Popping the Freelance Cherry!

The Art Institute Sept. 1991- Mar. ‘94

When I was at AIP. I went almost a full year before entering their free lance program. I had heard about it but was preoccupied with other things. (Many of them school related!)

I was very good in school and fit right in with the other students. In fact, I was probably a little nerdy to most of them. There was a smoking lounge were people hung out between (but mostly during classes) and I (who smoked at pipe or cigars) began smoking cigarettes and finding reasons to cut class and play hacky sack or go to Corleones for pizza and beer with my classmates.

Fun Fact: One of my classes was called College 101. The gist of the class was to inform the students of random things like how to get around PGH, how to budget money for food (and recreation…) how to get a job, etc… One day the teacher spent a full class doing the math on the chalk board so that we would understand how valuable our time was at school. As it happens, I found out that that class, that day in 1991 would cost me $650. Yea math!

I had money from graduation and didn’t spend a lot at a time, (mostly it went to my Chinese food addiction a couple of times a week) but I did get a job right away. I worked at the Giant Eagle near Allegheny Center, where I lived. I lived on the 6th floor with most of my Visual Communications classmates. These towers were not ‘dorms’ per se, but they were the recommended facilities for most AIP students at the time. Although alcohol was discouraged in the building, it was a giant party tower, so any day when I got home from school, all I had to do was grab a sandwich and go to somebody else’s room hang out to eat it and drink booze. I had no trouble getting served or purchasing alcohol at any of the stores around AC so there was almost always alcohol involved in whatever I did after school. Yes, I did some rather stupid things…

Eventually this routine got boring and the few times that I had tried drawing caricatures at school events or on the street were disappointing. I had heard about the freelance program and went down to the school office to find out what it was all about. They asked me to do a few sample drawings and a brief list of my accomplishments. I had never drawn at a gig before so I was ready to get started and glad to have a new preoccupation.

How it worked was, AIP would take a call for a request for an artist and quote them a price, or take an offer. When the artist would go into the office, the office would take out a folder full of requests and show them what gigs were available. If an artist kept on his toes, he could be the first to hear of a gig and usually got it… When a gig peaked the artist’s interest, the artist would sign off on the gig and take down the information. I don’t think the office took a cut of the artist’s earnings for their trouble at that time. They had all sorts of offers, not just caricature gigs. I did some of my first paid graphic design work through the freelance program at AIP as well. Some were for ‘exposure’ and I learned quickly how things worked…

I don’t remember the specifics, but I think the first actual caricature gig I did was for an older student who was graduating soon. He sent in a request to AIP for newbies to draw at a prom for him about an hour away from Downtown… Luckily there was another artist who was also booked for it and he had a car. (I didn’t even have a bike at the time) We drove to the event, worked in tandem and it was a blast.

I was pleased to get my first ever caricature that night from the other artist I worked with as well as my first check for drawing at a party.

I doubt if any of the artwork either of us did was kept. It was surely pretty bad… (people didn’t call AIP to get a cheap newbie artist because they wanted to best available…) but I had popped my cherry!! I also learned a valuable lesson that day… Turns out, for working a 3 hour gig I made $100, the other artist made $100 and the older guy who had hired us through AIP (who did not go to the gig) made $100. Although I was happy to have the work, I thought his commission was a bit excessive so I told him so next time I saw him. Though asked to, I never worked with him again and I am still proud I told him so. (The normal commission percentage for an agent is 25%)

Copyright Adam Pate 2013, all rights reserved.


A Guy Walks Into a Bar… (Continued…)

In most cases the local performers will have a regular system worked out for how time is divided between performers on the popular pitches. Of course arguments between performers, local merchants or John Q. Public sometimes happen and when they do it brings undue attention from the local law enforcement agency and in some instances the city steps in to regulate the pitch for the performers if it happens often. The city will try to stop buskers from performing, sometimes force the participants to pay a fee or get a license or even hold try-outs for a particular pitch depending on the popularity of the pitch and how lenient the City chooses to be in the matter. The important thing to remember is that (at least in America) the first amendment protects your right to free speech, (that is, your ability to express yourself, via your performance, whatever that is, wherever you feel like doing so) making all of this regulation by the city, county or state ILLEGAL. Legal or not, sometimes there is a reason for the madness and it is best to just stick with the program that seems to work best. It keeps things friendly at least between the buskers and the local business owners and the cops. BUT SOMETIMES the cops just like to be dicks… and buskers are unfortunately easy targets for dicks…

In the next post I will go over your rights as a busker and some steps you can take to avoid confrontations with other performers, local merchants, cops and other forms of trouble that might pop up.

Copyright Adam Pate, 2013

A Guy Walks Into A Bar, continued…


One of the most important considerations for most professional buskers is where they will perform their act. So much so that they will travel very far from their homes and families at certain times of the year to work a particular “Pitch” because of that location’s earning potential and popularity during a particular season, holiday or festival. A “Pitch” is the venue or place where the busker performs his talent in the appropriate area of a city.

Unfortunately, in some very popular pitch areas there are a limited number of suitable pitches available to multiple performers. (or one very good one that everybody wants to use) There are usually a few pitches in an area that are more popular because of size. A larger pitch allows the buskers to attract and accommodate a larger crowd and therefore the “hat” AKA the ‘take’, or amount of money that can be made per show, gets bigger.  Because the pitch is on public property, nobody can claim a right to it legally, so the performers must work it out among themselves so that the pitch may be rotated equally between performers, usually determined by seniority or on a first come first serve basis and in 20 minute increments with 10 minutes to collect tips and break down set up.

Please note: Although I have many friends who are performers, my personal experience with THIS type of busking is limited. That said, I think I know enough to communicate the gist of it. I am not as knowledgable about how the stage acts go because I am a roving performer and can perform all day- any place if I want to and do not need to attract a crowd to perform.

Different kinds of pitches suit different kinds of performances. This diversity allows for a friendlier and more successful busking scene overall and can allow certain performers to find a unique specialized pitch, that fits their specific needs with little or no competition (like myself doing caricatures). Having a variety of pitches attracts a variety of performers which makes the area that much more interesting to the people who visit busking friendly areas.

(Copyright, Adam Pate 2013)

So A Guy Walks Into A Bar (continued)



Busking (again, performing publicly for a gratuity) is great for those of us that are vagabonds and like to see the world. A traveling busker might spend a couple of days in a resort town and make enough money for a room and some food and a little fun while on vacation or make enough money to get you to the next town if you are just passing through. Many buskers have traveled the world, observing and immersing themselves in the strange and wonderful cultures of the world!

What’s great about busking is that you have an immediate pay off and the freedom to do pretty much anything you like, any time you like, any public place you like with the exception of whatever logistical restrictions your act might require.

What stinks is that throughout history busking has widely been considered a fringe occupation and even though it is legal in most places the world over and people really enjoy doing it and being entertained by it, sometimes buskers are looked upon unfavorably, harassed and sometimes confused with panhandlers or vagrants. (There is a huge difference between somebody begging for money and somebody performing an entertaining service in hopes of getting a gratuity, whether they have a place to call home or not.) This is very unfortunate but expected, as creative people do tend to be characters and sometimes go about things unconventionally. No doubt there are many buskers who are lazy, annoying or have vices and just like any other occupation, it’s very difficult to be successful with these impediments… It is important to remember that most buskers take great pride in their work, are very professional, safe and respectful.

A busker’s livelihood depends directly on their degree of talent, people skills and entrepreneurial success. It is a challenging occupation in many ways. Honing your people skills, responsibility, gaining confidence in yourself and learning how to handle criticism in front of a crowd of random, judgmental people are just a few of the many benefits of being your own boss as a busker. You have the freedom to fail as well as the freedom to succeed. Professional Buskers make an honest living with their talents either as individuals or in groups and take their craft very seriously just like any other professional performer does. It’s no coincidence that many popular and successful professional performers have cut their teeth busking.

For an example of a professional busker (who just may be available to perform at your private party!), check out my friend Aaron Bonk’s facebook page. He currently is busking in Clearwater, Florida.


Many of the most successful buskers have traveled extensively and are known all over the world. There is a loose community of buskers that push each other to produce better acts, protect each other and share stories and information through various means.

For an example, check out http://www.Performers.net

(copyright, Adam Pate, 2013)

Check back to the blog later for more information on BUSKING!