Busking the Internet
In 1993 I made this video and put it on the internet hoping to get work as a street performer at international festivals.
There used to be a short clip at the very beginning, now located on some 20 year old hard drive that is buried in storage, where I came at the camera doing this strange dance and saying “I’m coming into you living room”.
It ended with the kiss that this video starts with.
Back in 1994, a 3.4 MB video took several hours to download, so I took the 5 second arty bit at the front off to reduce the file size and get to the montage so I could sell my show. It was my first internet video, made out of VHS and Hi8 formats shot on tourist grade cameras and crunchy as hell. It took weeks to edit on my 9 GB Avid Media Suite Pro. The computer was so big I had to build a room for it. I paid for it by doing street shows, busking and getting gigs. I figured I should always have a back up career and multimedia was it. I did a lot of digital work for my own projects and continue to do stuff for clients who have been with me for years, designing their packaging, building their websites and producing their videos.
That first on line video of mine worked a treat, so 10 years later I produced another video designed to do the same thing, and it did. The internet was just opening up and I was one of the first to benefit from the exposure that this new medium provided.
Lo Res Version originally posted in 2005:
Hi Res Version Reposted 2010:
As the years have unfolded, the market has changed dramatically and the availability of new and younger talent doing weirder and more wonderful things, usually on poles and requiring a chainsaw or some kind of piercing, has reduced my street level opportunities. Over the past few years I have been concentrating on indoor shows, film, television and cartoons. It is the natural order of things. I still do really fun shows but no where near the number I used to do when I was 35.
This video is my latest offering on the internet for a show that got it’s start 20 years ago. I think I look pretty good! I’ve lost a few kilos since this was shot back in the spring and the video is getting me gigs!
The Need for Speed
I am a performance junkie. I need to create and perform, it is my raison d’être. My mind is awash with an unrelenting arsenal of live performance ideas and, after I weed out the dreck, I need to produce and present them. But as the stability of live opportunities remains an eternal question (think Billy Crystal, Mister Saturday Night), I have needed to find a replacement, so I’ve taken to busking on the internet. It is actually very lucrative and something I never thought would gel, but it has and the results are more satisfying than I could ever have imagined.
A lot of people have said they have tried busking the internet, but this usually involves putting some content or video on a website and then asking for donations. I don’t consider that an approach to busking, just ineffective marketing.
On the street you can do a show and ask people to pay afterwards because they are in front of you and there is a personal connection. I wrote a book about it:
On line, particularly in music, there is an ethos that many follow; “I want it, but I won’t pay for it.” This might be sounding alarm bells for the music industry and can be soul crushing for a performer, so I came up with a way to reverse that trend and make my music and performances pay on line.
For over a year I have been selling a custom song service on Fiverr.com. Fiverr is a controversial place because there is a lot offered there and the range of quality is hugely dramatic. It is also hugely competitive. If a Fiverr artist isn’t careful, they can end up exhausted after months of giving their stuff away for next to nothing, hoping for the payers to come and spend real money. To present a gig on Fiverr means holding fast to your sense of self worth while still providing excellent customer service. It is a delicate balance made more challenging by the fact that you never speak to your client except by message system and sometimes they can just disappear.
Since joining Fiverr, I have generated a customer base of over 300 reliable people and created over 200 songs, ballads, jingles, cartoons , animations and videos for a very diverse selection of clients. I’ve made love songs for guys and girls who want to impress somebody, jingles for podcasts, radio shows, travel companies and product manufacturers to use on their websites and video greeting cards for birthdays, holidays and some unusual project launches. I’ve worked for ad agencies doing voiceovers and in one instance managed to land a $10,000 animation contract for a major industrial player that allowed me to pay talent, rent a pro studio and hire technical assistants for a one day shoot with pro cameras.
All the projects start out as $5 “samples”. The secret here is to have something you can offer that takes only a few minutes (or seconds) to generate. As clients get to know me they start booking the extras that include song writing, additional instruments, extended songs, video, animations and, most importantly, the “express delivery” extra which is where the real money is.
A lot of these projects have mushroomed into full scale productions with professional budgets that get delivered all over the wold. I now have clients in Switzerland, Singapore, Korea, The USA, Holland, Spain, Germany, Sri Lanka Australia and New Zealand, just to name a few and I never have to leave my studio. I have modified my garage to be a mini green screen studio with lighting and an HD camera. I have a costume rack and all kinds of ideas for creating digital magic in a confined space.
This is a song commissioned by a comedy group in New York about Pirate Penguins. They just said, “write a song about penguin pirates”, so I did. Five minutes later I had this. Got a great tip!
This song was created for a guy who wanted to put together an album of children’s songs to be used in his pre school classes. He paid for the first video I ever did in my garage.
This is the video we ended up with.
This jingle video was created for Beemo, who manufacture tablet screens in Malaysia:
And this video, well, this was epic. I made it before I updated the green screen and lights, so there are chromo flaws, but the client wanted to help me upgrade my equipment so he offered this project and paid full price for it. There are 7 characters in it. First, he wrote the words and then he paid for me to compose the music. Then he said, “Do what ever you want, creatively”, so I did. We had a ball…
Live Shows Via Skype
Back in May I was hired as a guest to appear live via Skype at a Theatre in Switzerland singing a custom made song for which I was given the topic 15 minutes before going live. It was such a hit the first time that I got invited back to be on other shows in the series. I put on a tux and a bow tie, set up a theatrical backdrop, got to speak german and play comedy ukulele for a theatre full of people on the other side of the world without getting on a plane. Because the audience could only see me from the waist up, I didn’t have to wear pants, there was something liberating about that.
The Boston Living Room Show
A couple of nights ago I sent an email out to some of my clients on Fiverr on my quarterly push for new customers. Almost immediately I got a message back and an order for $5 song from a lady in Boston who runs a web management firm.
I have an online gig where I invite “clients” to send me their words or poems and then I spontaneously turn them into a 30 second or 1 minute ukulele song. Last night my client ended up ordering about 10 songs and started paying really hefty tips while she and a bunch of her friends sat around writing songs. It became an exercise in “how fast can I turn this around”. Each of my gigs comes with a “Quick Delivery” extra. This is where the money is. It seemed the faster I was, the more orders, quick delivery extras and tips would pour in. It was a very lucrative night. The kind of night where you start thinking, “how can I do this all the time?”
This song took about as long as it is to make it.
By the end of a couple of hours I had managed to generate about $300 from this one client and her collection of friends…something I call my “virtual edge”. In street performer language an “Edge” refers to the front line of people who gather at a street show. An edge can be turned into a paying audience in about 45 to 60 minutes.
Whenever I get a good tip ($10 or more), I send the client a digital download of my album. My back catalogue is extensive, so I have a lot of “tip resources”.
The cool thing about this client was that she was writing poems about all of her friends and family. This started a knock on effect whereby each of them started placing orders and now I am flat out “busking the internet” for the next few days. I am always home for my wife and child and my little one loves to dance around as I do my job as a Tunesmith.
This song was created for a power company called GeoSolar that books songs from me regularly, this was their third gig!
Connectivty, Isolation and The Internet
I got into performance because of the human connectivity attached to it. I really enjoy performing to a live public and nothing will ever be able to replace that experience. As the age of smart phones and digital services evolves, human connectivity seems to be shrinking along with the outdoor public spaces that I used to rely on to make my living and many of the gigs I used to get as a young man. While the virtual version of this experience is more anonymous and isolating, I was pleasantly surprised at the relationship that developed between the lady in Boston and myself. Her words were bold and her subjects engaging. I became inspired and thought to myself how this on line “show” had fulfilled my deeply personal need for audience connection and engagement.
Of course the biggest dream of all is that I get booked to do this live, with people in front of me so that I can hear them breathing, but until that happens, this is an exciting way to earn money from home!
And so I would like to extend an invitation to you all. Come join me for an evening of collaboration by booking one of my custom song gigs over a Fiverr.com. Bring your friends, sit around and have drinks, make it a social occasion, buy some extras. If you are a Producer, put it in a theatre, I’d love to virtually fill your stage!. At the end of the night you will have an album of songs and I may have an order for that big animation or video that you always wanted to produce.
This is my Ad on Fiverr! Go and book something today!