When I started busking in Melbourne, I went straight for Swanston Street. It’s the main boulevard leading from the main railway station, Flinders Street. (My using ‘boulevard’ is not mere poetic hyperbole – one of Melbourne’s early planners admirably insisted that the main streets be ninety-nine feet wide.) More footfall, I reasoned, would be better for my purposes.
Not so. I don’t have an amplifier or a dog (two things that seem to be viable options for the ambitious minstrel with expansive notions). My aunt, who has long suffered and enjoyed (I hope, in unequal measure) the buskers of London, gave me a few tips. Buskers regularly position themselves at the bottom of escalators in the underground tube stations, thereby taking full advantage of the wonderful acoustic properties of the porcelain-tiled caverns.
Melbourne’s main train station, Flinders Street, is off limits for buskers, but there are two wonderful subways that are outside the ticket zone which share the same architecture as London’s subterranean network.
I quickly found that singing on the main streets was just too much effort. People tend to be more hurried on busy pavements and would only hear me for a brief window of time as they passed by. Traffic noise – and there is a tram system in Melbourne, too – is always going to win.
Thankfully, Melbourne is renowned for its smaller streets and laneways, which are often closed to vehicles. They also tend to be between tall buildings, and so you get a great acoustic. Another good thing about the lanes is that people are more at their leisure – they aren’t rushing past with the crowd. I’ve found about a dozen spots around the city now where I like to go and sing.