One of the simple joys that we miss a lot at the moment is being wowed by the creativity and variety of artists and performers busking on crowded city streets. We called on three very talented women and fixtures in the busking scene to share their thoughts on iso, the future of busking, and some learnings on how to manage right now. Let’s go!

Contributed by Ed Lim for Roland Corporation Australia

Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself please.

Hi! I am a soul and RnB singer-songwriter and busker from Melbourne.

I’m from Melbourne, and I’m an electro-soul pop artist, also known as a busker who loves to vocal loop.

I’m 18 years old, I’m a full time musician and singer-songwriter, and for a really long time I was a full time street busker.

How did you get started doing busking/street performance?

INOXIA: I started busking when I was super young, I was 13-14. I got selected to go to Central Australia with school and money was a bit tight for us and I was like, “don’t worry Mum, I can pay for it, I can do it myself.” So I went down to my local Coles – with some bongos! – and I made a little bit of money, and I was like, “Oh, maybe I can actually do this!”

I kept going, managed to save up some more money to buy myself a permit for Melbourne, and then continued to busk and earn more money to the point where I saved up enough to buy myself my first amp. I paid off that trip, paid off some other trips and… I’m still busking!

TANYA G: When I first started street performing I was always in a duo or with someone else on the streets, but I only moved solo in 2017.

I just went out to the streets and I had this looper, and I decided to use my voice instead of instruments to create the songs I wanted to create. So I did stuff like beatboxing, and basslines, and used my voice to create harmonies and different chord progressions.

SHIRINA: I started busking when my mum bought me a Roland Cube. It was red! I was just singing karaoke and I did that for about a year. Later on, I learned how to play guitar so I upgraded to the Cube Street and I started busking everywhere.

What’s your live busking setup like?

INOXIA: My busking setup is super simple. It is just my Roland Cube Street EX, along with my microphone, my cables and my iPad for my backing tracks. Super simple! I bring it all in on a little trolley I bought from Bunnings. I really like the Cube Street – it’s so easy, I’ve got rechargeable batteries for it, and its as simple as bringing it into the city, pressing play, and I’m good to go!

TANYA G: So my live busking setup was quite heavy, and I’m quite small, so I really honed into using the BOSS RC-505 as my primary instrument, and then connecting pedals, connecting extra effects that I wanted to use into the RC-505 to create a bigger setup. That helped me avoid bringing any bigger instruments down to the street which I just couldn’t carry.

SHIRINA: (When I started busking) I chose the Cube Street as my amp because it had inputs for a mic and a guitar which was really important for me. The inputs also have effects, it’s battery powered so you don’t need a car battery or inverter, it’s not too heavy so it’s portable. I just felt like it was the easiest option for someone getting started.

How has self-isolation affected your life as a musician?

INOXIA: [Iso] has affected my career in so many different ways. As a busker and performer I usually do a lot of gigs, a lot of corporate gigs as well as busking almost every weekend. Not only has it affected my income, but I’m so used to performing in front of people. When you’re a performer you’re so used to feeding off the crowd, you read the crowd, you see what they’re into and what they’re vibing.

Since being in lockdown, I’ve found that the only way to do that I can do that is through a live video, Zoom call, or just uploading content. It’s turned me into a content creator, which is something I never was before.

However, it has really pushed me to be more active on my socials, and reach to a further audience and grow my audience that way. So that’s been a really positive aspect for me as a musician.

TANYA G: [Iso] affected me in a few different ways. I think one of the things I never realised was how much other people inspired me, because after awhile being in the same four walls trying to be creative or trying to write songs or trying to make videos got so stale so quickly.

I just didn’t realise how much I relied on the outside world, and experiences and moments with people that inspire me to do what I do. And having that live connection with an audience, just being able to feel someone’s energy in front of you, as opposed to a screen.

I think something really big that came to me was that the slow pace is okay, and taking the pressure off yourself a little bit as an artist is actually really important to be able to mentally stay stable and not feel stressed all the time, and be able to sleep better.

SHIRINA: Obviously, I can’t work, I can’t do gigs or play in front of people which really sucks. But now I have all this time to do things that I usually wouldn’t – spend time with family, watch Netflix (laughs), all of those things.

I’m going to be honest, it hasn’t been the best thing for my life because before all of this I had a lot of plans [musically] but it has provided me with the time to just stop, reflect, and be calm and present and think about what my next steps are. To be more relaxed, which I guess I should be thankful for.

How have you adapted your schedule/routine and musical output to cope with these huge changes?

INOXIA: My schedule with performing and as a musician has drastically changed. Before lockdown it was pretty simple – it was gigs and busking during the weekend, and during the week I’d have sessions to write my own music or I’d socialise.

But, with lockdown I’ve had to create a completely different schedule. So instead of going out and performing, I’ve set specific times to do live videos on Instagram and Facebook and everything. The majority of my fan base is overseas – the US, London, the UAE, everywhere.

Finding a time to do that was really difficult for me, to get the most engagement. I found myself staying up until about 3-4am to do these live videos, and then being exhausted for the rest of the day. It was very difficult for me to find a good balance between giving my overseas audience what they wanted, but also reserving that energy so that I could continue putting that work into my own music.

TANYA G: I did adapt my schedule and routines to get with the times of isolation. I also gave myself a break, which was so nice for someone who sings almost 7 days a week. And then revisiting my vision of music and what I wanted to do as an artist and where I really want to go.

I started teaching online – a lot of people have a lot of questions they want to ask me so I decided, why not? I got to have some amazing lessons with amazing people who wanted to know about my vocal techniques, my looping techniques and ask about why I chose certain paths in my career. So that was really cool! And it was also really nice to focus on someone else and ask them what they want to do, and where their inspiration comes from, and have a different focus outside of your own world as a muso or creative.

SHIRINA: I’ve made a deal with myself where every single day no matter what’s happening, I put aside one hour to do something creative. Pick up my guitar, try and write a song, try to rehearse with my amp. I just make a commitment to do that every day to make sure I don’t go weeks without practicing.

Do you think busking is going to be affected by the changes in our world right now?

INOXIA: (laughs) Um, I think it’s definitely changed. Part of me expects that everyone’s so excited to be out, the pubs and clubs are going to be open, people are going to be at restaurants having dinner and there’s still going to be that crowd there.

But then another part of me is that people are still going to be hesitant about physical distancing, and money handling. So maybe we need to learn how to adapt. Maybe we need to think about getting our eftpos machines out again, and our tap and go payment systems.

I’m nervous – but I’m excited. I’m excited to get back out there, to perform again. I think people have missed the Melbourne atmosphere!

TANYA G: There’s a lot of talk about whether the busking scene is dead because of the world situation, but I don’t believe it is! I don’t believe it is. It’ll come back with a vengeance.

I think people will be so much more drawn to buskers and street performers when we get out of this hard time, and live interaction with music will be so much more appreciated.

SHIRINA: I definitely don’t think busking is dead. In fact even now, there are a lot of people who just want to be out again, back to their normal routines and going places and doing things. I really feel like once all of this is over, people are going to want to go out, party and have fun, and the entertainment industry is going to eventually pick back up. I have a lot of hope!

What are you most looking forward to when you can get back out there?

INOXIA: Getting back out there, I’m really excited to perform, I’m really excited to have that crowd interaction back. And I’m really excited to sing new songs in public that I haven’t done yet. There’s been a lot of good music that’s come out recently. I’m excited to my own songs, to film videos, to put on social media. There’s just so much that’s going to be amazing as soon as we can busk again!

TANYA G: I can’t wait to go back to busking, and visit all the people that used to come and see me on the regular. And I can’t wait to – hopefully one day soon – hug people!

I can’t wait to see everyone that has always supported me and supports me online. And yeah, just to feel the sun on my face and breathe in the city air and hear the tram bells again. It’s going to be really fun, I cannot wait to get out there again and sing just my heart out!

SHIRINA: I’m most looking forward to playing gigs again! Just being back on my grind, hustling, connecting with people and playing really awesome shows. I’ve really missed that, playing for a crowd of people. I’ll never take that for granted again.

What was the craziest/most fun moment you ever had performing on the street?

INOXIA: Oh, I’ve had so many! I’ve been busking for 10 years, so I’ve had so many ridiculous interactions. There was this man, and he was coming around the corner in a taxi. He told his taxi driver to stop, and he was hanging out the window yelling at me! I was a little bit scared, I think I was about 15.

But he was so excited! He tells the taxi to stop, he opens the car door, jumps over the fence, hands me $300, says “I’ve just won at the pokies and you’re amazing!”. That was exciting!! That was really good. I went home as soon as that happened cos I was really tired (laughs). That was really cool.

TANYA G:  The finest moments for me on the streets are when people ask to exchange their creativity for my creativity. I’ve had dancers and come up and start dancing and doing the most amazing dance routines to whatever I’ve looped. And they’re improvising, I’m improvising, and there’s like this crazy exchange and you just create this amazing vibe.

And then the other strange moments are when you look up and there’s a celebrity standing in front of you and you’re on their Instagram later and you’re like whoa, that was weird! So many fun times.  

SHIRINA: I don’t have one moment specifically, but I love when people start to dance unexpectedly. It’s always so fun and everyone has a good laugh.

Do you think that the “new normal” will change the way you do things when performing live? In what way?

INOXIA: I think the new normal is definitely going to change busking. I think the tips are going to slow down, I don’t think the money-handling thing is going to be as prevalent as it was previously. TANYA G: I don’t think I’m going to change too much about the way I perform live, but I have thought about making my shows or single/EP launches (outside of busking) smaller now. Having a mini-show concert series as opposed to doing bigger ones where anyone’s health might be at risk or not being able to social distance in a venue.

What music are you working on right now?

INOXIA: I am working on a few originals, a few new releases to happen fingers crossed by the end of the year! I’ve been working on these for awhile and I’m super excited to get them out to you super soon.

TANYA G: I’m bringing out an EP called Normality very soon. The first single Writing Machine was #1 on Triple J Unearthed last year in October. This whole EP is about questioning what is normality these days, with everything that’s going on in the world? I can’t wait to show people!

SHIRINA: Right now I’m just doing a lot of demos. Trying to find my sound, trying to improve my songwriting. At the end of the year I’m aiming to have 50 demos and pick the best 10. So I won’t be releasing any new music this year, but I’ll still be doing some collaborations. Stay tuned for next year!

If you had to choose one key lesson from life in lockdown or message to share with other musicians, what would it be?

INOXIA: I think my message would be to take the time to figure out your sound, take the time to figure out why you want to do this. What about music is so important to you and what drives you as a musician or as a performer.

I think it’s important not to put pressure on yourself to overperform, or overproduce anything. Don’t push out anything if you’re not 100% happy with it. It’s really important to take this time to push your productivity, learn new things, but also not feel pressured to do more than the next person is. So take your time, make sure that you’re doing what you love, and figure out what the best part of it is and what your direction is.

TANYA G: It takes a lot of energy to busk, so don’t physically and mentally exhaust yourself. It can be so fun busking for hours on end, and it’s the best feeling in the world but you also need to allow yourself the space to reset. Just have a maximum number of days that you’re going to allow yourself to busk per week and sticking to that routine.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned during life in lockdown is how important it is to reach out. To other musicians, to friends, to family. And how important it is to never take any moment for granted. Don’t take anything for granted.

SHIRINA: I feel like I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, because on social media I was seeing people being like, “if you don’t come out of iso with a side hustle, 10kg skinnier or your life in order, then you wasted this opportunity!”.

You don’t have to feel like you had to do something incredible with this time. Surviving, getting through and staying positive is more than enough. And if you did that, then congratulations, you’re a champion!

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