Out of the tens of thousands of active pannists around the world, only a tiny percentage of such pannists are able to earn a living strictly from steelpan performances alone. In fact, regardless of the instrument involved, most musicians find it extremely challenging to line up sufficient gigs to make a living. Hence the reason why many musicians have day jobs and do not bother with making the difficult but necessary sacrifices needed in order to make a career out of musical performances whether on the paid stage or on the stages of the public spaces of the world.
The intelligent, versatile and forward thinking pannists have developed other Pan related means of generating income through a variety of ways such as learning and cultivating the art of steelpan tuning, becoming purveyors of Pan, as well as arranging scores for bands. In any case, anyone who can manage to earn $2K/week or more through Pan related endeavors is definitely a strong earner in an overall weak market. After all, tuners, arrangers and Pan purveryors aside, how many active pannists can claim to have earned what amounts to a yearly six figure salary through their performances alone, much less through solo gigs?
Competent Pannists Who Utilize Public Spaces as Performance Venues Are No Strangers To Earning $300+ Per Day
On the few occasions that busking has been discussed in this blog, we have made it abundantly clear that although it may not be everyone's cup of tea, busking remains one of the most honorable and noble professions that exists due to the fact that by virtue of accepting donations from the general public, the capitalist exploitation model of doing business is essentially eliminated (please refer to our recent article we published entitled ''How the Steelpan Went From Being the Poor Man's Piano To An Elitist's Toy'' for a greater persepective on this issue).
In fact, before there were recording studios, stages with lights and promotional campaigns for performing artistes, there were buskers pleasing crowds in public spaces and injecting life and culture into whatever city or country they found themselves in. Busking is likely the mother of all modern musical gigs.
For the most part, people who are uninitiated into the somewhat closed, elusive world of buskers in general react with a mixture of disbelief and jealousy at the thought of a pannist earning upwards of $300/day from public performances. However, this is not to say that most pannists who decide to pan for gold in the public spaces of the world will meet such success, in fact, quite the opposite is true. For example, a pannist who strums chords on a double second or a guitar pan or any other lower range pan will find performing in public very difficult in terms of compelling members of the public to support such acts with their donations. But frontline players who can carry a tune have the potential to find great success in the public spaces of the world, however.
The pannist above is a clear example of the potential international touring opportunities that are available to resourceful pannists who approach public performances with the necessary discipline and diligence. In the case of the above pannist, his pan and skills allow him to tour internationally in Parc Güell in Barcelona, which during the summer months of the high season is a literal tourist trap which has historically hosted hundreds of thousands visitors per day. Although the traffic in Parc Güell may be down considerably as of late due to the recent entrance fees that have been implemented there, at the time this video was made (circa 2009), Parc Güell in the high season and in the right spots could yield on average €100 per hour to a capable pannist. This information stems from first hand knowledge.
Winter months during the low seaon in Barcelona are a different story, as one can expect to make as little as €10 per day or less, but pannists who are prone to performing in public spaces learn quickly exactly which cities and countries to perform in at specific times of the year. With this being the case, touring the world becomes normal and pannists who have the intestinal fortitude to persevere and become succesful public performers inevitably find that they are their own CEO, promoter, booking agent and manager as well. There are truly few if any careers as personally liberating and empowering as busking.
Although receptions among different international audiences vary significantly according to a variety of factors such as skin color, which we discussed in ''Busking While Black Can Be A Serious Charge, Especially for Pannists'', in most major cities in the western ''democratic'' world where public performances are encouraged, pannists with a good skill set can earn a very good living for themselves.
Pannists Who Turn Up Their Noses At Public Pan Performances Are Ignorant and Work 9-5 Jobs In Many Cases
Most professional musicians who by definition earn a living playing their instrument are well aware of the endurance, thick skin, and immense heart that musicians who regularly perform in public places possess. ´There is a certain level of respect and reverence that professional musicians who do not busk have towards their public performing counterparts. There is usually a lot of intrigue and mystery that surrounds the lives of buskers, who tend to inspire the awe of their fellow musicians, who for one reason or another have failed to realize the numerous benefits that result from performing in public spaces.
However, the musicians who attempt to downgrade buskers as some kind of musical failures who are incapable of getting paid gigs are just plain ignorant. Most notably, numerous persons in the steelpan community who have maligned buskers and the art of performing in public spaces do not even make a living from the steelpan, an instrument which these ignorant persons claim to be so proud of. Instead, they dream about a life of paid steelpan stage gigs while they punch their clocks everyday and take orders from their bosses at their jobs which they despise.
It would appear to be the case that most jobs that require 9-5 hours do not pay $2K net per week, nor do they allow for the ingenuity, independence, empowerment and freedom that playing a steelpan in public spaces does. In fact, most buskers who perform regularly for the public constantly receive offers to perform at paid gigs. On the flip side of the coin, musicians who perform in front of sold out concert halls for a living and try their hands at busking (Joshua Bell comes to mind), develop a healthy respect for the craft and the buskers who keep the tradition alive.
As with any undertaking in life, performance at a high level is a mandatory component of success. Steelpan public performances are no exception to this general rule and with that being said, we would like to end this article with a live Caribbean demonstration of one of the ways in which performing steelpan music in public spaces is accomplished at a high level, which virtually guarantees success.
Author: Rudy Kendall