I remember my first time street performing. As I wheeled my piano out onto the street, I felt the fear creeping slowly in from the periphery. As people gathered to watch me, I felt the pressure of putting myself and my true passion on display, open to the judgment and critique of every stranger that passed. It’s been over five years since I started performing in public places all over the world, and I know most street musicians will agree with me that playing music out in the open is one of the most rewarding experiences a performer can have. Some people believe that it takes a certain type of personality to be a street performer, but that’s not necessarily true.
No matter who you are and what kind of experience you have in life, getting started performing on the street can be a lot easier with some of these skills under your belt. Obviously, you’ll want to hone your craft and become ever more masterful with whatever performance you’re doing, whether it’s singing, playing an instrument, dancing, acting, or doing magic.
Then, with hours or even years of practice under your belt and a desire to bring your art into the world for all to enjoy, here are a few skills that will help you enjoy street performing, and even make some money from your show.
1. Courage: you’ve got to go for it
Let’s get one thing straight: it takes a lot of guts to get out there and put your heart on display in front of countless strangers. There’s no doubt about that. But when it comes down to it, that courage you’re waiting for to get you started isn’t going to come from somewhere external to you. I was terrified when I set up my piano for my first street performance. And while fear is normal in a situation like this, don’t be fooled into believing that having fears makes you a coward. Being courageous doesn’t mean you’re never afraid or intimidated, it means that even when you’re scared out of your wits, you take action anyway. Get out there and share your gift, even if your hands are a little shaky at the start!
2. Confidence: even if you’re faking it
At first glance, it may seem like confidence would be an outcome of street performing, not a prerequisite. Unfortunately, a lack of confidence is usually what keeps people from performing at all. And if you’re on the street sharing your art with the expectation that it will build your confidence, you may be sorely disappointed.
The truth is, you never know how people will react to your music. They may love it, they may hate it, they may not understand it. There are any number of reasons people react the way they do to a street performance, and relying on strangers to boost your confidence is a dangerous gamble.
Instead, do what you can to show up to your street performance with confidence. If you’ve made your way to a busy park or public square with your instrument or your art, chances are you’ve already got some skill. At the very least, you probably have something to share with the world. Go for it! Share your craft with all the enthusiasm and passion that got you there in the first place, and the rest will follow. If all else fails, there’s always the trusted adage: “fake it ‘til you make it”.
3. Resilience: take the good with the bad
Street performing is a tough gig, and chances are you’ll get some negative reactions no matter how talented you are. Not every kind of music pleases every ear, and you’ll see that different people will react to every street performance differently.
People will like you or they won’t, or they’ll stop and listen or they won’t. Maybe they’ll react, maybe they’ll cheer for you, maybe they’ll be rude and heckle you. The truth is, you have to be able to take the good reactions along with the bad when you perform, perhaps even more so as a street performer.
You never know what’s going to happen when you open yourself up to strangers, but there will also be people who love what you do and the very fact you’re doing it in the open where the world can share your love for music and the joy you’re spreading. If you can learn to bounce back from negativity, you’ll be able to take the good with the bad and continue performing for those who do appreciate you, no matter what unpleasant reactions you might get.
After performing hundreds of times in over 100 cities in 20 countries across the globe, it’s safe to say that I love playing music on the street. There’s no better feeling for me than giving it my all out in front of a big public crowd, spreading the music that I love to the world and sharing that joy with people. Street performing is a different beast than most kinds of professional performance, and some of the most exclusive and advanced training can’t prepare you mentally for what it’s like to put yourself out there. If you’re just getting started with street performing or if you need a bit of a boost in your street performing journey, simply remember these three tips and you might just find the joy in playing for the public all over again.