Seven Lessons from a Kid Busker
On a recent trip to Nashville, I told Dan Miller a story about my son playing violin on the street corner in the small town where we live. Dan enjoyed the story so much he did a short interview with me on his podcast about my son swinging the bow on the street corner. I realized if Dan found the story interesting you probably would as well. You can hear Dan Miller’s interview with me here.
On a visit to downtown Port Townsend my, son saw someone playing music on the street corner.
What caught his attention was not the music, it was the guitar case. It was open in front of the musician and had several bills and many coins in it.
What my son saw was money Money. Someone was Playing music on the street and in return people were giving him money.
It was a new concept to his eight-year-old mind. I was quickly bombed with several questions.
“Why is he playing guitar on the sidewalk”?
“Why are people giving him money”?
And then he asked the big one.
“Can I play my violin on the sidewalk”?
He had quickly connected the dots. He realized playing his violin on the street corner could get him money, which could be used to buy Legos.
My kid wants to be a busker.
My first reaction was “no”. I was not going to let my son play violin on the street corner in a busy tourist town. I may think he is the best eight-year-old violin player in our house, but is it a good idea to let him play in a place where people expect to hear experienced and quality musicians?
After considering it for a day, I decided it would be a good idea for him to be a busker. Here are the six lessons he can learn from being a kid busker;
Have the courage to do something that can be criticized. He is not as good as other musicians playing on the street. People may laugh. People may say he is not very good. People may ignore him. But consider the lesson he will learn by standing tall and playing his violin anyway.
Realize not everyone is your audience. The one or two people or even the ten people you connect with are your audience. Mike Loomis believes you can be successful by reaching three people, and you can accomplish lots of great stuff with a twelve person tribe. Do not worry about the masses. Connect with your audience, even if it is only three people.
The thought of doing something is often harder than the actual doing of that thing. Doing one intimidating act, like busking on the street corner, can build enough confidence to take on another, bigger, and scarier project.
The only way you will ever know is to take the risk. At the age of eight, my son can take a step to eliminate a regret, so many of us have. He may play violin on the street corner and not do well, but he will know. How many of us adults wrestle with the regret of not knowing how something would have worked out if we had only been brave enough to try.
The value of making a ruckus. Rather than waiting for someone to tell my son how an eight-year-old should act, he could be on the street corner making a ruckus. Making a ruckus, rather than doing what others expect you to do, is how you get things done. Listen to this episode of Starve The Doubts podcast with Jared Easley to hear Seth Godin talk about making a ruckus.
The difference between contributing and spectating. Theodore Roosevelt said “there is no effort without error and shortcoming. (A Contributor) at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and at worst, if he fails, at least, fails while daring greatly”. Colonel Roosevelt even called spectators “cold and timid souls.”
I realized, If my son wants to dare greatly and play his violin on the street corner, it would be wrong not to let him.
And he did play on the street corner. He picked the busiest corner available and set up shop. He dressed nice and even slicked his hair back to look the part. He understood, even at eight years old that he was putting on a show.
At the time he only knew how to play a few songs, so he played them over and over. I usually stood against a nearby wall to not only watch him play but to watch the interaction between him and the people who passed by. Many people dropped money in his violin case. And many people slowed down or stopped to hear him play. In a busy tourist town where buskers are common on every corner, it is one thing to drop some money; it is another thing altogether when someone stops to watch and listen.
In the end, August played for 62 minutes and made $47. Consider what that means to an 8-year-old. Rather than get an allowance, my kids earn commissions. He would have to take the trash out to the corner 47 times to earn $47 dollars. He would have to shred 23 stacks of paper to earn $47. He has a good week when he earn $10 in commissions. And now, in 62 minutes he earned $47 from something he created, not from what someone told him to do.
To me, the $47 is not really the big deal. What excites me the most is the possibility. How important is it for my 8-year-old son to learn the possibility of doing things differently. If you learn as an 8-year-old that you can earn money playing on the street corner, does a job in a cubicle even look appealing once you are an adult?
This is where the most important lesson comes in, the lesson I want to stick with my son, and the lesson I want you to hear.
If you create value, people will put money in your violin case.
It is that simple. That is the secret to business. Create value and people will give you money. Creating value is part of mastering your message. You need to understand what you do and how it will create value for other people. In the case of my son on the street corner, the music was the message. It created value for people because they enjoyed hearing it. Buskers create the unique atmosphere in downtown Port Townsend that people like so much. Without buskers, downtown Port Townsend would feel, and sound, different. An 8 year old boy playing violin on the corner creates value because of the music and because people like having buskers on the corner.
Bob Burg once said people will not buy from you because you need to buy groceries. People will buy from you because you create value for them.
Even if you are not an entrepreneur, the secret to success is the same. Forget about sticking to your job description. Create so much value in your position that your organization will not want to be without you.
To give you a little update on my son, after the first time playing violin on the street he did not return. I know it would be a better story to tell you he went back to the street corner and earned 40 or 50 dollars every week and bought a car before he was 10 years old. It did not happen though. At the time, he saw it as an opportunity to earn enough money to buy the lego set he wanted. I’m so glad he’s learnt some valuable life lessons about earning money. When he’s older, I’ll show him things like Stocktrades so he learns about the stock market too. After he had the legos in hand he did not return. But after hearing this story again on Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work you love podcast he declared he would be a busker again this summer.