Busking in Sydney: Earlybirds and People-watchers


London, UK
In my continuing quest for better busking, I came to the conclusion that getting up and out into the world early would be a good thing. There would be people getting to work and this time, with a slightly more positive attitude, I could catch some morning work, read and relax during the day, followed by a second session at lunchtime. The early bird catches the worm and the early busker catches the rush hour.

My plan was to work 8 - 9 at Sydney's Central Station, a leisurely stroll into town and to arrive at my usual spot in Martin place for an early setup, a little reading and to be ready for the lunchtime rush. Breakfast got in the way. At the hostel, the kitchen opens at 7.30 or thereabouts. I had breakfast. And the lassitude of a full stomach kicked in. Consequently, my 'early' morning set didn't actually start until 8.50am. Not the most professional start to the day methinks

In the tunnel environment, the acoustics are just as sweet as I remember from my initial, less than stellar foray into Railway square. It allows playing with less pressure. The quality of the sound predisposes one towards more balladry and softer pieces. Anything too loud or frenetic would just jar the audience as it would resonate far too loudly. I didn't expect to make much money from this spot because people were hurrying by, so I decided to try a few non-musical things out. Instead of standing, looking downwards at the floor or my case, I decided to eyeball the audience to see what I could observe on this particular occasion, especially as I was in a particularly good mood.

The first thing I noticed is that 8.50 - 10am is not an ideal time to busk. The early waves are full of people who're desperately trying to get to work on time or to that 9am lecture. This rush is followed by a lull in the traffic just after the hour. Students come in waves and groups with assorted others. The rest of the time there is just much less people traffic.

People-watching Observations

The Furtives:
Furtives scurry as far away from you and eye contact as the possibly can manage. Catching their eye surprises them and makes them flee for the safety of the far side of the tunnel. I get the feeling that they do occasionally give money to buskers just as long as you don't notice them doing it.

The Flirtives:
Flirtives reach for and hold eye contact as they walk by, often with a slow cheeky smile itching for release at the corner of their mouths. They do not give you money. Their amusement comes from a little eye contact and a smile with the sax player. I wonder whether they actually like the music or just that they consider the saxophone to be a sexy instrument? My guess is that I could be playing "ba ba blacksheep" and it wouldn't make that much difference. I am not complaining, just observing. A flirty smile can put some a little bounce in your tune. There are a couple of things to this. If someone smiles at me, I have a tendency to smile back. This is slightly problematic when playing a wind instrument. Secondly, as I ponder what they might be smiling at, it is incredibly easy to lose your place in whatever piece of music you're playing.

The All-seeing, Non-hearing:
Plugged into hands-free phone kits, or earphones, eyes glazed in fixed focus on a point far into the distance, these are the automatons who charge through the public transport system in standby. Their facial expressions betray nothing of whether they actually enjoy what they're listening to. They stop for nothing, they travel alone, trapped in the forcefield between their earphones and permanently in thrall to the god of mp3 players. These are the sleepers. The ones who wouldn't notice the second coming of Christ unless it was announced by podcast or on facebook. The outside world passes them by. They are not concerned. I have heard it said "because the real world sounds like crap"

Those who feel:
I think those are the same as the small-smilers of previous notes. They slow down, smile or in some way show that they have been reached. Sometimes they nod, or wave but you can see they have been touched in some way.

The ...almost...People:
You see them slow down or even stop. They look as if they've come to some sort of decision. They approach, you meet their eyes briefly and witness conflict within. They aren't sure what they should do, flash an apologetic smile and then hurry off. To them I would say "just say it", even if it is to say 'nice music' or 'I hate saxophones'. No harm can come of it.

They surprise me from time to time. The odd one has stopped and dropped some money into my case. These are the quiet ones. The ones who walk a little alone or step away from the group to put some money into your case. They are the quiet ones. The watchful ones who see beyond their peer group, pimples and latest pop-star crush.

Today there were more thanks and the occasional word of encouragement. Additionally, in one unusual exchange, a man dropped 50c, stopped, came back and asked if I had $2 change to exchange for a $5 note. He spoke a little of other music he had heard on the streets and appreciated the bluesy-ness of the saxophone. Later that evening, while practicing really boring but necessary stuff in the park, I encountered him again as he walked his dogs and he came over to say hello again. A lot of light shone through this man.
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