The Art of Busking and Why People Do It: Hongdae, Seoul edition
Did you know that one of the biggest award-winning artists of today, the Ed Sheeran, started off busking?! Yes. Before the glamour and the famous friends, the Brit Award winner slept rough on the London Underground, with his guitar and some equipment, crashing his mates’ sofas. “I’d sleep on the circle line and gig in the evenings,” he said. Who would’ve known that the songs that never go unheard in weddings used to only be heard in the evenings in the Tube in London?
In the world of performance, the streets are the great equalizer. There’s no subjective audition process, no application filtering, no prejudice, for a spot on the stage – but there’s also no guarantee of a steady paycheck. Still, ask a young street performer – also called a ‘busker’ – why they do it, and the answer will likely be simple and the same: “It makes me happy.”
“[Busking] is a way for people to interact with each other only using sounds and gestures, and without any prejudice.” Oh Gwang-seon, regular busker
We found ourselves in the city of Seoul, and due to popular demand, we paid a visit to the youthful and vibrant streets of Hongdae. Famous for its youthful ambience, unique cafes, dance clubs, fashion outlets, and busking, it’s so alive with culture and love for music. It sure left an impression with us, and we soon understood why these streets were the talk of the town.
Busking an opportunity for musicians, artists, and music lovers to do what they love, sharpen their skills, and prepare for a chance at a big break. Very few people can make enough money of live off busking alone – if they make money at all – but it has led to some big things for some young musicians. Among many, Rod Stewart, Robin Williams, Jewel, and many more.
But more importantly, busking brings an intimate connection between the performer and the audience. It’s more than just a platform for artists to showcase their talents, it was a place for them to hone their passion for music, and really reach out to the people who enjoy it merely for their own genuine enjoyment too.
Hongdae is frequented by Korean youths, and it’s probably also because, unlike in many other cities, Korea doesn’t regulate busking culture. It’s an important channel through which future professional artists directly interact with potential fans. Even tourists from all over the world are compelled to stop, watch, and listen, because it is undeniably hard to resist – catchy music, happy performers, and engaging crowds. It’s really unlike anything you’d see anywhere else!
Although some may see street performers as nuisances disturbing their peaceful mid-day walks, for others it’s a treat that they may not otherwise get. Busking brings free Live music to everyone no matter who they are or how much money they have, though donations keep these talented musicians coming back. It’s the most honest way to get good feedback on sound, as opposed to a concert where everybody who’s there for the most part already paid to watch, already fans, and already invested before the band plays a note. On the streets, you get to really see the raw reactions of the audience, and they owe the band nothing, and it’s a genuine representation of what the band is doing musically. It’s the freedom of choice that makes all the difference, and most musicians find that more rewarding. Some artists and musicians have even insisted that playing on the street has gotten them more opportunities than playing in clubs has.
For some musicians, busking is more than just a passing phase, it’s something they love doing. And to a music lover and an avid entertainment geek, busking is a tremendously overlooked art form. Imagine what street performers can gain: exposure, a surprisingly diverse fan base, other paid performance opportunities, paid practice time in front of a live audience, and more. The things that can be earned from underrated things such as street performing, if a musician really works at it.