So I’ve been making a pretty good living out of performance poetry for the last two months now…
although it has taken a long time and the collection of a few different skill sets for it to have culminated like this. I discovered a passion for poetry combining my musical, choreographical and spiritual skills, but would not have the cajones to busk it in the street if I hadn’t done street charity fundraising.
This was where I learned to cope with rejection, which you get a lot of when wearing a charity jacket bearing an iPad. However, I was entraining myself to expand the concept into my own work; presenting myself well and pricing my poetry in a menu. All I do is wander the streets of a city or festival and ask if people would like a poem. I then present them with my menu, explaining the deals with books I can do and invite them to choose. At the moment I have a donation bracket – £3, £5, £10 specials (which come with a free book and a month long subscription to my website) and a £15 special. I can email the client a copy of the script and also sign them up to my ‘Pound a Poem’ service.
I would love to see other poets doing this,
but etiquette is key so we can maintain a good relationship with the public.
Here are some tips:
As soon as someone says no to you, don’t harass them. You can appear intimidating to other passers by.
If you dress loudly (which I do) be mindful of homeless in the streets and other buskers. I give to other buskers often to encourage the public to give, but I’m aware that I suck up all the attention in the street.
Do your poems for free for people who are in service (e.g. stewards at festivals, police officers, etc.)
Sounds obvious but regular sips of water are essential. I’m out between 6-12 hours a day and work to when my voice dictates.
Be mindful of the loudness of your environment. I wouldn’t start a poem if next to roadworks for instance.
I often get people say they have no cash on them. This is the main reason I have a donation bracket so I can perform some for free (it is still good marketing for you and you can always point them to your website). The next person might give you a tenner.
Record your work and have it available for people to listen to online, I use BandCamp (click to go to Rich’s BandCamp) so that my members can download them too.
Where possible allow your client to film your performance: they can tag you and share the video.
Possibly the most important advice I could give you would be to do street charity or door-to-door fundraising. If you can convince someone to sign up to a charity you should have no problem stopping them for poetry! Write your pitches into poems according to their briefs and you should have no problem.
So that’s about it from me. You can find my work, buy my books, and sign up to my online anthology ‘Richer and Richer‘ on www.richbutfamous.net (because I couldn’t get .not… geddit?), YouTube, BandCamp and on Facebook.
See you at a House of Verse soon, peeps! – Rich Butnotfamous
Whether you’re a designer, an actor, a writer, a camera operator, an accountant – the list goes on; you’re your own boss, you set your own hours, you charge own fees and you get to choose the types of projects you want to take on. All in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal!
That being said, there are some pitfalls you can be unlucky enough to run into along the way but what I hope to share with you today is some industry-neutral tips that anyone can take on board. From working as a full-time graphic designer in a creative agency to now being completely self employed, here are a few things I’ve learnt from and experienced throughout my career, thus far:
1. Be specific
Whatever kind of industry you’re in, when taking on a new project or client it’s vitally important to discuss the details of the project with your client and define a solid brief.
Talk, talk and talk some more; ensure that you know what the client is expecting and let them know how and if you can deliver it, document phone conversations and summarise in an email, tell your client what file types you need and how you need them supplying, tell them WHEN you need them supplying – whatever it is, leave absolutely no room for misunderstanding and both you and your client will be secure knowing you’re both on the same page.
2. Ask for a deposit
I have read and heard about every freelancers worst nightmare, even from friends; you liaise with your client for weeks, you develop the project, numerous emails are exchanged until you finally send over the finished project along with your invoice and suddenly they drop off the face of the earth. In short, you don’t get paid and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.
I am so grateful that up until this point I have not experienced this as I have always insisted on and had been advised to take a deposit up front. There is no golden rule on how much you should ask for, different projects may allow for different payment plans and as long as you can define and confirm these different stages for payment with your client there should be no problems. As a rough guide, I generally split my payments for smaller projects into 50% deposit up front and the final 50% on completion and before any final files are handed over. Larger projects may be split 50% / 25% / 25% with the same terms and conditions.
Taking a deposit is pure and simply to safeguard yourself and your time for further down the line and if your client is 100% serious about working with you, they should have no reservations about paying to secure your time.
3. Define timescales and manage expectations
So you’ve got your deposit, you’ve clarified a brief with your client and they’ve given you a deadline that you need to work to; sometimes this can be a manageable timescale and others it’s completely irrational but you’ve taken the project on regardless. The most important thing to do at this stage is to, in line with the brief you’ve been given, define estimated dates or times that they can expect to receive something from you. “No shit, Sherlock” I hear you say on hearing this but the worst thing that a client can experience (if I was thinking of it from my own perspective) is for them to hand over their money and then hear nothing from you for a few days or a week – depending on what date you’re working to.
Much like point 1, be specific. Be clear with your client about what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it but also allow yourself a little room for manoeuvre. The last thing you need is for something to pop up last minute and you’ve already tied yourself into a corner with a 3pm turnaround. It’s all about managing your clients expectations correctly and delivering on time, or if you’re looking to impress, ahead of schedule using that built-in leeway you’ve allocated.
If you continually deliver on time and to a high standard you’re likely to gain their trust and hopefully their future business.
4. “If you’re good at something, you should never do it for free” – Heath Ledger as the Joker, Batman
Now while the Joker is one of my favourite characters of all time (talk about psychotic badass) and what he says can ultimately be applied to a freelance situation please do not misunderstand what I am trying to say. My point here is not saying “never work for free” as you will naturally come across pro-bono projects, be it for friends or an organisation that you just WANT to help with. What I’m saying is DO donate your time and skills to a good cause, a friend, a charity, an event or a movement you feel strongly about… but DO NOT under any circumstances let people take advantage of you or trick you into working for free.
What I am not a fan of is “spec” work. This kind of project is offered to freelancers to complete, or partially complete ahead of payment as a “sample” to the prospective client. With no guarantee of further work, full pay or other “prize” or “promotion”, this work is not only completely unethical but also sees freelancers severely reduce their fees to compete for work with often, very little reward.
Another one which I detest is, “It’ll look great in your portfolio” or “oh, but my friend does it for half the price”. Walk away immediately. No question. Get out of there. The client does not value you, your time, your skills or the years you have spent refining those to get to where you are today and ultimately, exposure and ‘promotion’ pieces don’t pay the bills.
Never ever undervalue yourself just because someone else charges less. Stick to your guns, know your capabilities and believe in yourself and the RIGHT clients will follow suit.
5. Keep your portfolio up to date
Another very important thing is to show people what you’re made of, show off your skills and refine the perfect portfolio for yourself that encapsulates who you are and what you do. Pick a handful of your strongest projects, no need to clutter your website or email with everything you’ve ever completed – ain’t nobody got time for that, and remember when applying for positions or new projects to tailor the application to what they’re asking for; keep it relevant.
Fresh content on your website (if you have one) is also important as it shows prospective clients you’re busy, people are investing in you and you are then re-investing in yourself to showcase their project. *COUGH* Hasn’t updated own website in over a year…. I’m working on it!
6. Push your limits
Finally, never be afraid to try something new! Experiment with a new illustration technique, work with a new piece of software, learn a new language, travel to a new destination, wear odd socks, test yourself and after a lot of failed attempts.. and forgetting how to do it.. or how you did it last time.. you’ll learn, you’ll develop and you’ll be able to broaden your offering to your new and existing clients. Winner!
Whatever happens though, no matter how many tips or tricks people give you along the way, I realise I’m not the first to share my two cents on the matter and I’m certain I won’t be the last, I personally think the most important thing you can do as a freelancer (or any career for that matter) is to love what you’re doing, have fun and remember to set time aside to invest in your own passions and interests from time to time.
Peace, tea, pencils and profanities. – Emily, over and out.
“Politics to me is simply the organisation of human life, and as such, it’s relevant to everything and everything is relevant to it.”
The same guy got that phrase stuck in his head, as he often does with phrases. It rattled around and bounced off everything else in there. It turned out that there was a lot more to say (which is fortunate, because I had a blog to write).
So, I make poems. Sometimes they’re very explicitly about politics. Sometimes they’re kind of about politics. Even if they’re more literally about food, or buildings, or, um, my haircut (It comes up a lot. I think I have some self-examination to do here), they’re always, always in the context of politics. Because how could they not be? We’re in a time where discourse is flying around everywhere and people’s lives are discussed more than ever. I don’t know about you folks, but once I started listening, I found it hard to stop hearing. Critical examination begets more of itself. When you make the jump to let voices into your bubble that force you to check yourself and the systems that made you, every day you see more of the mechanisms that go from the top to the bottom, moving everything.
That’s never truer than in a room full of artists. I’m not gonna wax lyrical about creative people bringing a unique perception to the table – we do, but so does everyone else. Everyone’s is worthwhile, valid, and rooted in valuable, individual experience and insight. What’s unique about politics in art is that we have the vehicle, the pretence and the attention of others that permits us to express it. Some people are lucky enough to grow up knowing this is an option.
Others step up at an open mic night for the first time, see a room full of people ready to receive what they’ve always needed to throw out there. I swear to god, you can see it their eyes – they glance around and say “…finally.”
I mentioned bubbles. It’s a tricky idea. One criticism that some people love to level at arts spaces is that they’re left-wing bubbles or echo chambers. This often comes bundled with the accusation that such spaces thus stifle free speech and debate. This is always backed up by the accuser conveniently missing Tracey Emin; Having a national paper column to praise Tory arts policy that’s kept her in her Spitalfields townhouse but left venues and projects in vulnerable areas devastated (and that’s before EU funding disappears). Skipping over Gilbert and George’s astonishing privilege-driven ignorance in saying “socialism wants everyone to be equal, but we want to be different.” This pulls off the astonishing feat of being both a false equivalence and a false binary, which, to be fair to the lads, is arguably a work of art. Just a shit one (In my opinion).
It breezes past the fact that cutting £165m from local arts budgets inevitably excludes marginalised voices, making it harder for them to find the footing they need to have any influence over their own circumstances. Isn’t it amazing how when these people complain about their freedom of speech being stifled, we can always hear them speak.
I once had a discussion with Nathan Human; one of Leicester’s most underappreciated, creative powerhouses, where he mentioned to me that he’d once heard someone of a conservative persuasion say they felt unwelcome and intimidated at poetry nights due to the prevalence of leftist politics among the attendees. That this was at odds with ideas of tolerance and diversity. My counterpoint to that is little more than “You reap what you sow”. If you’re happy to embrace an ideology rooted in the preservation of old wealth and empirical power. In particular, if you’re comfortable voting and campaigning for a party whose policies have consistently trod on the already-marginalised, cementing a draining grind into a life that ordinary people are resigned to, then you can expect two things:
They will create spaces to heal and recover from this and you may not be welcome in them!
I’ve sat and watched friends and strangers alike jump on stage and take the mic. Let fly all the suffering they’ve ever had inflicted on them. From racism, to transphobia, to child sex abuse, to ableism (hi!), to real home-grown poverty, and underpinning it all. The never-ending fucking drudge of having to sell your time and labour to stay alive and see all of it keep happening. I’m not exaggerating when I say every one of those situations has been permitted or worsened by the work, actions or words of a right-wing politician somewhere in the world. I’m lucky enough to sometimes be able to muster the energy to articulate all of this in detail, with examples.
However, when I and others can’t, and you burst into the space we made for ourselves to get this off our chest to find a way forwards for ourselves, when you demand a platform and attention you can create for yourself like we had to, then don’t expect a Harvard-referenced essay detailing our positions. Expect a weary, resentful “fuck off”, and the freedom to Google the rest for yourself when you get home.
Okay, time to be happy again! You have to schedule it in sometimes. Please do not for a second think I’m having a pop at everyone who comes into an arts event, encounters politics, and doesn’t immediately storm Parliament with placards and megaphones. I would’ve once been the same. This system isn’t designed for us to get it. Our brains aren’t designed for us to all get it in the same way. Our education is also grossly inadequate on this and many other fronts (I recommend Jess Green’s Burning Books for more on this – the poem, the book or the play, they’re all great). All I can recommend is what I’d recommend for every other aspect of life too:
Come with open ears and a critical mind. Use your context – your valid, real context that you’re gifted just by existing. To examine everything around you, but also use new contexts to examine yourself.
As a member of a political party that isn’t scared to call the Russian Revolution “the greatest event in human history.” Stalinism is an easy stick to beat me with (no matter howoftenwecriticiseit), but I assure you I’m not here to dictate. It’s my firm belief that only proper engagement from everyone, on their own terms, is the only thing that can possibly succeed in building a better world.
Next disclaimer: your art isn’t political? I’ll say this bit loud: THAT’S TOTALLY COOL AND YOU ARE WELCOME HERE. Y’know how not every poem is like the ones you studied in school? Or how every painting isn’t like the countryside scenes hanging on your gran’s wall? It’s the same deal. Cynthia Rodriguez, one of my favourite Housemates, has a wonderful poem about there being “no such thing as frivolous art.” It was written in response to the also-wonderful Anna My Charlotte apologising for singing a “frivolous” song after one of Cynthia’s performances at the Y Theatre’s sorely-missed Open Stage night. Cynthia nails it better than I ever could. Suffice to say, you don’t have to get up there and give me dialectical Marxism in iambic pentameter to impress me. You definitely don’t have to impress me to be valid anyway.
Get up there and say, sing, dance or show us whatever you feel. Write or draw or play whatever your reality is.
It’s probably more political than you think, because in the face of rising global fascism and a conservative establishment ever more willing to embrace it, just being unapologetically you is a perfectly radical act. Just existing as an artist is part of the fightback. And if you can’t or don’t want to fight, you’ll find that even the most militant of us quite like just hanging out and sharing fun stuff with each other. We all need to get some of our soul back sometimes. That doesn’t mitigate whatever struggles we pursue – it backs them up with an assertion of our right to exist as free, creative humans. It reminds us exactly what those of us who can and want to fight are fighting for.
This is my politics and my art – a place for voices, nuance and authenticity to have their long-overdue 15 minutes. With a view to a future where we never, ever have to answer for those as if they’re a bloody question.
When I was 18 years old I stopped caring about playing guitar and music in general. Prior to this I had been playing classical and acoustic guitar for around 6 years! So why? The answer is simple… I wasn’t ready and I had different priorities in life at that time. But when I moved to England seven years later, I realised (after a few weeks) that something was missing… it was a guitar, obviously. After that I bought my first guitar in the UK and started to practice again.
After several years of rest, it took me over a year to wake my hands and fingers up, to begin playing like I had in the past.
Was I ready for busking that time? I had only one thought: NO, but I was also inspired by other musicians (Estas Tonne, Mariusz Goli and Jacek Piotrowicz) who I had seen doing a similar thing.
The first time I tried busking was in Dresden, Germany and after that one moment I realised: I LOVE IT! Plenty of people shared their emotions, feelings and beautiful words with me; it was one of the best days of my life! My advice? Follow your intuition, do not let fear decide for you.
What kind of benefits can you earn by playing on the street?
Some tricks and suggestions for future buskers. I’m going to give a few points and explain why busking is amazing and so useful for all artists:
You can practise for a few hours per day, enjoy yourself and give some good vibes to all of the people passing by.
At some point people will start to listen to or watch you, which gives you stage practice. After a while you won’t feel stressed or uncomfortable performing in front of people.
This is a perfect advert for you. Someone might spot you, offer you a music job, offer an event for you to play at or even just a warm coffee! Just don’t forget to take a poster (a sheet of paper if nothing else) with your name and some basic information about where people can find you online (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Website, etc.).
Don’t worry, people value live music. You’ll always earn some coins for a tea and a good meal! 😉
Here’s a track from my new album which is available on my website (link below).
Whenever I confess to a new acquaintance that I’m a performance poet, they will invariably respond with one of these stock phrases:
“Do people actually come to see poetry shows?” “How do you make any money?” and “Don’t you get scared performing on stage?”
The short answers to these questions are “They do.” “I don’t.” and “Are you kidding me?!”
I’ve been performing for about seven years now (obviously not consecutively) and even now I still get the dry mouth, wobbly legs, and sick, fluttery feeling that comes from being summoned to the mic. But you know what they say: pre-show nerves are a sign that you really care about what you’re doing and there is something pretty incredible about challenging yourself. Pushing beyond your comfort zone to do something new and exciting.
Which is all very well, yet it doesn’t actually help much when you’re standing by the side of the stage, looking into the crowd and wondering whether to run, faint, or throw up on your own shoes. However, it does become less scary the more you perform and there are lots of things you can do to help ease the anxiety before your first show.
Here are a few suggestions:
Check out the venue ahead of time.
If you can, go to the event as an audience member first, and get a feel for the place. Speak to the hosts of the show, and chat to some of the performers too. I totally recommend checking out the vibe in this way because it helps to squash that daunting feeling of going into an unfamiliar space for the first time. It also gives you the chance to check out whether an event is welcoming and friendly (And here’s a hint: the vast majority are!).
Practise, practise, practise.
Knowing your material inside out is a really good way of boosting your confidence, and it gives you more room to have fun on stage too. But don’t feel under pressure to perform everything from memory. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading from the page, or reciting stuff ‘off-book’, or if you’ve got your poem written in a text message on your phone. As long as you’ve practised it a little bit – and you know how you want it to sound out loud – you’ll come across as polished and well-rehearsed, and the audience will really appreciate it too!
Bring a friend with you.
Sometimes, it helps to have a comrade in the audience, poised to snap your picture, and ready to clap and cheer for your performance. A friend also comes in handy when you’re too exhausted to drive yourself home post-gig, or when you need someone to persuade you that you’ve earned a greasy fast-food burger on the way back from the show…
Go on your own.
…However, not everyone feels comfortable with loads of familiar faces in the crowd, and sometimes it pays to go poetic incognito. Often, it’s easier to perform to a room full of strangers, as there’s no sense of expectation from people who don’t know your stuff. (This will get harder once you become super-famous, but for now it’s pretty good advice.) When you’re incognito, you can just rock up, perform, and then melt away into the night. But you’ll probably be so relieved/excited after the show that you’ll suddenly want to chat to everyone in the room, and end up making loads of new friends at the bar. Networking – easy as!
Do some exercise.
If you can, go for a little walk round the block before the show starts. You’ll be amazed how much of your nervous energy can be dissipated by engaging in a bit of movement. If you’re not able to go for a walk, or you’ve got restricted mobility, gentle stretching can help refocus your mind and quieten down those anxious voices in your head.
Get a good night’s sleep before the show.
This one is vital for me, because my nerves are always more jangly if I’ve had a crap night’s sleep the night before. It’s not always something that’s within your control, but definitely worth thinking about if you can influence your bedtime routine.
And remember, the audience want to like you!
The audience have paid to be at this event because they love spoken word / music / dance / theatre (delete as applicable) and they want to be entertained / amused / challenged / confused (delete as applicable). Absolutely no one wants you to have a bad experience on stage, and they’re all literally cheering you on!
So get out there and give it your best shot. Good luck!
Changing a sound that you have built up over years of practice is always going to be challenge.
As a musician, you learn or write a song and often it will get played in exactly the same way every time you take it out to a gig, especially when there are only two of you in the band, you really get set in your ways. In fact, Lon and I have been playing together as a duo for so many years now, that we don’t really practise our music much anymore, until it comes to learning or writing a new track.
We had a long hard think about how to change our sound, as we had decided that it was getting a little stale. So, we decided to expand the band from a duo in to a five piece. This is a brand new challenge and I would like to think we have certainly grabbed the bull by the horns! We have added Bass Guitar (Joe Doyle), Drums (Matt Hellard) and Saxophone (George Mitchell). We have only had a few rehearsals as a full band, but the sound seems to be coming together very quickly and all of us could not be more pleased with it.
It was not until adding more people to the line up that I realised how having more musicians in your group can really help you to learn and grow as an artist.
I am a singer and will always be a singer who knows very little about music theory and structure. Quite often I just go with the flow of the track and see where it takes me and with two people this is incredibly easy. So it has been really great to work with new people who have a different knowledge of music to myself and Lon! Although with a larger band it can be easy to get completely lost in the music and forget where you are in the song, so this is something that I will certainly be trying to control.
As I have envisaged the full Elysian sound for so long, it’s really exciting to actually hear what I have imagined in my own head for years now. Each space where there should have been more has now been filled out and it definitely sounds more jazzy and soulful.
The music has so much more depth.
It’s also really great to have new members to bounce ideas off and it has been a massively rewarding learning curve so far. Look out for our upcoming shows as a five piece. We can’t wait!