*Forget internships. Be a busker.*
A few days ago, the Washington Post did something pretty interesting. They had a world famous concert violinist, Joshua Bell, perform in a DC Metro station to see 1) if people would pay attention and 2) if people would give him money. I don’t want to spoil the article–it’s a great read– but suffice to say, Joshua didn’t do as well as some thought he would.
Now, we’re talking about one of the best violinists in the world. Why didn’t he draw a crowd and rake in the cash? Well, according to one NYC street musician, it’s because, as talented as he is, he doesn’t know how to busk:
In busking you use the passers by as if they were paint and your music is the paint brush - your goal is to create a collective work of art with the people, in the space, in the moment with you and the music. A busker is someone who can turn any place into a stage. Obviously, Joshua Bell needs an actual stage. As a busker one needs to interact with those around, break walls of personal space, and lure people into a collective and spontaneous group experience on the street, in the moment, with you. (Emphasis mine.)
Here’s some other advice from buskers. (Again, the emphasis is always mine). “Huk” says:
What I should have been doing is making it obvious I was from another group of weirdos just as legitimate as a bum but with the flair of a fool. By making it obvious, you do away with the common notion that a street performer or busker is “just another bum”. Let me say here I don’t call anyone “bums”, myself. This is slang but they are very real people including the mentally-ill, handicapped, unemployed, and alcoholics common in Western society. Yet buskers and street performers are often seen in this very dim light. Akin to pan-handlers, buskers must distinguish themselves from the trash can as it were. How often have you found weird stuff in your case? That’s because they thought you were a trash can!
The Great Zoobini says:
Pro-actively seek new places to busk. It is the discouraged busker that puts all their eggs into one basket. Buskers will be at any pitch they’ve seen others performing…including “yours”. Unless you like waiting in lines, always remain flexible by creating new pitches at restaurants, cafes, and tourist spots both indoors and out. Flea-markets and antique shows are also good. Anyplace outdoors is fair game with lots of people around. Some of the best pitches include tourist castles and open-aire shopping malls. Street performers really haven’t any known boundaries.
From Shawn Leban:
Let’s be honest here. If you want to be a successful street performer, you MUST have a good show. You could have the best crowd gathering skills or over 100 witty remarks but if your show sucks, people are not going to stay and watch you. You might get a few gawkers but they will most probably walk off without placing a cent in your hat.
Sound familiar? Any of it? It should. Like buskers, ads must perform in a public space. They must do everything they can to compete for attention in a competitive environment. They have to improvise. They have to constantly shift. They can’t be above looking like a fool to get attention. And they have to make people appreciate the fact that you just interrupted their day. And then, and only then, will those people part with their cash.
If we want to continue to be innovative and successful marketers, if we want to create hoopla instead of just playing “Stairway to Heaven” on the corner, ignored by everyone, we should take a good long hard look at the people who play the streets everyday. Trust me. They’ve got a lot to teach us.
Edit: Good. I’m not the only one making a marketing connection; Seth has some good thoughts here.