Seija is from Melbourne, Australia and came to London 12 years ago for university. Through the recommendation of a busker friend, she started to perform in 2007 and became a permanent member at Covent Garden.
She talks about the bias towards street performance even within the musicians; immobility of information is apparent within the industry because Seija suggests that her musician friends do not know what it is all about and what the economics and politics of busking are.
She emphasized flexibility a lot. The street performance allows her to spend time with her sin as well while still making a reasonable living. Every performer has somebody with them, walking around with a basket for receiving donations. Her husband helps her for collecting the money.
Seija does not have a problem with being recorded. She knows that she is there to be observed and listened. Not bitter when people only record but don’t purchase anything.
She puts flowers in front of her to let people know of the boundaries. She creates her own stage and space in a very subtle way. There apparently has been some incidents where people thought the door at her back is the bathroom door and tried to get behind her.
The musicians are deciding on what the performance schedule would be by coming in on Monday morning. The schedule is done for the entire week. Digital communication platforms are only used to let each other know if they could make it or not. Besides from that, it is mostly decided via talking once they arrive in.
The South Hall or Courtyard, is very suitable for musical performances due to its architecture. The spacious structure creates an enriching acoustic and reverb that spreads out and the design of the hall creates a balcony type space for the audience to watch the performance.
It was 10.35 am when the audition started. Auditions are always held in North Hall. Nancy May, who has been performing in different busking platforms across central London, happened to be the only person auditioning that morning and the jury mentioned that they had never seen such situation before.
Auditions are held once in every two-three months and Covent Garden is very strict with the type of performance that is welcomed in the market area. The official statement is below:
"Please note there is no capacity for acoustic guitarists or singer/songwriters
We do not allow any wind instruments, brass instruments, electric guitars, drums, accordions, bagpipes or didgeridoos to be played here at Covent Garden
We are unable to supply electricity, all equipment must be battery powered "
This standardization of entertainment is a part of standardization of London tourist experience, both of which eliminate almost any other genre besides from classical music. The type of allure that the market wants to create and the type of image that it is after bring along a hierarchy across instruments and genres. Interestingly, when classical music is the preferred genre, the performers happen to be more from white communities. I have not observed or had an impression of any intentionality behind it. Yet, the standardization of what London touristic experience should be like seems to be inherently reflecting the pre-existing racial boundaries in traditional classical music, which has been associated with the art of /for white, privileged, more educated, and/or "elite" communities.
Nancy is a full time street performer from Essex. She holds a license from Westminster Council as well. She mentioned that Bond Street is where the street performers can just show up at the designated spot, ask the current performer when s/he would finish, and join the queue accordingly. Nancy pays more attention to gathering audience that might lead up to collecting business cards from people who might be interested in offering other gigs for her than collecting money. She says,"My initial goal was to be heard and London is the place to be if you'd like to be scouted." Performance act in Covent Garden is seen as a platform for extension of network. She uses the money that she earns to finance her recording session, web site creation and any expense regarding PR. Just like Seija, Nancy is not bothered with people recording her without donating money; she considers it as a natural extension of a street performance in this age.
In some cases, her performance has received different materials of exchange. some members of the audience has actually offered her various commodities and services other than money, such as meditation lessons, bible readings, fairy lights, bottles of beer etc.
The jury watching the audition consists of representatives of non-musicians and musicians as well as someone from the management company. It is a male dominated group. I have the impression that since representative as a role is not very popular among performers due to the increase of bureaucratic work they are being accountable of, and women in the musician community have consistently mentioned how the flexibility of street performance is one of the main reasons that they choose to do it, women are not preferring to prolong their stay in the space with representative role.