reacted really strongly and negatively towards the venues, faulting them and society for not valuing good music. But the thing is that cash is a piece of paper that represents something. Often in my life it has represented time: the time I'm willing to watch over a place and help anybody should they come in, or the amount of time I cook sandwiches for people or slice their carrots into pretty little ribbons. But in this case it's real human value. We're not really asking people or expecting people to give us anything. We're welcoming them into our world. I'm hoping that I bring enough value to their experience while waiting for the train that they want to reciprocate by giving me a bank note that I can use for something that's important to me.
Over time I'm certain that this rate will increase because our act will improve. We've very deliberately decided to implement a few tactics to expedite improvement:
2-mile rule: All performances will take place within two miles of our home to better build a community following. Bushwick is growing in population, especially the millenial, music-loving, self-employed, time-flexible population. There's a lot of opportunity for business owners and creators like me.
Repertory sets: We've noticed that people respond faster and with more enthusiasm to songs that have recently been on the billboard charts. We're now supplementing our current set list (which is composed of about 40 songs ranging 60 years) with songs from the past 10 years. Eventually we will have sets for all types of themes: 90's nights, dance music, classic rock, Americana... but always songs we like and enjoy playing.
Practical contexts: We need to be somewhere we can be heard. Yesterday The Pizza Bats ventured to Times Square and nobody could hear us, everyone was on their way somewhere, and the bright screens outshone us. There were hoards of people but nobody understood what we were doing. The subway tunnels are great because it's not unusual to see performers there, the acoustics are super awesome for harmonizing, and there's just enough wait time between trains for someone to decide if we bring them value or not.
I would say there's one more necessity to expedite our improvement, and that's experimentation. For the first time ever I'm experimenting with presenting myself solely as a vocalist. I used to refuse to perform without my guitar, which was actually a representation of being fearful of criticism. So I'm doing that, but ultimately I want to get a battery-powered amplification system (there aren't electric outlets in the NYC subways) to amplify the bass or to run produced drum and synthesizer tracks through Ableton Live, as well as a microphone or two. We will continue to experiment with instrumentation using whatever we have access to, which right now is, guitar, bass, computers, and voices.
Best wishes to you all,