The Psychology of Tipping

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Dear Diary,

This week I posted a funny (in my opinion…) tweet about a comment I overheard.

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I felt like the irony was self explanatory but to many it wasn’t; lots of lovely tweeters jumped to my aid with their sympathies. I very much appreciate the sentiment of those telling me not to take it to heart, but felt like many had missed the point of what I was saying. It got me thinking about how tipping is perceived by onlookers in comparison to how it actually works, through the eyes of the performer.

The girl was right, I did have lots of coins in my case already. I’d had a stroke of luck when the next busker didn’t show up to play after me, so I played their slot too. I played for 4 hours, non-stop! I didn’t clear out my case in between because the crowds were coming thick and fast and I didn’t want to waste time that I could be singing. Besides, it shouldn’t matter how much I’ve already got, if you liked what you heard and want to donate then you should, shouldn’t you?

I don’t expect my Starbucks for free just because Starbucks already has lots of money.

I had a few comments from supportive tweeters that, perhaps, I would make more money if I cleared my case out, to create the illusion that I had less. There’s a similar theory I’ve heard in the past about how I ought to dress; that my aesthetic is stopping people donating. If I looked a bit more “scruffy” people would feel sorry for me and I’d make more money.

Both those points, while well intentioned, slightly miss the point of what I’m doing. I’m not trying to make money, the money is a necessity for sustaining what I do and an extra blessing on top of sharing my music and my name with a new audience. If pity is the main emotion I incite when I’m out busking then I’m not doing my job properly.

This also brings to surface a really interesting psychological phenomenon I’ve witnessed after many years of doing this full time. People are sheep and copycats and everso predictable. While the girl in the aforementioned tweet is an exception to the rule, I have found that the more money I have, the more money I continue to make.

Firstly, people love to have their opinion shared by others, and seeing someone tipping a busker confirms their suspicions; this musician is good. It legitimises the practice and other’s are likely to follow suit. Secondly, even without seeing the money dropped, a healthy guitar case of coins assures them that they are behaving correctly. They are giving this musician a thumbs up, just as so many others have done already.

I have found the same with social media interactions. While the first 100 or 1,000 “likes” are hard to come by, once you’ve been validated by a few people, others are quicker to support what you’re doing and your fanbase is easier to grow. I don’t mind it and I don’t think people are fickle for being this way, it’s just human nature; we are pack animals and we want to be part of something bigger. It’s kind of adorable.

I always start my set with 6 pound coins in my case. A gentle hint at the sort of donation I’m aiming for. Some people say you should always hide your £5/10/20 notes away, so people don’t think you’re earning too much. I disagree, but I usually hide them away anyway, before the wind takes them and deposits them in the river for me.

Love,
Charlotte

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

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Dear Diary

It is so cold in London right now. It even snowed this weekend!

As I walked to the bus stop I had to watch my step for icy patches, I wore thick boots so I didn’t feel the cold in my toes and I could see my breath on the air in front of me.

But once I got to the Southbank, set my case down on the floor and pulled on my fingerless gloves I didn’t feel cold. Maybe it was the adrenaline of performing, the warmth of the passers by, the coffee from my favourite cafe or my thick souled Dr. Martens (not a sponsor, I just love their shoes!) Somehow I am warm when I stand by the river and sing.

Don’t get me wrong. At the end of every song I clenched my fists and uttered obscenities under my breath, before beginning another melody. But somewhere in the middle of each note I was so completely lost and caught up in the moment that the cold was totally eclipsed. I must have those same lost-in-the-moment escapes on hot summer days, but they don’t seem quite so utopian as when I come back to my mind and notice that my toes are completely numb.

Back in December I was invited to sing at a little girl’s birthday party and I was delighted to discover that she also likes to sing (and knows my song “Streets of London” off by heart!) Six year old Hope popped by this weekend and was brave enough to step up to the mic with me and sing out her loudest “Ba ba ba ba”! I’ve got some competition, it seems!

Love,
Charlotte

Green Hat, Yellow Coat

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Dear Diary,

Last week a little boy in a green hat and a yellow coat plonked himself down in front of me while I was busking. His dad and a crowd of people watched on in surprised amusement as he sat cross-legged, looking up at me.

After a short while, his dad decided it was time to make a move. When the boy would turn around with his big, beaming smile his dad would gesture; “come on, time to go now”. He wasn’t having much luck.

I struggled to sing through my laughter every time the cheeky child turned back to face me, in defiance. Members of the crowd were beginning to chuckle too.

Completely oblivious and happily enthralled, the little boy sat quietly and listened to me sing, briefly distracted by a helicopter overhead.

In his own sweet time, he got up and trotted back to his dad, protesting a little as he was picked up and carried away. “You can leave him here,” I joked, “I’ll keep him!”

A crowd had gathered to watch this quaint encounter, but that day I felt like I only had one audience member; the little green-hatted, yellow-coated cherub in the front row.

Lots of love,
Charlotte x

Be The Change

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Dear Diary,

I don’t know how NOT to talk about politics right now.

I don’t know how anyone can be talking or thinking about anything else.

It is completely overwhelming me. Every time I start to write something, create something or say something I feel like it is not important or worthwhile because there are so many more pressing things going on in the world right now.

I think it’s essential to be up to date with politics and active where possible. But sometimes you have to step back and look at your life on a smaller scale; make small changes that will have a ripple effect.

I’m so lucky to be able to offer some comfort, distraction and happiness to people on an every day basis with the universal antidote that is music. And I can’t express how much comfort that brings me in return. I’ve said this before, but it becomes truer and more poignant by the day; people really are kind.

Everyone can make small changes to make the world better. Don’t forget to:

– Smile at everyone
– Drink good coffee
– Give everyone the benefit of the doubt
– Tip well
– Compliment people more
– Slow down
– Stop to enjoy small things
– Read good books
– Read real books (not those kindle devils)
– Stroke all the dogs
– Be patient
– Be grateful
– Be kind

With every interaction there is an opportunity to be kind. Let’s all do our best to take those opportunities with both hands.

Lots of love,
Charlotte

Be the change you want to see in the world – Ghandi

Goodbye 2016

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At the beginning of 2016 I had no voice.

I’d suffered a nasty cold in the preceding December and welcomed in the new year from my bed; ill, grumpy and sad. As a singer, there really is nothing worse.

That New Year’s Eve was a sad omen for the year to come, as I spent most of 2016 feeling like I had no voice. I have always been an advocate of positive attitudes and optimism as a way of life, but I struggled to see the bright side of 2016. Needless to say, it was an eventful year outside of my own little bubble, and I think most people felt the negativity surrounding the past 12 months.

Personally, I let 2016 get the better of me, I let the negativity envelope me and I checked out of the year by October. I blamed all my own idleness and slip-ups on a bad year, instead of facing up to the reality that I’ve grown complacent. I like to think I work hard, but I know I’ve got more to give and now is the time to start.

Now 2017 is here and I’m writing a New Year’s blog a week late. (Great start Charlotte!) But I won’t let 2017 get the better of me. I won’t demonise it and let it take the blame for my complacency and my failures. We are not defined by what goes on around us but by how we react and what we choose to focus on.

I want to spread more smiles this year. Whatever 2017 has to throw at us.

Happy New Year 🙂

Merry Christmas London!

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With Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been busking some Christmas songs and feeling very festive amongst the Southbank Christmas Market.

While the London Eye and it’s surrounding areas are not shy about the holiday spirit, it’s not so easy to spread Christmas joy in London. Specifically on the tube, people are not feeling so festive, take that from a busker down in the trenches. Our local dialect in London is complete silence with minimal eye contract, and I’ve received many a disapproving eye roll for singing Christmas songs on the London Underground, despite Christmas being a mere 2 weeks away! . But I’m doing my best to spread Christmas cheer, singing loud for all to hear. 

As the weather has turned undeniably cold I’ll be hibernating and busking on the London Underground on rainy days or cold days (below 5 degrees C). But I’ll be on the southbank as my first port of call on the following days, please do come along and say hello! 

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Merry Christmas London!

 

A Little Time Away

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During the summer I work non-stop. I cling on to the warm days and nights because I know they are fleeting. When my body aches for sleep I try to remember fingerless gloves, biting cold February mornings and numb toes and noses. I tell myself; be the ant, not the grasshopper. 

I don’t love summer, if I’m honest. I spend the whole time dreading the fact that it will end but also willing it to end soon so I can guiltlessly sleep-in, with the sound of rain on my window. 

Summer is over now and my time is my own again. The southbank is quieter and colder and I can afford to take some time for myself. I am writing this on a plane headed to America. 

In the weeks leading up to this trip I worked like it was summer again. I worked every single sunny day and I even took to the underground on rainy days that I would usually have spent catching up on sleep. But I wasn’t plagued by the reluctant summer fatigue that I often feel in August; money driven, fearful of winter, leaving my heart back home in bed.

This time, I wasn’t working to save every penny, I was spending every day at the Southbank because I know how much I will miss it when I’m gone. 

When rent and bills and overpriced coffee drive me to make music, it makes me so unhappy. I must remember that feeling when summer comes around again. 

This autumn I was driven by love for what I do, cherishing every chance I got to go and busk until my voice gave out. Knowing that absence makes the heart grow fonder and my love for street performance keeps on growing. 

Until next time, Southbank. 

A Stone In My Guitar Case

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On Friday night someone dropped a stone in my guitar case.

I heard the unfamiliar thump and spotted it amongst the coins. I stared at it for a few seconds in confused disappointment. Why did someone put that there? Did they want to signify their distaste for my music? Did they throw it at me from a distance? What if it had hit me?

I looked up, hoping to identify the thrower. All I saw were smiling faces. Eagerly awaiting my next song. I looked down at the stone again, deflated by it’s unwanted presence in my guitar case. I started singing again but I kept looking around suspiciously for the culprit.

After a few more songs I realised this stone was weighing me down. It was making me doubt if I was good enough; if someone wanted to throw things at me or donate me pieces of coal like Santa, then why am I even doing this?

I decided to end my set, my mind was too clouded by the mean old stone. The crowd rushed forward to thank me with donations and smiles and words of encouragement. As one girl approached I saw her foot brush a stone on the ground, it flicked upwards and flew towards me. I watched it as it landed at my feet. I glanced down again at my stone and I laughed.

I laughed because, for all the energy I had wasted on this stone, I had just learnt something pretty important.

That one little negative stone had caused me to miss out on so many positive exchanges that came my way. It had probably landed in my case by total accident and yet, I’d spent nearly an hour thinking about it and all its malicious symbolism.

The pile of coins I had amassed from my set had been dropped in there out of kindness and gratitude and positivity. Every donation was someone wishing me well. Every coin was a smile. And I’d let each of them fall without a second thought. So distracted was I by the stone that, as it turns out, carried no meaning at all.

Next time you find a stone in your guitar case. Even if someone put it there on purpose. Don’t think about it. Just throw it away. Make room for the coins. And the smiles that come with them.

The End.

Authenticity

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Recently that word keeps cropping up in my life; authentic. 

Someone told me this week that what I do is authentic. What does that mean? Honest? Heartfelt? Or even just simply not auto-tuned? I thought about it a lot because I wondered what made other music “not authentic.”

I’ve spent a lot of time comparing myself to others, especially recently. It’s a bad habit. “Her voice is better than mine, his songs are better than mine, her luck is better than mine…” etc. I get so caught up in the things I’m not; I get completely overwhelmed by my own insignificance and flaws and I can barely remember what I am.

But this word, authentic, it made me snap out of it. I’ve got what I’ve got and if I had anything else I’d be somebody else.

My love for what I do is genuine, my passion for spreading joy is strong, my lyrics are personal and therefore truthful and my voice isn’t perfect, not professionally trained or outstanding, but it’s mine. 

In a world of smoke and mirrors and instagram filters, I think authentic is probably the biggest compliment anyone could ever give me. And its such a beautiful and rare trait to see in other people. It’s such a relief to realise that just being is enough. That’s all I need to do. Just be. And then I get lovely words like authentic thrown at me. 

Authentic. Yeah. I’ll take it.

Covers or Originals?

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This is an age old question. Especially for buskers.

Should I play cover songs or my own songs?

If you’ve got the talent to write your own music then surely everyone would rather see you showcase your ability to write?  Surely everyone would rather hear something you wrote from the heart than an imitation of the music in the charts?

But here is the sad reality of the situation; everyone wouldn’t. In fact, the majority of people wouldn’t.

The human ear loves familiarity and the general public hears the same songs on a loop on popular radio stations. Not many people love a song when they first hear it but after a couple of listens they find the familiarity of it comforting.

When you’re busking you’ve got less than one song to convince someone walking by to stop and listen to you, if it’s not a song that they know they are much less likely to stop.

This is not a question of whether you write good songs or whether you don’t. Whether your songs are better than your cover songs or whether they aren’t. It’s just a question of making a sensible song choice for your audience, and if your audience is on the move then you need to pin them down with something they know.

Here’s the important part though, once you’ve caught your crowd in a net of popular cover songs, that’s your chance to announce your own composition. Once you’ve convinced an audience to stop you have created a street show, and the stage is all yours, take it away!

I often get asked why I don’t play more of my own music while busking, and I’m flattered by the question. But the fact is I know the algorithm for a good busking set and the ratio of covers to originals is about 5 to 1.

Some musicians and buskers may turn their noses up at playing cover songs but personally I quite like paying my rent! And I learn a lot from memorising the songs that people love; I think it hugely improves my songwriting. Cover songs are a wonderful tool for gaining attention, then you can use that attention to showcase your original music.

Now that I have your attention…In September I’m taking on a challenge to write a lot more music. I am attempting to write a new song every day and put it up for you to hear it on Patreon. The most popular songs will be uploaded to YouTube the following week.

If you’d like to support me on my new project then click here or find out more about it here.