Saturday, June 13, 2009

‘Welcome to the working week’

I hope you don’t mind if I take stock a little at the end of this first week. Thanks for indulging me. I won’t do a review like this again until the project finishes. What I will try and do, though, is produce one feature-type piece over each weekend, looking at an aspect of life underground or something music-related.

So what did I learn in these first five days?

Well, it confirmed two things that I always thought: that playing on the Subway is really hard work, but that New Yorkers – the musicians I’ve come across so far and the people who listen to them – are fundamentally kind and generous.

I’m very grateful for all the encouraging messages, both in the comments and privately.

Some readers have been coming to this from a musical perspective; others from the journalism angle – I hope that wherever you’re coming from you find something interesting as we go along, and thanks again to Play A Little Guitar on the music side and Buzzmachine on the media side for their mentions.

On the blog: I’m pretty happy with the Blogger layout, but I’ll tweak a couple of the sidebar items. I’ve been experimenting with embedding the video clips and it’s worked pretty well using the Flip camera.

I’ve also set up a channel on YouTube where I’ll gather all the clips together as we go along, so if you’re searching for a particular performer but you’re not sure when I wrote about them, you can look on the video channel without scrolling through the whole blog.

I’ll stick to ‘excerpting’ a minute or less of each artist just to give readers a sense of what they sound like. Also, the shorter clips load up much quicker, especially on laptops or smart phones.

I always ask the performers’ permission to video them, and if they say no then of course I’ll respect that.

Some days as we go on, there might not be any video at all.

As for my own busking experience, a couple of lessons:

• It’s only going to get hotter in New York, so complaining about the heat and humidity is pointless.
• I have light gauge strings on both the guitars but I don’t think they’re going to be robust enough. I’ll give them another week then I might swap them out for Mediums.
• When choosing a location to play at, the acoustics are what’s really important – stations vary widely in terms of how busy they are, both in train and passenger traffic, but if no-one can hear you, then it’s a bit self-defeating.
• Having someone say “sounds good, man” is every bit as rewarding as having them put a quarter in the case. Having them sing along and put a quarter in the case is even better.

Next week I thought I’d try something I’m calling “BuskerCam” – I’ll tape the video camera to my shirt and you can watch people’s reactions as I play. I might just do that for one song and see how it goes.

Please get in touch if you have any suggestions or ideas that could make this a more fun and enjoyable ride for all of us. And, of course, if you’ve seen a good subway musician, let me know.

So thanks again for reading. And for all buskers everywhere, there’s always the chance - the remotest beautiful chance – that something like this can happen…


  1. The busker cam is a great idea. Hope it elicits some funny, off the cuff responses.

  2. Steve, thanks for the busking Springsteen video - that had to be around '81 or '82, I remember that so well - he was my first concert.

    I've been enjoying your blogposts, and I'm looking forward to more, especially the BuskerCam. Sorry I don't comment more, but I do read every entry.

    It's a far cry from my little part of Arkansas, but the one time I visited the Big Aple, I enjoyed the subway & the colorful [+rather scary] characters down there. It really feels like the pulse of the city is down there, and the music naturally flows thru that pulse.

    Take care and be safe down in the belly of NYC, my friend!

  3. As usual, I am always pleased with your posts. The BuskerCam definitely seems like a neat idea.

    Keep rockin, haha.

  4. That's what a call a good idea. The busker camera is much better, because we might go beyond imagination and actually see what's going on the underground.
    Why don't you try a songlist based according to what you see? I mean, the songs you see people tapping their feet, or nodding their head while you're playing. My suggestion is for you to set up a song list with, let me say, "greatest underground sons so far".
    The point is to check if passers by stop more often. Then you create another songlist with less hits.
    This might give you a hint, not only journalistic, but musically, to know what people like, and why they stop by just to listen to you.
    I'm planning to wacth your videos on the weekend, because I usually read your blog through Google Reader at my office...
    Have a nice day