Ney,27,plays his guitar several times a week near the Gallery Place Metro station when he can find time. Ney said performing for a crowd is therapeutic and helps relieve stress.
“It’s not about the money,” Ney said. “I have a bit of social anxiety,so it’s helped me cope with that.”
As spring weather finally rolled into Washington,street performers are taking their instruments and amplifiers to the streets to showcase their artistic flare. But unlike Ney,for many performers here it’s all about the money.
The Washington area is one of the highest paying metropolitan regions for independent artists,writers and performers with an hourly wage averaging $32 an hour,according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,following Las Vegas,New York,San Jose,Calif.,and Atlantic City. It is also one of the cities with the lowest concentration of performers.
Bernard Aljaleel,36,a homeless performer who plays his homemade drum set built from 5-gallon paint buckets and traffic cones,said he makes about $10 an hour on a weekday and can make triple that on weekends.
Scott Beruve,21,risks dehydration and sunburn to play his bass guitar from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in Farragut Square,a park bordering busy K Street,every day. After performing for eight hours Tuesday,Beruve said he made about $24,much lower than the average.
He said he’s sleeping on friends’ couches until he can afford a place of his own.
Beruve moved to Washington from Portland,Maine,last month in pursuit of a record deal. Performing on the streets is his only source of income. He said he prefers Washington to other cities because he feels that he and his equipment are safer.
He said it’s worth the low pay.
“Today I’ve had three different people offer me a band position as a bass player. … I met a music manager who actually got me this gear,” Beruve said. “I’m working with that right now.”
Beruve’s dreams are not out of reach. John Moon,better known as Jay Moon,is a producer and sound engineer at Selfmade Entertainment who started his career playing music near Washington Metro stations at the age of 12. He said he drummed on paint buckets and trashcans while his uncle,a music producer,introduced him to studio production.
He attributes a large portion to his success to working with Hands on the Future,an organization housed at the Columbia Heights Community Center that offers summer classes in entertainment technology for underprivileged youth. Sessions include song writing,musical theory,radio broadcasting and sound mixing and recording among others.
“There,I sharpened my skills as a sound engineer and producer and began my professional career,” Moon said. “And the rest is history.”
Moon said he will occasionally scope out talent at open-mic nights at bars.
Beruve says he will continue strumming his guitar until he is discovered by the “right” person.
“I’m hoping that I’ll cross paths with someone who will help me out in the long run. … I just want people to know my name.”
Reach reporter Cathryn Walker at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.