Street music is continuously facing regulations all around the world and unfortunately Berlin is no exception. Often due to poor transparency and enforcement of unclear busking regulations, there is a need to make a change in order to preserve an active cultural scene that takes its vibrancy from the streets!
Berlin Street Music is an advocacy group set up supporting Street Art – in particular Street Music in Berlin. Their attempt is to unite musicians, the public, policy makers, advocates, businesses, lobby groups, and anyone else involved in creating a thriving, culturally rich, and economically sustainable street art scene.
S2S met up with Geordie Little, Bennet Cerven and Stefanie Tendler who are the founders of the initiative Berlin Street Music to speak about what it takes to keep busking alive in Berlin.
S2S: How did the idea for Berlin Street Music come to life?
Geordie: Over the past few years busking has become increasingly more difficult in many places around the world, not just Berlin. Advocacy groups have been popping up in many cities to try and fight outdated restrictions and over policing. Groups like the Busking Project in London have done some amazing work on trying to combat the problems faced there and globally, however I felt that Berlin, being such a large and popular city, needed its own group to tackle the specific problems being faced here. Then earlier this year, through playing on the street, I happened to meet fellow musician Bennet Cerven, and was introduced to Stefanie Tendler. We started chatting about gigs and organizing some shows, and ended up discussing the state of street performing in the different places we had played. Then a few weeks later I was talking to Stefanie about another project and brought up the idea of setting something up. She was instantly on board and we invited a bunch of people we knew to discuss the idea. Pretty quickly we had the main ideas sorted and the rest just started happening.
Stefanie: With Berlin Street Music we want to create awareness for the artists that we as an audience, so to speak, encounter on a daily basis. We want to give musicians the possibility to introduce themselves and also get to know their fellow buskers in Berlin. It’s about uniting to help and protect each other when it comes to law enforcements and restrictions that are being used against street performers.
S2S: What does a sustainable career as a musician mean to you and how does street music affect the development of a musician?
Geordie: I think sustainability in music can be categorized into two distinct categories; individual, and community. The former means building a career that is self-sustainable in that the musician can make a living from creating and performing their chosen art, as opposed to doing it as a hobby. The latter is the environment that fosters that ideal, creating a platform upon which individual musicians can learn and grow, making it possible to carve out that individual career. The two are inter-related, and without the community base, it makes it extremely difficult for individual musicians to thrive. That community was once comprised of the recording industry and gig scene, however the way that music has been devalued over the past decade, the streets have become a much more integral part of this structure. The street is a way for musicians to gain experience as performers, to network and meet other musicians, develop their material, and make some sort of living in order to fund their careers.
S2S: How would you define the art of playing music in the street and what role does the actual activity play in regards to the creative process?
Bennet: I think Geordie had already begun to touch on this in an earlier response, but the decentralization of the entire music industry has put the artist in flux. Musicians are now fighting for outlets to be heard, and with advances in interconnectivity and technology, the competition is becoming fierce. Street music is a viable outlet for musicians to connect directly with a local audience. It´s this connection that makes street music so special. Personally, I have allowed those connections to leave their print on my compositions and have an influence on the way I perform. When I first began busking, I found that I had to play with more intensity and develop a style that would grab the attention of an audience. Every street or place an artist plays will slightly shape the way he writes and performs. This direct connection with one´s audience is what makes street music so unique, and is something I believe we need to preserve.
S2S: In many cities street music and arts are facing regulations. How does Berlin Street Music deal with the authorities and change the situation in Berlin?
Geordie: At Berlin Street Music we think that communication is the key. We want to create an open dialogue between the musicians, the authorities in charge of regulations, the public, the local businesses, and other organizations with an interest in street performance. Often, the reason many regulation systems don’t work, is because they are created by bureaucrats sitting in an office, seeking no input from the people the regulations effect. Furthermore, many systems are created using a negative framework, in that they are based on the number of complaints, rather than trying to minimize those complaints by focusing on positive outcomes. It’s an outdated and ineffective method of policy making. We hope that by creating an open discussion, we can develop a new system that suits all the parties involved, and will foster a thriving community that enhances the city, rather than the confusion and competition that reigns now.
Bennet: In addition to a more effective form of communication, we need the perception of street music to change. We’ve outlined some of the paradigm shifts in the music industry and many of the challenges upcoming artists face when trying to build their fan-base. I have always held the position that busking is the purest form of advertisement available to a musician, what better way to build a potential audience by standing on a street corner, popping up a sign and saying “this is what I do, if you like what you hear, then follow me!” We are faced with advertising stimuli every time we walk out of the house (signs, billboards, jingles, etc), our hope is to allow the street musician to be treated and viewed in the same manner.
S2S: Berlin Street Music was able to create awareness rather quickly and is liked and respected by many musicians. Where do you see yourself headed with this project and what can others do to support the initiative?
Stefanie: Shortly after launching the page, the buzz that our initiative was able to create, illustrated that there was a need and desire in creating awareness by putting a spotlight on the musicians in Berlin and portraying some of the issues they have been facing. We saw that many people living in Berlin were actually unaware of the regulations and enforcements being held against street performers as they showed a large interest when it came to some of these inconveniences. Bringing everyone closer together and creating transparency is one of our major attempts with this project.
Geordie: Ultimately we want to create a community where performers, the general public, authorities, and organizations can share ideas and discuss openly the issues faced by street performers. We want to present a professional and united front for performers so that we are taken seriously and considered when governments are enacting new policies. Although we will obviously be aiming to achieve a number of short-term goals, Berlin Street Music is a long-term project, in which we hope to create a movement and a shift in community thinking, rather than any one distinct outcome. People can support the project in any number of ways; supporting local street musicians, supporting online campaigns, getting involved in our ongoing photo petitions, sending in information about personal experiences, telling people about the initiative, and simply discussing the topic of street music with friends and making people aware of what we are trying to achieve.
S2S: Do you see a need to unite with other cities in regards of preserving street music all over the world?
Geordie: As I said, there are a lot of organizations all around the world trying to achieve similar things. Although Berlin is an individual example, with problems specific to it, there is so much that can come from creating a united global community too, and we aim to discuss ideas with groups from around the world in order to work out what works and what doesn’t.
Bennet: Through my experience, I have noticed that street musicians are facing tougher restrictions and regulations across the board. Creating more dialogue and building more unity in the busking community will strengthen all of our position to influence and shape municipal policy, while also providing a forum for fresh ideas on how to continually improve such policies. There is no “one size fits all” solution here, but a united front can help build more awareness for the struggles of musicians and pressure communities to respond in a fair manner.
S2S: How is Berlin Street Music planning on reaching out to the people in Berlin? Are there any events planned where you will inform about your agenda?
Geordie: Fortunately, Berlin already has a fairly tight-knit community of performers, and in just the couple of months we have been active we already have a large number of musicians supporting the project. Through these performers and a number of busking related organizations we hope to reach out to the public and continue to get more and more people on board. We are currently running a photo campaign, getting people to hold a sign with the slogan “Ich bin FÜR Straßenmusik” (I support street music), and over the next few months will be pushing this campaign in places like Mauerpark and other busking hotspots. We are also part of an event on the 7th of November through Sustainability Drinks, which will focus on sustainability in music, to which we hope to invite a number of policy makers and other community leaders. We will also look to set up a number of music events and festivals and also get behind other events we think are important to the street performance community.
S2S: How can street artists support Berlin Street Music?
Geordie: They can start by supporting us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/berlinstreetmusic), and telling all their fans about us. Then they can get involved in our photo campaign, join in with events, promote our online activities, and also sign up for an artist profile on the site. We are also always looking for people to send in any experiences they have had on the streets in Berlin, positive or negative, so we can collect all the information we can about how the system works. Basically, we want the artists of Berlin to join the community. We want to hear everyone’s point of view, so we can make decisions and take action on the things that really matter. Without the performers there’s really no point!
Stefanie: As I have started the photo campaign by taking pictures of buskers holding the sign “Ich bin für Straßenmusik,” I would like to encourage more street musicians to reach out to us, so that we can proceed in creating awareness for you as a musician and growing as a page in order to reach as many people as we can.
Wir sind FÜR Straßenmusik in Berlin. We support street music in Berlin.