I walked down the steps into the Montgomery BART station and saw a thin, black man sitting on a chair with a guitar in his lap. He was tapping his feet, smiling and telling people to have a nice weekend as he strummed. I glanced down at his open case in hopes of sizing up his earnings.
I continued on to the other end of the station, where I found a tall, scraggly white man standing with his back against a large advertisement, playing a guitar and a harmonica. He was good, but nobody seemed to give him much attention. He might have been too quiet.
Because I was getting nervous, I started convincing myself that all of the playable spots were taken, and that I should head the airport right then to avoid missing my flight.
As I walked toward the exit, I stopped in my tracks, slung my guitar off my back, and slid up against a wall near a set of stairs. In a matter of seconds I found myself sitting cross-legged and strumming the introductory chord to the country song “Wagon Wheel.”
The 45 minutes that followed were incredibly enjoyable. Here are some things I realized, in the order that I realized them:
- The acoustics in the station are amazing.
- Smiling and making casual eye contact is good for business.
- Popular songs like ‘Stand by me’ get way more attention than lesser-known jams.
- Receiving 5 cents feels exactly the same as receiving a dollar. It’s the validation that people are enjoying the music that stands out.
- I’ll never walk by a street musician again without dropping a coin in their basket.
- I have no reason to be afraid, embarrassed or annoyed about this blog. Playing in public once a week will feel less like a chore and much more like a short, casual show.
I counted my money on the train ride to the airport. I made $8.11, exactly one cent more than the total cost of the BART train, which I thought was awesome.
Although I’ll be kicking all my money toward my student loans, my earnings total made me realize that you can indeed make a small, humble living this way. It’s a nice thing to know.