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Busking For Dollars At The Corner

There’s something to be said about small beginnings. Doing something small for a small audience is a good place to start. But, starting anything new is always difficult. Performers need to test the water, to break the ice. We all need to get experience somehow but not at the risk of making ourselves look bad or worse, disappointing your audience. Audiences will only be as forgiving as their level of expectation. The secret is never to promise too much.

After learning to finger pick my first guitar chord, I wrote a gritty, poetic one chord song and performed it on stage for a small crowd at a downtown Toronto coffee house. Roberta Richards, a Canadian music impressario who became a cult legend mentoring folk artists like Dan Hill and Leon Redbone, was there that night. Wonderfully talented musician play in bands practicing for months in their basement without ever taking a single booking. I broke every rule in the book by performing that night but somehow Roberta was impressed..

It’s hard to know when you’re ready. There is, after all, an audience for everything and everyone. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Getting an audience isn’t hard; any circus sideshow can do that. You don’t have to be perfect to be heard and to be liked. One of the best kept secrets in the music industry is if you do what you do well audiences will always take you at face value. They don’t know how much you know or don’t know, what you can or cannot play. As long as you do whatever you do well - no matter how little that may be - an audience will respond to what they hear. If they find you interesting and they like what they hear, they’ll stick around. If they don’t like what they hear, they’ll leave. It’s as simple as that.

The critics hated Bob Dylan. He sang two and three chord songs that sounded like gibberish. They didn’t understand stream of conscious writing and the “sound” that would make him famous. But, there’s no accounting for taste. Audiences didn’t try to analyze Dylan’s songs. They related to what he had to say. What drew them most of all was the impregnable aura of mystery that surrounded him.

Inspired by Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, Dylan started performing folk songs at coffeehouses in New York’s Greenwich Village. Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg said he, “wept hearing ‘Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall’”. Bob Dylan wrote the Beat poetry of a new generation. His stream of consciousness imagery was the most exciting, subversive thing in the air. Dylan became folk music's Elvis. The folk scene embraced him.

It wasn’t long before Columbia Records A&R man John Hammond signed him in 1961. Peter, Paul & Mary made his song "Blowin' in the Wind" a huge pop hit in 1963. And by the time "The Times They Are A-Changin'" was released in early 1964, Dylan's song writing was clearly influenced by rythm and blues inspired by the British Invasion and his new friends the Beatles. With artistic achievement that stretch over 30 years, Dylan refuses to categorize his music as being the voice of anything although those of us who lived in that era had our eyes and ears open.

You may not be Bob Dylan but write a few songs anyway. Play a folk guitar if you have to. The more you learn, the better you get, the larger your audience and following will become. Eventually, you’ll get good enough to be paid even if it’s busking for dollars at the corner.

Dennis Walsh
progressofmusic@hotmail.com

Submitted by:

Dennis Walsh

See all of his articles at http://www/progressofmusic.com/articles.htm




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