BuskerWorld In The New York Times!

It’s happened again!  Another victory for buskers and the image of street performance thanks to Busker World and its rapidly growing network.

Johnnie Mac, right, plays the Didgeridoo while busking with a local musician in Prague

This success came from a most unlikely source – mainstream media being the ally this time. And not just your average daily newspaper, I might add.   A couple of weeks ago Matt Gross from the New York Times contacted me and asked if I would do an interview.  I almost fell off my chair!   Since then everyone has been saying… “how the heck did you manage that”.  My answer… “I didn’t do anything… he contacted me!” After hearing that excited and enthusiastic question so many times over the last couple of weeks, it got me thinking.  Why did the New York Times contact ME??? And my conclusion is very exciting for you and me both.

Busking is fast becoming a respected, appreciated and even a (who would’ve thought) desired career choice. Career being the key word! From the emails and comments I receive (just take a look at the comments at the end of the NY Times article to see what I mean), people are actually starting to value the gift that a busker offers.  More and more people are appreciating the creative and artistic side of busking. Some people are even understanding just how much courage it takes for a busker to put himself/herself out there in front of a crowd who haven’t specifically come out to watch them.  Until now, (a time when a widespread change of attitude is developing – and about time to I reckon), a busker had to face judgement from the masses who were presuming that this person is begging or most certainly, down and out.  The artistic skills were overlooked 99% of the time.  What a relief it is that the mindset is changing so positively… and so rapidly.  Bring it on I say!  Street performers… get excited and gear yourself up for a surge of opportunities.

About the interview… it includes some great info on busking and a part of my story that you haven’t heard before. I also talk about how I found success playing mostly my own original music. This is a debatable subject for buskers who think the only way to become successful on the street is to play cover songs.  Matt also covered how busking tied in with my on-stage music career.  He even added a few of my songs to the article. How cool is that!  So when someone tells you that you’re crazy to get out there and busk – that it will dampen your image, you can smile and let that comment slide like water off a ducks back!

Here’s the link to the New York Times Busking Story

So what next? To put this into perspective – for an unknown, independent Aussie musician, let alone a busker (for goodness sake!!!), to get their name and music into a major US newspaper is practically unheard of. So now I have to capitalise on this moment… put my promoters cap on and do the job that the record company would do… that is send a press release out (highlighting the NY Times interview of course) to every newspaper, radio and TV station I can think of. Stay tuned to see what evolves next.Similar Posts:

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Busking In Darwin-Chapter Two

As you can see from some of the blogs I have been posting one of the great things about performing on the street is that when you get out and start busking classic events seem to pop up out of nowhere. Here is another special event for me  I experienced that only came about as a result of busking. This story begins with a street performance in the Smith St Mall in Darwin’s city center. It was late in the evening when this event occurred and it could really have only happened in a place such as the Northern Territory in Tropical Australia. As I sang, a couple of indigenous folk came up to have a listen and asked if they could play a song or two. (See photo, Eric and Mary come to have a yarn, listen to my music and play a few songs)

Now I’ve had many buskers voice their opinion on the topic of should you or should u not encourage the passerby to have a bash on YOUR guitar. Some buskers are dead set against it as they don’t want just any TOM Cruise, DICK Smith or HARRY Potter playing THEIR instrument. I’ve never had a problem with it, and not a single difficulty even if people happen to be a bit drunk. In fact my experience is that I earn more money when they play than if I play as they usually have a heap of friends with them who egg them on. I’ve found that people respect your pitch and your instrument and after a few songs give it back and rejoin the crowd. I generally tell buskers that if they are worried about their instrument then they should use an old guitar or instrument that can handle a bit of rough stuff. This allows the performer to feel comfortable and at ease instead of nervous or concerned that the instrument is going to get damaged because everyone’s having a good time and people are fighting to play a song. If your relaxed about it then so too will be your audience and the end result is that everyone has a great time.

Busking with the local Larakia folk was no different on this occasion but it was special because Eric from the Darwin mob sang in his own language and told me his own story and that of his girl, Mary. There is something haunting about an acoustic guitar and the indigenous vocal put together on a barmy evening on a city bench in Darwin. It kind of fits in totally with the local vibe and makes great sense when you hear it. The pathos in the vocal, tinged with the sadness of their people is prevalent, so too is the simplicity of the song structure and message, yet together at that moment regardless of the quality of musicianship or performance it hits straight through to your heart and you suddenly connect with the story/struggle of indigenous Australia.

Yet in spite of this kind of “tragic” connection I also felt the awesome power of their ancient culture and a wisdom for the way they continue to practice it. We work our guts out 9-5, 5,6,7 days a week and watch them sitting around and shake our heads saying “ why don’t they do more”!! They watch us and think “ why don’t they stop for a bit”!!! Eric told me that he sings about what they do, ….sitting with family, cousins and relatives talking smoking and drinking, passing on stories about their culture. Eric was saying “ it ain’t no different now to what it’s always been. We are here, now, and we’re just enjoying our nature and environment by the river bed or near the sea as we have done for thousands of years. People say we ain’t got culture anymore but this is our culture, we collect the bush tucker and paint our stories as well and sing our songs, nowadays with a guitar.

It ain’t no different johnnie, it ain’t no different. We watch you fellas and think …don’t you guys ever learn, you movin around so fast doin your business u never see nothing, u so busy u never hear nothing and then u gotta die and what have you experienced……you can’t tell cause it was too fast, you forgot your story you fellas and now your runnin around like a mad emu tryin ta find it, where’s it gone? What is it…your story…..your identity….Im still waiting for one of you mad fellas to slow down long enough so I can bloody well see who you are , meet you, hear what it is you are doin and simply get to know and understand you……then maybe we can get along a bit better eh, then maybe we can understand each other. You singin a different tune to most white fellas Johnnie. I ain’t heard many fellas sing like what you do and do it out here, on the street, I think your doin a good thing. Now sing me that Nicotine Dreaming one again while I try and find a smoke to humour you ”.

Eric and Mary taught me more about myself and Australia in half an hour than I had learned in all my history subjects at school or university. I was blown away by this lesson, a lesson that has come to me from many indigenous people I’ve met over the years yet so few of us experience or understand it. The message is clear for me and if it wasn’t for busking I would have missed this treasured experience again. Each indigenous person I hear it from tells it slightly differently but with the same fundamental story line. It has often been the case that my songs that reflect my experience with indigenous Australia have been able to connect me to Australia’s indigenous people. They said “we don’t often come up to white fellas and do this but we heard you singing about Namatjira and felt you, johnnie, must be an OK bloke to talk with”.

Eric tells me his story

Throughout my travels I’ve found that music breaks down cultural barriers and helps heal the wounds of the past. On that barmy night in Darwin it was music again through busking that connected myself, wife and kids with this indigenous couple and helped us to see and hear their story.

If only other Aussies could stop for long enough to do this perhaps we could overcome some of the negatives that we are currently facing with indigenous Australia and its people at present and maybe….just maybe have a little bit more understanding for the present situation we are all facing in this country regarding these issues.

Photo Below shows Eric singing his emotive stories. Smith Street Mall, Darwin 2009

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Busking in Darwin Capter 1

Busking in Darwin Chapter 1

Hi folks

Its been a crazy ride for me over the year as you have seen with my best friend dying and me breaking my leg just as I hit number one with a few of my songs. Since then it’s been a whole lot more crazy with press (this week I did an interview with The New York Times), gigs and radio ect. So a little while ago Mikey and I decided the family had to get away to one of our favourite bush hiding places about 3 hours south of Darwin to help us rejuvenate and recover from some of the things us and the kids have been through. Now….how does this relate to busking.

Well…..Darwin is a great place to go to do a bit of street performance in the Australian winter as its warm and dry and has some amazing cultural history and natural environments. As we are heading towards that time of the year again it’s a good time for you to be planning to go to Darwin now. From a busking perspective Darwin also has heaps of tourists and tourism drawcards that create great potential for the everyday street performer. Of great interest to my wife in the Northern Territory is its many hot springs. Coincidently, these are what my broken leg desired to help it heal.

My tip for you today comes in response to the many buskers who have made a comment to me recently about some of my Aussie busking video tips. I have heard regular remarks such as “hey it’s so easy for  you in Australia, nice climate, friendly people, quiet country towns etc, but over here in the real world we’ve got beggars, bobbies, pimps and muggers and people who hate us with a passion, busking ain’t that easy”. Well I know that’s a common occurrence, I’ve also experienced that all over the world. However I’ve chosen to raise my kids in a country that has a great standard of living so it’s been easy for me to live and perform in Australia most of my life. However, when I am overseas I now head for the areas in amongst the cities and towns that aren’t such a struggle. But this wasn’t always the case for me. I performed in some weird and way out places when I first began performing both on the street and on stage (Outer Mongolia, The Gobi Dessert, Siberia, Moscow and  Eastern Europe at a time when Perestroika had only just begun its period of influence. Due to my experiences I now ask the questions “why make it hard for yourself”?  and surely, if you are wanting to make a living from Busking, then why go to areas where people don’t appear to have that much money to give?.

It can be a huge mindset hurdle to lift yourself out of a difficult environment particularly if it’s where you were born or where you have made a home with your kids and family, However, if you can make the break and get out of your difficult environment then go for it. I did have to leave my home town and family to find my way when I was starting out and I now live away from my home city of Sydney because of lifestyle choice. And I have had to shift home and move across country with my kids to follow my rock n roll dream. It’s hard to make that decision to break free but once you do its fantastic to finally find yourself where you want to be.

Now where am I ….OH .most importantly Darwin….it has by chance some impressive busking spots and a great system that rewards the genuine and/or dedicated busker. Add to this the great weather in the middle seasons of the year which makes it ideal all day for street performance. You can busk early in the morning and late into the evening in total comfort. The early bird is rewarded through the local tourist information service where you can pick up one of only 3 busking licences that are available each day. Once 3 have been issued then that’s it for that day, so you have to be one of the first 3 to apply on any given day or you miss out on the licence. It costs you a paltry $2.50 for the licence, which is only valid for that day of issue, so you’d better make sure you get out of bed before all the other buskers. This sets you up to busk all day if you want in Smith St Mall in the heart of town, which is very small and hard to get lost in. You can also busk outside the tourist drawcard Crocosaurus after it closes at around 7pm. It’s a great main street locality with restaurants, pubs, shops and bars up and down this strip. It has a big enclave off the street with plenty of room for you to belt it out well out of the way of the passers by. I found that after 9pm was a good time here when everyone going past was a bit tipsy and had a full belly so the mood was Party time.

Another great locality in Darwin is the Mindle Markets. The markets run from the last week in April until the end of October. The market is open on Thursday from 5pm-10 pm and Sunday 4pm – 9pm and is a real mecca for the locals and the tourists alike with many interesting indigenous performers as well as other busking acts from all over the world. The markets are located within a 15-20min walk from the city, Shuttle buses pick up at a regular basis from major hotels, A taxi from the city will cost approx $10.00. Public buses connect the markets to the City and Northern Suburbs. Bus number 4 goes directly to Mindil Market. Call 08 89813454 to enquire about how you can get a busking spot. Stay tuned now folks as next blog will be Darwin part two and a wonderful story of some more great things that can happen when you take on life as a street performer.

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