I'm sitting at The Steaming Cup in Waukesha, WI just chilling waiting to start performing my music set here this evening.
It's about 6pm on a gorgeous summer evening. The sun is still out but beginning it's decent. I was fortunate to spend most of the earlier part of today with my two little boys at the beach.
I sit with my cappuccino looking out at downtown Waukesha, which has been revitalized since I grew up here into a great little Arts scene full of art galleries, eateries, wine and traditional bars, and coffee shops, and many establishments host live music at least sometime each week.
I had some realizations as I sat and pondered my thoughts...
When I grew up in Waukesha I used to come downtown here to the original Sprizzo coffeehouse location to play open mic night every week. It's one of the first places I got my music performing start.
Side note...in my opinion the original Sprizzo was the first Arts-related coffeehouse in downtown Waukesha when it opened in the '90's. It changed owners a few times and eventually moved across the street into a newer space before ceasing to exist in 2015. There is a positive arts vibe here in downtown Waukesha that I realize now was really just getting going when I was in my formidable years here. At the time I didn't even know what I was a part of. Now it's a thriving Arts community for other generations.
It used to be I couldn't wait to get out of Waukesha, but I do wish I could have grown up starting my music career with the downtown as Arts focused as it is today. However, I am humbled to have had the good fortune to really start my music and Arts career here. Just by having the opportunity to be a musician, book gigs, promote those shows and sell tapes (yes, tapes) and then CDs, and do so among friends who were doing similar things -- we all learned a ton about being entrepreneurial artists and marketers. That experience has been invaluable.
I guess what I'm most proud to see in Waukesha's downtown is that the Arts are winning there, economically. It's still tough to make a living making music, but in downtown Waukesha it's embraced a little more than in other places. Knowing I have contributed to, and continue to have the opportunity to participate in, the Waukesha Arts scene puts a smile on my face.
These days Madison, WI is truly home with an unmatched vibe and music community, but I'm thankful for having the Arts experiences and exposure I had growing up in Waukesha.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
There is something very vulnerable and invigorating about being naked in front of a crowd.
I don't mean that kind of naked. I'm talking about busking as a musician.
In this case it was just me and my acoustic guitar -- no microphone or PA system to amplify the sound for the outdoors. Totally stripped down and naked...at least as naked as I prefer to be in public.
I had a great experience busking recently at the Hilldale Farmers Market this past Saturday morning. It was a rather hot summer day, but worth enduring the heat.
I played my tunes in a stripped down fashion without any amplification for those milling about to each vendor's booth buying fresh produce and baked goods.
As a musician, busking feels a little awkward at first because you're not really the main attraction, it's not necessarily your show like at a club venue where people come specifically to see you perform. In some ways you feel like you're interrupting the market attendees' shopping experience.
However, as soon as you start playing that feeling subsides and it's replaced with a feeling that you're actually enhancing their experience. It's kind of like going to a store to shop and they have music playing over the speakers while you browse the shelves for items you want to purchase. Only, in this case, it's a live musician, which is more engaging.
Busking is fun as a musician because you can quickly tell if people have interest in your music. When they're interested they typical stop to listen for a while or you can see people bobbing their head to the rhythm of the song you're playing. A really nice indication that they like your music is when people drop a few bucks into your tip jar.
When this happens, as a musician, it's important to thank people for giving you a tip even in the middle of the song you're playing, or at least give them a nod to indicate that you saw them give you a tip and that you appreciate it.
In college I used to busk regularly downtown especially in the fall when the new school year started and there was a lot of people around (I live in the college town of Madison, WI).
As a young college student coming into my own as a singer/songwriter, busking was a great time to work out the kinks in new songs. It's like practice with a live audience, and because people are going about their business most are only partially listening so if you make some mistakes as you play no one but you would likely notice.
If you're a musician working on your chops I recommend busking somewhat regularly as a method of practicing. If you pay attention you'll be able to spot which of your songs resonate well with audiences, you can work out set list orders and simply practice your songs. You'll probably even make a few bucks too. I remember as a poor college student busking was always a way to make some quick cash.
Busking for a musician is like conducting market research or utilizing a focus group to perfect your product -- your music and performance -- for your audience. Busking falls into the "honing" portion of honing one's craft. Truth be told, you have to put in the work to get better and better, and if you do, it will be obvious to others.
Thanks for the great experience Hilldale Farmers Market! I hope to be back soon.
Next stop on my summer of shows, I'll be performing at The Steaming Cup coffeehouse in my old stomping grounds of Waukesha, WI. Sat. Aug. 11, 2018, beginning at 7pm. Be sure to come on out.
posted by Nick Venturella
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