For Marian and Firdaus, busking is a more than just a way of pursuing their passion for performing, it’s also a viable side hustle.

We speak to two musicians on the highs and lows of busking, and why they chose this unconventional platform to showcase their music.

[Image Credit: Danial Tan]

Marian Carmel, 21

Marian: Hi, I’m Marian and I’m a singer-songwriter, so I perform my originals and some covers too!

I’m waiting for school to start in August when I’ll be going into my first year of university in Lasalle College of the Arts studying Arts Management. Right now, I’m working as a teacher for summer camps in international schools.

A lot of things motivate me – the people around me, working towards my future – growing up and old with my partner and future doggo, learning new skills and becoming a better person, and trying to find and fulfill my purpose (whatever that may be).

Firdaus Osman, 24

Firdaus: Hi, my name is Firdaus and I’m currently a student pursuing Electrical Power Engineering at the Singapore Institute of Technology. I sing and play the acoustic guitar.

What got you interested in music and performing?

Marian: My mom often jokes that I came out of her womb singing. The turning point was when I saw the original run of Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress at the Esplanade when we just moved to Singapore at the age of five.

I remember knowing from then on that I wanted to be one of those performers when I grew up. My mom bought the soundtrack after and it was what kept the whole family company during the months after (imagine a fresh off the boat Filipino family doing house chores to Kit Chan)!

Firdaus: I’ve always loved music since I was a child and my family used to sing karaoke during the weekends. I joined both the Hip-Hop and Acapella club back in poly and discovered the joys of performing on stage.

What really got me interested in music and performing is being able to express yourself and share your music with the audience.

Why busking?

Marian: I’ve always had a passion for singing and song-writing, so I started busking four years ago to improve my musicality and gain experience in performing.

I recently decided to become financially independent two years ago to help my family and I’ve been busking more often in the past year to put myself through university.

[Image Credit: Ashley Marcus Wu]

“Busking is very different from performing on stage at an event, because people are never specifically there to watch you perform, so it makes it all the more special when they stay to do so.” –Marian

To me, there is no other platform that enables me to connect so intimately with my audience like busking does. I’ve met people from all walks of life and all over the world through busking, and throughout these past four years, there has never been a day that I regretted going out to share my music through busking.

Firdaus: In the past, I was always in a group or team when I performed, so I decided to build up my solo performing skills and showcase my act and I felt that busking would be an ideal platform.

What was the general reaction from your friends and family when you told them you wanted to be a busker?

Marian: When I first started four years ago, people generally had a stigma against busking.

It was generally seen as “begging” or like less of an art form by most people. But I think it’s changed since more and more people came out to busk, especially a younger generation of artists and musicians.

My dad wasn’t very supportive at first, but when I explained that busking is a regulated form of art which requires a letter of endorsement from a government body, he saw it with more respect.

I was a very stubborn 16-year-old, so I kept pushing until we ended up with a compromise that I had to busk with one other person so that I wouldn’t be alone in the streets.

I applied for an individual license just two years ago, and that’s when I started performing alone.

Firdaus: While most of my friends were excited and happy for me, my parents felt a little sad because in their generation, busking is begging.

Now, they are more open and accepting towards me performing in the streets. They even come to support me from time to time.

How often and where do you busk? How much would you typically make on a good day vs a bad day?

Firdaus: I busk at least once a week, as I’m currently schooling. If I had more time, I would definitely busk more. The tips depend on the time, day and weather.

“On a good day you can collect upwards of a hundred bucks. On a lucky day, you can even receive a SGD 1000 note in your busking hat”

Firdaus

Marian: I’m usually at the Marina Bay Sands Event Plaza on Fridays and weekends. Most of the time, I post gig and busking updates on my Instagram stories, so look out for that!

What do you love/hate most about busking? 

Marian: My favourite part of busking is meeting people and making their day or making new friends.

[Image Credit: Lee Wei Min]

“One thing that I believe in is to share kindness, and just be nice in general! It’s free and everyone can do it, so why not just spread good vibes, right?” – Marian

What I hate about busking is having to lug all of my stuff from home to the venue via public transport (cannot take cab too often, must save money). I get tired before my first set even starts but it’s always worth it.

Firdaus: For me, it’s the freedom to perform anywhere according to your schedule. Busking changed my perception of performing and helped me improve as as a solo performer and prepare me for bigger events in the future.

How do you fit busking and your passion for music into your daily schedule? 

Marian: I work in the day and busk at night! I make it a point to make my Fridays and weekend nights as clear as possible so that I can busk regularly.

Firdaus: I listen to music everywhere I go, to know new songs as well as learn the rhythm and beats of a particular track.

When I’m home I’ll grab my guitar and strum the chords I formed in my head. No matter how busy I am, I make time to busk, even if it’s during my exam period.

What were the low and high points for you in your busking career?

Marian: There have been many high points, one of them was when someone proposed to his girlfriend. The now-husband approached us, and we became a part of the surprise got to play a love song while he was proposing.

[Image Credit: Khairul Ameer]

“I am really a sucker for love and it was so sweet and being a part of that made my heart explode. I almost couldn’t sing the song because I choked up and cried.” – Marian

Firdaus: Busking is a challenging job itself. Low points would be purchasing equipment for the busking setup as it is expensive. Also, nowadays buskers love to fight for their ideal spots and some don’t even have a busking license to begin with.

As I continue to busk every week, I realised that people were starting to acknowledge me for my work and got engaged as a performer for private events. I also got a regular gig at bar through busking.

Do you intend to pursue busking as a full-time career or just a side hustle?

Marian: Probably just a side hustle, though I intend to pursue it for as long as I can. Busking is a unique kind of performance, and you learn a different skill set when you must perform for people who aren’t there for you (and keep them entertained). But, I would like to work in the arts after graduating.

Firdaus: After I graduate, I will find a job and busk during the weekends aka side hustle. I can’t imagine not busking.

These buskers were featured at Busking by the Bay, a platform for up and coming musicians to showcase their talent and seize life’s opportunities.

Busking by the Bay is an initiative that was held in conjunction with the DBS Marina Regatta 2018 to bring more vibrancy and entertainment to the Bay.

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