Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Filming and adventures on the underground

Well, we finally have the permits for filming on the tube. This means you'll soon be able to see what a fool I make of myself rather than just read about it.

I tried it out yesterday, proud of my new permit, with a two man crew. The first person I approached was carring something that wasn't musical (an occasional mistake). I said "is that a musical instrument?" he said "No. Is there a problem?"

I realised that having an official badge doesn't always work in your favours and I've lost that charm of scruffy man randomly approaching strangers.

However, two really strange things happened to yesterday.

The first, before I got the permit and in the morning at Tower Hill Station, I spotted a guy carrying a violin (turned out to be a viola, sorry!) and I knew he looked familiar. I gave the usual spiel about the challenge, and he seemed really interested. I told him my name and he said "are you any relation to Hannah Buswell?" To my knowledge I'm not, so I said no and then he gave me his name. I said "are you any relation to xxxx?" He said "yes". That's my twin brother.

I'd met his twin on 12th February, over 3 months ago, at the very same station, carrying a violin (which I correctly guessed)....

Second odd thing also involved a violist. I had a manic time at Baker Street station, meeting around 8 musicians in the space of about 5 minutes. It was insane! Running from one to the other. Not sure I'm cut out for that. Anyway, met this guy with a viola and started my speech and he went "oh, I've heard of you". Not actually that strange I guess (not many people running around trying to form an orchestra!) but it was a first for me on the London Underground.

And it made me think about things a little. I'm aware that, over the next few months, things will pick up and become a little more "proper". Film crews following me on the tube, business cards, meetings with companies about commissioning stuff, news stories about the challenge and the performance on the EDF Energy London Eye, it's all getting a lot more professional. As a result, I anticipate a larger number of people being interested. I don't blame them. Once there's a stamp of approval behind things, you always feel a little more comfortable.

But I'll miss the days when I looked like a tramp and only had a pencil and a notepad and people had to just believe in a dream.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Statistics - April

Greetings and salutations!

Here are some more stats for Jan-April. As at 1 May 2012, there's some mega statting going on!! Of the musicians I have met....
  • 48% are women
  • 52% of people therefore are men
  • 0% are anything else (to the best of my ability)
Of these 100% humans I have met....
  • 9% of musicians I have found are carrying brass instruments
  • 15% of musicians I have found are carrying woodwind instruments
  • 76% of musicians I have found are carrying string instruments
  • 0% of musicians I have found are carrying percussion instruments
  • 22% of musicians I meet express no interest in joining an orchestra for the challenge (the "no"s)
  • 59% of musicians I meet express possible interested (the "maybe"s)
  • 20% of musicians I meet express a positive interest in joining an orchestra (the "yes"s)
  • Therefore, I would say that I have a 79% chance of meeting an interested musician. Of this group, 69% give me their details (mainly e-mail, with some phone and facebook). The other 31% of interested people just take the website.
  • Of these musicians potentially interested, 40% of respond back to me.
  • Of this 40% of musicians that actually respond back, 90% of them are happy to be placed on a roster and get involved with the project. The other 10% are tentative.

So...based on this information, you could say I have a 28.5% change of finding an interested musician when I see them. But to break it down by instrument I have a....wait a minute....a...

  • 2.6% chance of finding a brass player who is interested enough to respond and be placed on a roster
  • 4.3% chance of finding a woodwind player who is interested enough to respond and be placed on a roster
  • 21.6% chance of finding a string player who is interested enough to respond and be placed on a roster make a full symphony orchestra..I would have to meet....1,134 musicians!!
Considering the amount I've already met, it's getting there.....

*Statistics are based on finding 100% of strangers to form an orchestra and do not take into account the musicians that perform in the band and will be principals on each instrument..

Challenge techniques

People often ask me how I find musicians. What techniques do I use? How often do I do this?

Well, I have decided to give you an insight into how I conduct this challenge. I'm going to peel away the secrets and show you just how this is done! I feel a little like Penn & Teller....

Before I start, I should say that for the first 4 month I just went up to people, told them what I was doing. And from now on, I have printed cards I give them. More professional. But less personal I think. Will be interesting to see the results and if they change....Anyway. Here are the techniques used.

Technique # 1 - Platform Meandering
The most obvious and laziest of all techniques. Meander suspiciously around a platform until you spot an instrument case. Also good for lunchtimes where you can sit with your lunch and watch the trains arrive. Many a musician is found via platform loitering,

Technique # 2 - Trainscanning
This technique requires an element of skill and good eyesight. As the train is pulling into the station, you move your head at the same pace as the train, quickly back and forth, and view each carriage to see if you can see instruments. Just moving your eyes with your head still causes a bit of a headache and is harder to do. By moving your head as well, you reduce the speed at which your eyes need to move. You do, of course, look like you're massively disapproving of the oncoming train...

Once you spot an instrument, run to the carriage and get on. If you can't make it in time, get on the nearest carriage and do some.....

Technique # 3 - Carriage Hopping
This is the fun part! Get on at the last carriage (having just done some trainscanning) and walk from one end of the carriage to the other. At the next station, just out and move to the next carriage. The more astute commuters spot you doing this, and hold onto their luggage a little tighter. So, in a bizarre way, I think I'm helping increase security on the underground.

Careful attention is paid to instrument cases under the foldup seats. Many a violin/saxophone case has been spotted there!

Once you get to the end of the train, just off, do a Platform Meander and start at the other end again.....

Technique # 4 - Carriage Strolling
Whilst done in small bursts whilst Carriage Hopping, this can only be done on the Metropolitan line (and some overground lines if allowed). You walk from one end of the train to the next, then back again. Fun to do in small bursts, but gets boring very quickly. Do a day of carriage strolling and you're longing for a bit of a carriage hop!

Technique # 5 - Station Loitering
Many novices confuse Station Loitering with Platform Meandering. It's a schoolboy error to make. If you tell an inexperienced musician hunter to Station Loiter, they'll find themselves on the platform looking around. NO! You're missing one of the most important tools in finding people on the underground. Loitering in one place, letting people pass you by. It's like that analogy with the rain and running. Except with no moisture....

Station Loitering is finding a sweet spot(s) in a station and hanging about. A good example would be the bottom of the escalators at Picadilly. The two escalators go to the Bakerloo Line and the Picadilly Line. Which means every moment you have people going to the two platforms, and coming from them. A constant 4 flows of human traffic. Find the sweet spots in the station and go from one to the other, depending on the flow.

HOWEVER! Whilst the benefits of Station Loitering are many, it's not without it's curses. If you spot a musician in one of these flows, then you have to get to them! That can be difficult, and can involve Escalator Madness, the technique most avoided. Also, if you are too close to the entrance/exit and spot a musician about to leave, then you have to do a mad dash and they're normally scared. Trust me, I know....

Technique # 6 - Escalator madness
The most loathed of all techniques. It's not really even a technique. Well, it partly is. The technique is to ensure you are always closest to the opposite moving escalator. That way, if you see a musician you can gesture to them/hand them a card.

The problem is that, to get in/out of most stations you have to use an escalator. And when you're on it, as a musician hunter, it's hard to avoid looking at the other flow of people going the opposite way. The madest of the madness comes when you step onto an escalator, and see a musician the other side stepping off. OH NO! PANIC! What do you do? Do you run back the wrong way, causing problems to the other passengers? Do you abide by the rules and run down and up the other way, in the hope they'll have not left? Do you shout out and throw some note at them, hoping they'll see it? Do you madly slide down the middle part like an action hero?

I'm not telling you what I've done (*cough* all of the above *cough*) but I can tell you it's madness. I dislike it a lot. OK, a little part of me loves it.....

And thus concludes the techniques for any wannabe musician hunter on the underground.

FAQs about the challenge

I have been asked by a few people how I look for musicians. And I get asked a lot of questions about what the challenge entails. The most comment misconsceptions/frequently asked questions seem to be:

You have to find an orchestra of buskers, right?
No I don't look for buskers. I find musicians carrying their instruments on the underground. But if I find a busker that's playing a classical instrument, I might drop a little note in their case (along with some money to weigh it down/bribe them) or speak to them during a break.

You've got to play with an orchestra on the trains? That's gotta be tough!
I'm not performing with people on the underground. It's pretty much impossible to do anyway. A carriage holds about 200 people. And that's just people, not instruments. Not only would it be difficult to fit, we wouldn't be able to hear or see much. If this was the challenge, I think it' would be fun, but a little pointless. The challenge is to find people to form an orchestra, and perform in a venue at a later date.

Do you have to get the musician to audition with you when you meet them? How do they know what song to play?
Finding musicians is tough enough, but finding one who had the free time (and interest!) to get their instrument out, set up somewhere with space and perform with me, would be a logistical nightmare. I'd also have to always carry my instrument with me, which I can't always do. The people just have to give me details and we'll meet/rehearse at a later date.

Do people have to sign up and agree there and then?
No. The musicians I meet just have to provide me details. There's no commitment needed in the initial meeting. Most people are busy and I don't want to take up much of their time. In general, those who have signed up to be on the roster have expressed an interest, but not committed when I first meet them.

What if you find the musicians and don't get one of the 12 venues (
Technically the challenge has failed. But it would be a shame to go to such efforts and not perform. So a performance will go ahead, just probably after the deadline of 12th Dec.

What if you get on of the 12 venues but don't find enough musicians?
Again, the challenge has failed. But it would be a shame for everyone who has bought a ticket not to be given a good night. So I promise an event will occur!

How do you find the musicians?
There are many techniques I use (see other post about this) but I just look for instrument cases. This means that some smaller instruments are hard to find, but not impossible. Sometimes people carry a flute case, and it's quite easy to see. Once in a while I am speaking to someone about the challenge, and someone else steps forward and says they have an instrument in their bag. If you do anything long enough, you can find whatever you want.

Do you seriously think you can pull this off?
Yes. Over 2 million people travel on the London Underground every day ( Now I obviously can't meet them all, but I can easily see thousands of people a day with little or no effort. Just travelling back to me house from the cinema mean I have the opportunity to travel on 8 different carriages, with the potential of seeing over a thousand people.

My statistics show how many people I'll need to find to get a symphony orchestra, but it also doesn't include the fact that as interest in this rises, and as people spread the word, I'll have more chance. I've not had any musicians I've met know what I'm doing, but I have met non-musicians who have heard about this. In fact, I performed in Berlin in April and one of the support act's fans asked if I was "the same Buswell from the London Underground". So word is spreading.

I'm a musician and want to get involved? How can I do this?
The best chance any musician has of getting involved is to not contact me directly (if they're interested in joining the band, e-mail me at But if they're interested in just joining the orchestra, don't contact me directly). This way, they remain a stranger.

Then, I would recommend they follow me on twitter ( as I'll post up sometimes in advance where I'm going to be. Especially when the film crew will be with me.

Later in the year, I'll set up two weeks (prob June and early Sept) where I'll stay in the same place for 1-2 hours (prob from 8-10) giving everyone a chance to come and meet me and sign up.

If you want to, you could always contact He's the web admin and might be able to also give you a bit more of a lowdown on places I'll be.

I'm not a musician. What can I do to help?
One of the best things you can do to help me is sign up to twitter ( and facebook (( and spread the word. I am really bad at promoting myself, and I'm doing this challenge pretty much single handedly.

You can also donate to the charities ( and help raise funds this way.

And lastly, when it's announced, you can buy tickets to the event on 12th December 2012!