In November it will be a whole year since I first started busking. It all started innocently enough (you can read about my first experience here) and has grown and grown since then. I can even begin to describe all the experiences I’ve had busking, not to mention the number of cities I’ve busked in – Zagreb, Paris, Strasbourg, Pamplona, Barcelona, the Croatian coast… When my mum became ill recently and I had to urgently come to Australia I vowed that I would try my hand at busking in Sydney too.
So I did a bit of research before I left (thank God for Google!) and found that I needed a permit and could obtain a quarterly one for the rock bottom price of $AUD 12. Cool! So in the first week of my arrival here I hopped on a train to Town Hall and went to the City of Sydney Council. The permit is on the 2nd floor of the building and I take the stairs and grab a number from the ticket machine. D458. ping! I’m next. The lovely fey guy at the desk asks me how I am and what I require today. A busking permit, please, I pipe back handing him my filled in form. He looks the form through and comments “Ukulele, eh?” “Yeah”, I chuckle back. He then photocopies my passport, takes my photo and $12 and hey, presto! hands me my permit. Yeah, me is happy! I already plan to busk on Sunday.
Sunday arrives. I wake up bright and early at 6am (it takes 4 hours for your voice to wake up), have breakfast, do a few warm-up exercises and hop on a train to Town Hall. Once I arrive there I have no idea where to busk but see that the spot in front of the QVB, which is just across the road, is free and decide to set up shop. After setting up, I say a little prayer, take a deep breath and start with “Somewhere over the rainbow”.
Now usually, “Somewhere over the rainbow” is a show stopper that always makes the most money wherever I’m busking. But not in Sydney. So I play “White sandy beach”, another show stopper. And yet again, not a penny in sight. Sigh! But finally, with “Imagine” a bit of cash starts flowing in, 20c to be exact! But the guy does comment that I have a lovely ukulele (I love a man who appreciates Mya Myrtle) and a lovely voice. It was worth the 20c. And so it went on and in an hour and half I made a grand total of $15. Wow! I make at least twice that in Zagreb, as well as sell some CDs, in Strasbourg I made €45 in less than an hour and yet, in one of the most prosperous cities in the world I made $AUD15 in an hour and a half.
I meet up with my dear friend and fellow uke enthusiast Ross and discuss the matter with him. What the f? I have already made some conclusions of my own (the acoustics were TERRIBLE on one of the most traffic congested intersections in Sydney) and many of the people were there just to cross the road, not to listen to a lonely ukulele playing busker. But Ross explained the matter further. Most of the people on that intersection were walking mean streets in a dog-eat-dog town where most of their thoughts were concerned with mortgages, school fees and the like. This was the perfect city to try a Joshua Bell experiment.
And that’s why I love busking so much. Not one session is like another, even in Zagreb where I play each Saturday. Each session is different and each is a learning and growing experience. This Sunday I learnt that the Sydney audience is one of the toughest, if not THE toughest I’ve ever had (which I had assumed beforehand) and if you want your message to be heard bring an amp with you (which every other busker had). So next Sunday I’m going busking in Hyde Park. There might not be as much two-legged and four-wheeled traffic as at the QVB but the atmosphere is greener, quieter and more up BlackMary’s alley