Busking: a living vs. freedom of art

In Pitt Street Mall, a busker is adjusting his guitar (Photo: Xiaoyu Sun)

Almost every day, we can see a group of people performing in their own styles in the street, with an empty case or box sitting beside them. They have a unified name “Busker”.

When you meet them in the street, will you hustle past as they play or keep patience to enjoy their performance or give money to them showing your support?

It is a free show every day, as audiences feel free to decide whether to give buskers money or not. In that case, what is the meaning of busking for buskers?


“It is more about making people happy than it is about the money”

Mark Riedl is showing his income wearing a satisfied smile after his performance in Hyde Park. (Photo: Xiaoyu Sun)

Mark Riedl is an accomplished 35-year-old singer in Sydney. Performing around Hyde Park and Pitt Street Mall is his daily work.

Singing while playing the guitar represents Mark’s busking style. Since 2006, he has been engaged in busking.

“I did several jobs before, like being a waiter, a salesman or a therapist assistant, but for me those are too boring,” said Mark. “I love music, playing music with passion is a happy job for me!”

However, unlike those normal jobs, busking is not an easy work as it cannot guarantee a steady income for buskers, which primarily depends on audiences’ decision.

“I regard busking as an art, but it does not mean I will tip all buskers,” says Olga Vatrubel, an audience member who gave Mark money after seeing the performance. “I will tip them only if their performances make me feel good.”

Tips given by audiences constitute buskers’ income, which is an issue of concern for buskers. “I used to get $150 a day if I performed well but now it is not easy to reach the same income even if I show a good performance,” Mark says in a calm voice.

“In this high-tech society, I feel honoured to make some pedestrians stop and enjoy my singing, and this is their support for me,” wearing a satisfied smile, Mark points at a black guitar case which shows a few coins.

“No matter audiences give me money or not, they usually smile. And that smile is worth just as much to me as the money in my case,” Mark said.“It is more about making people happy than it is about the money.”

Next step, Mark expressed that he would travel to London and perform there. “I just wanna make more people happy through my performance in the future.”


“Busking is a good way for me to communicate with people as my English is not good enough”

 

Compared to singing, drawing in the street is one typical style of busking that needs audiences to keep patient.

In front of the skating fountain located in Martin Place, Leonardo Uribe, a busker from Colombia, was squatting on the ground quietly and carefully adjusting his painting which is about two pandas eating bamboos.

No singing, no dancing, only the rushing water from the fountain improvised an accompaniment to his performance.

“Busking is my full-time job and I have done it for five years since I came to Sydney,” Leonardo said.

“Hey, watch it through the camera, please!” He was reminding audiences with enthusiasm to enjoy his painting through a camera with a 3D function.

“Usually, when people enjoy watching my painting through camera which could make the painting more stereo, they will tip me,” said Leonardo. “If it is a good day, I will have $100-150 income.”

Unfortunately, it began to rain at around 3pm. Leonardo had to finish his work ahead of time.

“It is important for me to have enough money to survive here, busking is a good way to help me with it,” Leonardo expressed.

“Also, busking is a good way for me to communicate with people as my English is not good enough for communication in other regular jobs.” 

In that case, audiences would give buskers money because they feel sorry for them. Flora Greenshields, a visitor from Canada, showed, “When I see buskers in the street, I give them money mostly because I want to help and support them.”

“Sometimes I can feel that some audiences think I am homeless, but I do not mind it,” said Leonardo.

“I am used to doing busking, making it a way to communicate with people. For me, it is art communication.”


Buskers in Sydney need further support

Buskers have been a longstanding feature of city’s cultural scene but their performances are being regarded as noises by businesses.

“It can motivate customers to our shop in some extent, but it is too noisy for us as we also play music in the shop,” said Lydia Hronis, a senior staff from Strandbags shop which is in Pitt Street Mall.

The noisy complaints are mentioned in the discussion paper from the council’s Busking in the City of Sydney,which aims to collect the public views on busking to help with the current busking policy review. Other issues including busking locations or an audition process for buskers are also discussed in the paper.

Busking is a controversial issue in the city, further support is needed to balance the needs of buskers and businesses.

Linda Scott, the Labor Councillor from the City of Sydney, says,

“I am committed to building a City of Sydney that is more fun. I strongly support the City’s role in ensuring performance artists have spaces to play and perform.”

In addition, “The City needs to simplify regulatory processes underpinning busking in Sydney, as well as providing buskers with promotional support.” She added.

Related Contents:

Technology, terrorism and stingy audiences pose a challenge to buskers in Sydney

Buskers unplugged by ban on amplified performance fear Melbourne’s vibe will suffer

Sydney looks to change the way its busking works

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