Social security is “any government system that provides monetary assistance to people with an inadequate or no income.” – from the “Social security” Wikipedia article
Being born in Lebanon, welfare is a strange and non-existing concept; “Wait a minute … the state helping me? Right.” For the past 2 years since I was living in Germany, I got more exposed to the busking culture, as in street performers accepting and mostly relying on gratuities. While it’s common to think of buskers as homeless and poor, the busking community seeks to show that’s mostly a misconception and a generalization that takes away from the art form itself. If busking is so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? Here are some points to be considered:
- 1- Knowing the “Buskers’ Code”
Major cities like London and New York have official busking rules co-written by street performers, councils, businesses and the police – a performing permit could also be mandatory (for example in New York). The code discusses points about the performance itself, avoiding complaints, how to communicate and work together with other buskers, respecting public spaces in a way that’s not disruptive to others, etc. More on that: http://buskinlondon.com/code
- 2- Busking setup / equipment
In general, buskers use trolleys to drag around their equipment, and battery-powered amps or portable generators for power. It is usually much more elaborate than simply carrying your acoustic and playing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” next to your house. A useful post on that: http://www.streetmusician.co.uk/buskingpower/
- 3- Knowing your audience, time of performance and music style/mood
Are you playing calm music at 7 AM for workers hopping on the Metro, Rock/Metal music in a crowded street at noon, or Traditional Folk nearby a touristic attraction in the afternoon? These types of decisions affect your reach, your income, and the feedback / following you get.
- 4- Self confidence, skills, output
Busking can be harder than playing in a band as you are the sole performer responsible for providing both the entertainment and the entire sound: do you have enough material and good musicianship (including vocals if it’s not instrumental) to attract passersby? A recent discussion I’ve had with many musicians is that the global music market is heading towards less “bands” and more “solo or duo performers”. Perhaps busking is a goldmine for talent scouts …
So where does welfare come into play then? Remember those Rock movies where a musician “drops it all and follows his Rockstar dreams”? Well we always thought that was ridiculous in Lebanon, as homelessness is certainly the endpoint to that storyline. However, in Europe, I found that it is certainly possible to have many “Rockstar dreams” experiences as there is always the safety net of welfare / social security. It’s not uncommon that a normal person, like you and me, ends up on friends’ couches or even the pavement for some time, mostly if the person is between jobs and the bank account is meanwhile drained to the ground.
I have seen young people who do not look homeless at all on the streets, being homeless for some time, with a guitar in hand and a cup in front of them, getting through this “minor ordeal” with great peace of mind, because sooner or later, after applying to welfare, “a person receiving Hartz IV benefits is paid 399 EUR (2015) a month for living expenses plus the cost of adequate housing (including heating) and health care.” (read more here). Ain’t that comforting! You could (somewhat) live with that 400 Euros a month (plus the money you make busking…), at least enough to pursue your Rock dreams “for a little while” without worrying about going full homeless without a chance to make it out again. Take a year off, collect that paycheck and go live your Rockstar dreams on the government’s expense! Worst case scenario, pack your equipment, go to a couple of meetings, brush up on your previous work skills and get right back in the industry!