Is karaoke singing valid street performance ?
Ahoy there viewers,
Last week in my effort to circulate The LOW RENT ORCHESTRA’s tunes around the region I went to Nambour for some busking. Located 15 minutes from the beachs of Mooloolaba, Nambour was once the regional centre of the Sunshine Coast. The town has been subjected to many changes over the last few decades and survives more than anything by way of it’s proximity to the Bruce Highway, the main railway line passing through it’s commercial centre and more importantly the diverse and tenacious nature of it’s local population. I have been busking in Nambour streets since 2007 and as a result been invited and stoked to perform in some of the town’s markets and festivals in that period.
Traditionally an agricultural centre, Nambour now days offers cheaper rents for both residentual and commercial use than the adjacent coastal strip which has a tourism focus. I guess that is why I often hear the phrase ” Nambour is where the real people live “. One of the great things about Nambour is the opportunity for folks to experience a rural lifestyle within ten minutes of the town centre. The real people I meet there are usually doing their shopping and enjoying the pleasant and recently rejuvenated streetscape in the town centre. On Thursday mornings there is a street market and the pensioners are out looking for a bargain. A perfect time and place for some busking and always my experience there and that of some of my busking friends ( such as Eb n Flo ) has been hugely appreciated. We buskers have always have managed to share the best spot outside the shopping centre.
A few months ago whilst walking toward my favourite Nambour busking pitch pushing my trolley laden with guitar, drum, stomperine, bells and whistles I could hear what sounded like a country & western record playing at loud volume. Wow . . . right where the street musicians performed I found a man singing into his karaoke machine. It was about ten o’clock in the morning so I introduced myself and asked what time he would finish so I could decide whether to wait or go elsewhere. He told me he would be there until after midday when the lunchtime trade would provide his best time to make some money. So I went off up to the main street, sought permission from a shop to busk outside and went about my business of putting some live original music into the streets of Nambour.
I remembered there had been another karaoke performer in Nambour a year or so previously, however his show and street persona was more of an example of poor street performance etiquette. On that ocassion I was busking away in my favourite spot outside the shopping centre and watched in amazement as this dude set up his paraphenalia only twenty metres from where I was performing. He ran his amp from a 12 volt battery mounted on a trailer he towed around on his old push bike. He had a solar panel rigged up and he lay that out on the pavement, then he unloaded his deck chair and a rackful of CDs and without as much as a how do you do, what’s your name or how ya goin . . . he plugged in the microphone and started his show . . . right over the top of my own show . . . real loud. He had some much stuff spread out all over the footpath it reminded me off a prospector staking a claim. I instantly figured it would’nt be long before the cops arrived so I packed up quick and vamoosed . . . happy with my own effort and not wanting to get caught up in the debacle unfolding outside the shopping centre.
Subsequent visits to Nambour and other towns where I see buskers using pre recorded music for their show has become the basis for this article. My conversations with the karaoke buskers have lead me to question their validity as street performers and their place in a council operated permit system for street performers. I understand the use of pre recorded music, backing tracks, sound canvas at reasonable volume can deliver a nice vibe when accompanied by a polished performance with an instrument. Which raises the question: is the voice is an instrument ? However I am of the view that use of pre recorded music by a performer, but particularly by a busker is less desirable that of a completely live performance that expresses the skill, talent and often virtuosity of a musician. Public interaction with a live musician is deservedly ” more real ” that the experience of listening to a CD played in a public.
The disparity between the two methods of delivering a performance and the relevance of live versus pre recorded can be argued on many grounds. The energy of a completely live act is, in my opinion, so different from the option of pushing a play button that I would rest my case on this factor alone. The use of karaoke equipment has it’s place I’m sure, but not for busking . Easy manipulation of pre recorded music ( and often copyright law ) is completed when the karaoke performer sells themselves and cds created from the musicianship of others. Isn’t technology wonderful folks. What do you think ?