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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My chargeable amp ran out of juice last week on the street and I hadn't played completely solo in a few years. It was kind of nice, really. It almost felt like practicing because I had to be much more careful. Also solos had to be chordal and I had to throw more of the original melody in there. In a word, I had to play better. So my question is, do you make more money playing with or without backing tracks. I've probably asked this question before, but I'd like an up to date, post-plague answer.
 

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I play with iReal low enough for me to hear the changes but not loud enough to have any real presence beyond a couple of feet.
 

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Coming from a listener's perspective, I don't like to see any musician play live with backing tracks; whether they're in a club or on the street. It's particularly annoying on the street however, as canned tracks have no soul and permeate the air with what is essentially noise pollution. No, if you're going to essentially beg on the street, you ought to be able to do it without bringing your radio along. Otherwise that buck stays in my pocket.
 

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On the other hand, I was in Washington Square park last summer listening to a drummer and alto sax duo. Although both players were great, it quickly became a bit much for casual park listening. I could have use a chord or two.
 

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In the 70s I saw a street person in London passed out in the subway station with a small battery operated tape deck blaring. A hat for tips was lying by his side.
 

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Yeah, solo is the way to go. I think backing tracks in general are pretty cheesy, especially for something like busking. Fine for practicing and trying stuff over chord changes or just for having fun on your own, but I wouldn't expect others to want to hear me noodling along to a recording.
 

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Some people still think that “backing tracks” means sounds like a cheesy Casio keyboard. But I know players who use tracks of their own that are great; two recorded their own friends with whom they play club gigs. And the play-along software available now is much more sophisticated than it was even a few years ago.

When I hear players who have taken the time to make up recorded arrangements of tunes I appreciate their effort to offer more than what they can do unaccompanied.
 

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I have a two hour tenor sax/drum duo gig tomorrow evening. It’s a Musician Performance Trust Fund gig so it pays $130 a man but I’ll still put my case in front for possible tips.
I go on my scooter and would rather not carry anything more than my horn but I could see playing along with the iRealpro on my iPad. i have little speaker I could link it with.
 

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Pardon the detour. I play on the roof of my condo building all the time. Easy on the ears and great view. Every so often I’m in range of one the various street buskers on horn in this town. Usually they’re engaged in hook laden, recognizable pop to pull in a bill or two. But when two horns start engaging one another it inevitably turns into a nice jam. This is where I get to appreciate just how good these guys really are when they go off script.
 

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I'm not a busker, but I do throw dollars in buskers' cases. I'm much less inclined to do so when there's a backing track but much more inclined to do so when two or more people are playing together (without backing track).

However, a SOTW reader almost certainly isn't representative of the people who throw dollars in buskers cases. Maybe someone doing some irrelevant sop noodling buried in a loud popular song gets the most money of all. I've wondered about this and am curious what actual buskers say about their experience.
 

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My experience is limited and from a number of years ago at this point, but when I used to go on my own, I would get very little. With a sax quartet just sight reading through a big old binder of stuff, we'd pull down pretty decent money in a location with good foot traffic. People really loved that stuff.

One winter break home from college, my brother and I grabbed a couple of other players we knew and read through the same half hour of Christmas tunes arranged for sax quartet (all printed for free from the internet) for about an hour at around 8:00 - 9:00 in the morning at Powell St BART station in downtown SF a few days before Christmas. We hadn't even looked at the sheet music beforehand. I remember we each made somewhere around $100. I would guess that a group that has material ready to go and more ability to interact with an audience could do much better.

I know that I am much more inclined to stop and listen to a group than to a single performer, though maybe a solo performer with a more put together and interesting act than just me noodling on real book tunes would do better.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Coming from a listener's perspective, I don't like to see any musician play live with backing tracks; whether they're in a club or on the street. It's particularly annoying on the street however, as canned tracks have no soul and permeate the air with what is essentially noise pollution. No, if you're going to essentially beg on the street, you ought to be able to do it without bringing your radio along. Otherwise that buck stays in my pocket.
Essentially beg on the street? Where I busk, there are picnic benches and I gather a crowd, No begging.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I know that I am much more inclined to stop and listen to a group than to a single performer, though maybe a solo performer with a more put together and interesting act than just me noodling on real book tunes would do better.
I do play with a group, but I don't play saxophone, I play four string banjo. It's Dixieland band.
 

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Essentially beg on the street? Where I busk, there are picnic benches and I gather a crowd, No begging.
Sorry. I have a different take on this. In my town, buskers are driven more by economic desperation than pleasing the multitudes, and it's clear by their appearance. Generally, their level of talent would also not lead you to contemplate why perhaps they're not engaged elsewhere in a more traditional entertainment setting. And when you think about it, considering that the vast majority of passers-by do not give money to buskers, it is safe to assume that there is a certain level of bother that is inflicted upon their sensibilities by musicians who seek their pocket change. Given that reality, I'm not straying off point by suggesting to do less to annoy them in avoiding the use of backing tracks. But what would truly offend me... and this is perhaps a more straying variance... is that if you don't truly need the money, you shouldn't be out there on the street collecting it.
 

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I have mixed feelings about busking in general. In areas where I live I see a couple of players near the weekly farmer’s market, and in that setting I am not bothered by their presence although I agree solo is best rather than including tracks. I’ve recently been seeing a duo playing on the edge of a big box retail store here, no where near any pedestrian traffic with a sign stating “husband/wife w/4 kids, unemployed please donate” or words to that effect. While I obviously have empathy for this situation, I don’t think it is appropriate in that location to be plunked down playing like that. (My first thought was I’d rather not be hearing Besame Mucho on violin when I’m stopping by the store for milk, but that was purely a musical taste reaction!)
 

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lol.... depends on the type of "busking".

I always just preferred calling up some friends and playing on the streets with horns and sometimes guitar/drums of some sort. I mean, you open a case but you aren't there explicitly to make money. Been a while since I've had that luxury though.
 

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My small city now requires a permit that costs $50 per person per year. That totally killed my sax quartet that I liked to bring out around Christmas for fun. We never did it for the money, but there's no way we would be able to get $200 in tips to break even. Our buskers now are usually lone guitar players with CDs for sale on the side. More of an advertising outlet than anything else. I guess it does keep out the riff raff. But there's a lot of good music that public will never hear. And there's no way for a poor musician down on his/her luck to make any money.
 

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Last year there were riots, the downtown was boarded up. This year it was mostly deserted during the week, spooky scary. Nobody to busk for, businesses struggling, lot's of homeless people. But now that it is warm and some tourist are coming back, I have been on the streets and along the river on the Esplanade, almost every day.

About seven years ago I got beat up pretty bad at 2:30 in the afternoon. Then I was attacked by drunks and a a crazy guy with a tree branch the size of a baseball bat. A week later he buried a claw hammer in a man's head as he pumped gas two blocks away. Off his meds, now in the State Hospital in a straight jacket. Saw it on the news.

In the last few months, it seems like every musician who was sitting in their rooms for a year decided to busk on the Explanade on both side of the river. There are some insanely good players in every style and instrument. Some classical players with music stands, but mostly burning the stuff down from memory.

There was a young lady playing a Viola with a pickup. She had really wide ranging material, lots of chops, beautiful tone. She had a pick-up, small amp and a pedal board. She was looping like mad. As good playing the amp as she was an instrumentalist. But after a while I wished she would just play something straight no effects.

No, no backing tracks for me. It's just stuff to fool with, break or get stolen. I have a tune list, different keys, different forms. I play it down one way one day, and reverse the next. Over time I have arranged intros, then head, one or two choruses of solo, head and segue into the next tune. I never stop, and never look at people.

I play a YTS-23 beater horn I got of craigslist. If some street kids give me grief. I will not hesitate to bury the bow in their skull, and waste the horn on them.

Things have changed, people have changed,and it's not changing back. I got so many compliments today, and people who stop to talk with me, who become so emotional... They feel a burning desire to tell me how the image of the lone sax guy... me self-absorbed spinning out jazz standards... somehow resonates with them. I ignore them with all my might... of I will stand there all day listening to BS.

Making crazy money. Especially women. I am blown away when seriously hot girls and women, of all ages give me money with big grins on their faces, and gunuine enthusiasm. If I was standing there by myself... old white guy in T-**** and jeans, looking like a pervert... not one women would ever even look at me until the end of time. But the horn is a perfect cover for being a old perv... and getting money for it.

I love playing my Trilly-Bluesy Cannonbal lick... so nasty that if you said it in words, you would get your face slapped.

I took my neck off, unstrapped the horn and laid it in the case. I walked down the Esplanade twenty feet to fill my water bottle at a drinking fountain. Turned arund to see a guy on a bike stop and scoop the horn case up! What an idiot. Nicely dressed, nice bike... ***? He rides right up to me, so and I grab the case. It's still open the stack is sticking out. Why did you feel like you needed to touch my horn man? He goes; I was going to find the owner. Well you found him. He said; Prove its yours.

As much as your miserable like is in danger right now... I'm not going to hurt you. He wasn't a complete fool.

Lucky guy. I was so enraged, so adreniline pumped... he would have had a Yamaha logo pressed into his forehead backwards. Maybe I should rethink this. How much does a busking amp weigh? I could waste an amp and not fee bad about it.
 

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Maybe I grew up too much of a city kid, but I just assume that anything I leave in public without locking it down is going to be gone if I go more than a few feet away from it.
 
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