Saturday, July 31, 2010

C.ash R.ules E.verything A.round M.e

OK, no more writing about fascists and stuff for a while, it's basically a major downer and if you want to know more about that sort of thing you should probably watch Schindler's List. Because let's face it, Spielberg has a bunch of interns to do his research for him and all I have is google and a propensity to flesh out my hunches by making things up.

Instead, today's post is about how hilariously easy it is to make money in this town by going 'on the busk,' as we put it in musician language. A lot of towns hate buskers, and consider them to be a problem akin to sewer rats or football hooligans. In London, for example, if you play music on the street you are just as likely to get set on fire by street kids or arrested for treason as you are to be given actual cash money, and if they do give you money it's likely to be foreign. In Berlin, though, they treat you almost like they would treat a normal person, and when they give you money it is done with good grace and in respectable quantities.

Here's the thing, though: unless there is more than one of you, or you have an awesome trick like the ability to set yourself on fire or dislocate all your joints at once, there's not much point in standing on the street noodling away on an old Neil Young song waiting for the good folk of Berlin to pay you. Tried that, total waste of time. I would have made more money fishing empty beer bottles out of the canal. If you're like me (and I understand that I am in many ways a typical example of my kind) the way to work it is to go to the cafes, of which there are about seven million in Berlin. What you do is, you go ask the bar staff if you can play a couple of songs. Mostly they say yes, sometimes they say no, quite often they ask to hear a bit of music to make sure that you're not going to be playing Pantera covers. If alles is gut, you go outside to where the tables are, you introduce yourself, play two or three songs, then pass a hat around.

If somebody tried this in New Zealand, they would either get ignored, punched, or told to get a real job, depending what suburb or time of night it was. In Berlin, what happens is people stop talking, look up, applaud, give you money, and buy your CDs. Perhaps they don't have very good TV here or something, but these people are totally ready to be entertained. I don't really have much perspective beyond my own experience (you can put that on my headstone if you want) but I've noticed that it helps if people know you're playing your own stuff, and I also hand out flyers for my 'proper' shows, which I think is useful as well. Being from New Zealand I think is a good thing too, because often people think that I'm a hobbit of some kind and if they give me money I will be able to cure their diseased livestock or place curses on their neighbours. Also I have a hat with a crow's feather stuck in the band, which is my secret weapon.

For tax reasons, I cannot reveal exactly how much you can make per hour with this method, but I can say that on average it is more than a nurse and less than a doctor. It seems to work best between the hours of about seven and ten pm, which is pretty much my ideal workday. Nothing much cool happens here before about 10:30 (or 2230 uhr, as we say in the Deutsch), and daytimes are for cycling around aimlessly taking photographs of Soviet architectural monstrosities, so there's about three spare hours in there for honest toil if you're up for it.

This is what it looks like when you empty out your guitar case at the end of the evening.

The great thing about busking as a way of earning your keep is that the rewards are immediate and tangible. Instead of waiting two weeks for a paycheck, you get one every ten minutes or so, in jingling cash. This is wonderful if, like me, you have an inner troll who really likes counting money, and placing it in piles ten euros high.

I am a little bit worried though that some damn knight will find my lair and kill me and steal my hoard.


  1. Soon you'll be able to swim through it, Scrooge McDuck style...

  2. In Barcelona its the old gypsy women and the capoeria guys who get money from people at outside tables. I have had quite a few experiences of looking up from my coffee cup to see a foot flying past my face.