Attitudes and Behaviors toward Street Musicians in Live Performances


This study investigated the audience’s attitudes and behaviors toward street musicians in live performances. Additionally, it explored the performative aspects that influenced behavioral responses. The sample was formed by 42 street performers, simplified, and made into an online questionnaire. In a second moment, 125 people who have participated as an audience in some urban performances worldwide completed another section of the questionnaire. The total sample was 167 responders. Data were analyzed by deploying the graphs to identify the outcomes cluster in four themes: The motivation of the audience to watch the performance, The attitude toward the performers, and the experience by both parties, either in a positive or a negative approach. The observation study was developed in 7 different spots, with 50 performances in New York City. The survey study’s significant findings reported that the audience was thrilled contemplating the Street performers on their commute. That is, the commute turns out to be agreeable. Over and above that, the observation study distinguishes the audience connection through the emotional reference. For instance, to the same degree as pop music, they identified songs conducted them to sing along. Withal, we observed that the musicians connected to the artistic environment. Our results showed that the quality of music, age, concentration skill, and environmental factors could contribute to the positive interaction between buskers and bystanders. The results supported our prediction and did not show considerate deviations in the responses.

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Vasconcelos, P. (2022) Attitudes and Behaviors toward Street Musicians in Live Performances. Open Access Library Journal, 9, 1-9. doi: 10.4236/oalib.1109046.

1. Introduction

Busking or street performance for money has been a popular practice in cities’ public spaces for centuries (Cohen & Greenwood, 1981) [1]. As early as the 11th century, troubadours and jongleurs were entertaining the citizens of France, and in the 12th century, Germany was filled with Minnesingers and Spielleute (Smith, 1996) [2]. Since then, buskers have continued the tradition of street entertainment to the present day. However, despite the long history of street performance and the prevalence of buskers in most major cities across the globe, there has been a remarkable little research conducted on this topic from a music and psychology perspective.

The context in which music takes place has significant effects on how it is experienced by those involved (Sloboda, 2010) [3]. Buskers perform in public spaces in New York, similarly on Subways, trains, parks, and streets, and in most cities worldwide, they have a significant role. Recent research explored the reciprocal relationship between street musicians and audiences in living performances. (Brand, Sloboda, Saul & Hathaway, 2012) [4]. The Development of Street Audience Experience (SAE) Scale (Tsann Yang & Hong Lin, 2018) [5]. The Busking Experiment: A Field Study Measuring Behavioral Responses to Street Music Performances (Anglada & Omigie, 2019) [6]. One key factor facilitating the interventions on street performers is reducing the distance between musicians and their audience that comes from performing on the street (Mason, 1992) [7]. It is both in the architectural organization of the space―there is no “stage”―but also as there is a forced proximity in the often-crowded nature of these spaces (Tanenbaum, 1995) [8]. This study aims to analyze the behavior in the relationship between the street performers and their audience on the environmental perception of public spaces. We addressed the following research questions:

1) What is the social relationship between a street musician and the audience?

2) How satisfying can the relationship be between a street musician and the audience?

3) Can spectators be motivated to watch the performance without previous expectations?

Over and above that, we investigated the performative aspects that influence behavioral responses from the audiences. We hypothesize that the presence of street performances will increase the bystanders’ motivation to participate in public spaces to de-stress (H1). The songs associated with the audience may contain information that drew their attention to watch, participate and interact with the performance. (H2). There are positive reactions in the audience behavior when watching a street musician in public spaces (H3). Watching artistic performances can be enjoyable and decompress. Art does not only exist in museums or galleries (Tsann Yang & Hong Lin, 2018) [5]. We develop the observation study in a diverse recruiting base subject to the different music styles. The strategy to collect questionnaires’ answers was online with the present audience on the sites. It is reported in the method section. The total sample contained 167, of which 25.15% were musicians, and 74.85% audience who had the experience of watching street musicians’ performances at least one time in any part of the world.

2. Literature Review

The majority of the literature on street musicians has explored the consumer responses to buskers performing on the street (Stabler, Mierisch, 2021) [9]. The audience motivation for tipping a street performer (Tsann Yang & Hong Lin, 2018) [5] and the single studies about Behavioral Responses to Street Music Performances (Anglada & Omigie, 2019) [6], the experience of street musician (Anglada & Omigie, 2019) [6]. Nevertheless, none of these studies used an observation approach and survey analysis to scrutinize musicians’ motivation, audience behavioral responses to street music performances, or the emotional interaction between them to explore potentially relevant factors that mediate busking success and bystanders’ satisfaction. The present study will contribute to filling up some gaps in previous research focusing on attitudes and behavioral responses.

3. Method

3.1. Participants

The total sample was 167 responders. Include 42 street musicians and 125 audience responders. The participants include 84.2% male and 15.8% female musicians. The audience responders presented, 47.1% female, 51.2% male, and 1.7% didn’t state their gender. The age ranges from 20 years and older. The demographic sample contemplated several relevant sites, including New York City (for the observation study), and Brazil, France, Italy, London, Portugal, Spain, and Venezuela for online data collection.

3.2. Sampling Strategy

We used the empirical and systematic observations to have a broader view of Street musicians in live performances. Eventually, we took part as a participant in the audience at the scene to absorb the feelings and the behavior of those involved in this spontaneous cultural urban movement. Correspondingly, the focus of this study was the audience’s experience and the musicians’ emotions during the performances. Thus, the present study has a different sampling strategy.

The first sample was formed by 42 street musicians (Buskers). They responded to a specific questionnaire with a convenient approach for this research. The online survey results transcribed were subject to graph analysis to interpret and analyze the data.

The second strategy was to collect data for the 30 participants recruited randomly, present bystanders in 7 sites between March 17th and April 21st. Additionally, the researcher collected the bystanders’ emails and preserved the confidentiality of the recruited participants. At random, 30 spectators present at these spots answered an online questionnaire. These spots were chosen as a diverse recruiting base subject to different music styles for 36 days of observation, and 50 performances:

1) Union Square: Between E 17 street and Broadway―Outdoor performance.

2) Union Square Station indoor―Between Downtown and Uptown line―N, Q, R, W.

3) Herald Square―Up Town Line―B, D, F, M.

4) Times Square Subway station, Platform lines, N, Q, R, W Down Town.

5) Times Square subway station Between Down Town and Uptown Lines 1, 2, 3.

6) Times Square Subway Station Exit 42 street and 7 Ave.

7) Astoria Ditmars.

The third strategy was the collection of online answers conducted by the same previous questionnaire from the audience above. The sample contains 95 people who had the experience of watching a street musician’s performance at least once in any part of the world. Thus, the total audience sample was 125 people.

4. Results

4.1. Observations

Musicians’ specific factors.

4.1.1. Quality of Music

The kind of music played and its quality can determine audience’s attachment, such as pop music, famous songs, and folk music. The musicians’ interaction with the audience showed through their faces and gestures, including the control of the repertoire. The observed musicians showed a level of involvement related to the audience’s empathy. In line with the theory of reciprocity (Bar-Tal, 1976) [9]. In reciprocal situations, individuals make a mental contract where they give with the expectation of receiving personal benefit to an equal extent. Prior empirical literature also points to the importance of music quality for a musician’s success (Papies & van Heerde, 2017) [10]. Moreover, we observed that the musicians’ motivation is directly related to the number of people beholding the performance.

4.1.2. Age

The age of street musicians can contribute to the audience’s interest in watching the performance. Young musicians (children) attract the bystander’s permanence and interaction. Additionally, the audience gratuities are higher for these young artists than the adult ones. Children possess characteristics that induce adults to protect and care for them, independent of their current parental status (Kringelbach et al., 2008) [11]. Allegedly, parenting motivation is the basis for emotions such as empathy and compassion, which result in altruistic. Nevertheless, elderly musicians received less attention from the audience; however, the commuters manifested solidarity by giving prestige to their performance when halting to tip and then continued on their way.

4.1.3. Concentration Skill

The street musicians kept their concentration under control during the performances on the platform inside the subway station. There were disturbances; noise, visual interference, unexpected movements by the commuters, and the trains transitions. Although the buskers had control of the time, they played each song and harmonized it along with the train schedule. The sample observed used concentration technique to intensify the performances and draw the audience’s attention. According to Parbery-Clark et al. (2009) [12]. The increased perceptual skills in musicians are observed even when speech is masked by background noise compared subcortical neurophysiological responses to speech in quiet and noise in a group of highly trained musicians and no musician controls. They found that in background noise, the musicians demonstrated earlier onset and transition response timing, better stimulus-to-response, quiet-to-noise correlations, and excellent neural representation of the stimulus harmonics than did the no musicians.

4.1.4. Satisfaction

We observed that street musicians were pleased by the positive behavior of the audience and their financial reward. The whole time in the observations, it pointed out the expression of their gratitude. The interaction expressed the recognition of the spectators through applause, involvement, and tips.

4.2. Environmental Factors

Natural Stage―We concluded that the kind of site where the performers were located could attract the audience. Also, we identified that the commuters could enjoy their walkway and create an expectation to meet some musicians in their familiar spot. The locality where there was an artistic architecture attracted more street musicians as their stage. We found that they showed confidence in playing in a creative atmosphere. Based on observation sites, the Times Square subway station Between Downtown and Uptown Lines 1, 2, and 3 was the most visited spot among the total observed. Performers and audience together create their own culture and art, which is different from other professional performers who charge admission fees. (Tsann Yang & Hong Lin, 2018) [5]. Additionally, the theory of reciprocity (Bar-Tal, 1976) [9] suggests that consumers are likely to reward higher effort, and consumers may believe it requires more effort to deliver a good performance in bad weather than it does in fair weather conditions. Previous research in marketing shows that weather influences consumer behavior (e.g., Moon et al., 2018 [13]; Rind, 1996 [14]).

4.3. Commuters/Audience

Reactions―The observations disclosed the bystanders’ connection to the performance directly related to the distance between the musicians and their audience. Moreover, they revealed more compliments expressed through the applause in songs sung than in instrumental performances. Nevertheless, we observed that the bystanders did not remain more than three songs in the same local. Furthermore, this study found that when the events occurred on the platforms inside the subway station, the audience did not react satisfactorily. The short distance imposed contributed to inhibiting them and their focus on the train movement. Thus, the audience’s emotions are both material and cultural manifestations; they merge social and individual dimensions, and they often linger on the blurred boundaries between effective dynamics and discrete emotions. (Kolesch, D., & Knoblauch, H., 2019) [15].

According to this study, gender attitudes towards street musicians presented a relevant difference in behavior concerning compliments and the tips of the performers. Females considerably reacted more immediately than males. On account of the theory of social recognition, women generally score higher in empathy and are more likely to donate (Willer et al., 2015) [16]. Based on Sloboda’s ideas, the audience’s power through acceptance influences the performers’ repertoire and motivates the creativity to play music and sing songs according to the bystanders’ satisfaction.

5. Data Analysis

5.1. Survey Analysis―Street Musician’s Responses

The function of art as a means of expression of human feelings also has a specific social role in harmony with the needs of society. (Sulistiani, S., & Mr., S., 2018) [17]. To explore the behaviors and attitudes of the street musicians toward the audience, we highlighted the number of responses. According to the survey, most street performers in our sample were male, totalizing 84.2%. In comparison, 15.8% were female, considering that 76.9% were musicians who felt highly motivated to play in public spaces. Furthermore, 81.1% declared happiness in playing in the urban environment, and 29.7% stated that motivation depended on the interaction with the audience. On the contrary, 48.6% felt anxious about the audience’s reactions. The notable finding of this survey revealed 100% considering the motivation of the musicians to play toward the audience’s positive response despite the possibility of not receiving a tip.

The kind of performance and the genres of music that aroused the audience’s interest from the busker’s perspective were; instrumental music 64.9%, followed by dancing music 62.2%, and Folk music 45.9%, the third genre selected by the audience. In this section, the musicians could apply all their own experiences. With these findings, we distinguished the creativity of the musicians showing their knowledge in the variety of repertoire and musical styles to provide the audience attention and acknowledgment.

5.2. Survey Analysis―Audience/Bystanders

Based on the audience responses, 87.2% of the interviewees have a habit of listening to music daily. We highlighted 57.8% that stated they did not prefer a specific genre. They enjoyed all kinds of music, 24.1% chose Pop music and Jazz. Classical music and folk music presented the same rate. Thus, with the findings of this study, we could point out the genre preferences that influenced the bystanders to watch some performances. Concerning the audience reactions during the performances, 57.9% stated happiness, 23.7% declared that this artistic movement made them enjoy their commute, and 10.5% reported they felt calm; differently, the rest of the sample did not react.

6. Discussion

Our findings highlight that the primary hypothesis was consistent; the presence of street performers will increase the bystanders’ motivation to participate in public spaces to de-stress. It was supported by the outcomes provided by the respondent’s answers and the systematic observation.

The finding confirms the second hypothesis; the songs associated with the audience may contain information that drew their attention to watch, participate and interact with the performance. Additionally, to confirm the third prediction, the results clearly imply positive reactions in the behavior of the audience when watching a street musician in public spaces.

One striking finding was about the connection between the musicians and the bystanders. The sample studied interpreted the bystander’s satisfaction swiftly, trying to capture the audience’s interest longer. The creativity of this sample of buskers showed efficacy in communication and focus on music played without the distraction of external disturbances, such as different types of noise. The musicians showed interaction with the reaction of the audience and the control of their discontentment when they had no interaction. It leads us to conclude that these artists have the concentration to continue the presentations with new spectators, given that new audiences are formed temporarily. As a result, performers can provide audience appreciation in a virtuous circle of mutual benefits (Tsann Yang & Hong Lin, 2018) [5].

7. Conclusions

We emphasize that the buskers studied demonstrated engagement through music. On the other hand, the audience expressed a genuine involvement during the presentations, illustrated by staying on the improvised stages. Performances are an element to making their commuters pleasurable. This study concludes a positive and reciprocal relationship between the street musician and their audience in live performances.

We suggest that future studies analyze the behavior and attitude of street musicians and their audience in another city with different weather and geographical characteristics from New York City through the same methodology described in this Research.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflicts of interest.


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