Michael S.E. Elliott has made a living as a full-time musician in Kelowna.
He moved to the city last year and earned a majority of his money from busking, developing his persona as the Kelowna Busker.
But, the busking scene changed for Elliott after he received a ticket from the city, which altered his perspective.
The Capital News caught up with Elliott to discuss the decision behind leaving his full-time job and why he decided to take it up in the first place.
Q:Why did you decide to busk in Kelowna?
A: I’ve never performed that way before coming to Kelowna. I was making more money busking than any job I could secure here. I got way too comfortable though. I would be turning down gigs to busk.
Q: Comfortable meaning you didn’t need to challenge yourself?
One of the overall life lessons I’ve learned is being comfortable is no good for me and I need to seek opportunities that make me uncomfortable. As it pertains to busking, I was turning opportunities down for myself because I love the idea of it. There’s no agenda, it’s volunteering your time as you wish.
Q: How was the ticket a turning point for you in your career?
A: The city rescinded the ticket but there’s still a warning on me for busking. If I continue busking the way I was previously, then I’m liable to get another fine. That’s effectively stopped me from making a living the same way as I was before because I can’t go to the same spots. But, it’s a good thing in the end. It made me grow and challenge myself and I’m much better off for it.
Q: But you’re still known as the Kelowna Busker?
A: I use that to market myself by. I still busk, but the difference is last year it was a full time job and this year it’s a once or twice every week. It’s definitely changed for me.
Q: Will people look at you weirdly while you’re performing on the sidewalks?
Q: What music do you like to play?
A: Everything. I like the challenge of song writing. I battle with this concept with people in my band all the time. There’s two schools of thought which are both correct. The one school says music is creative expression so you open your mouth and whatever comes out, pours out. That’s the art and I love improvising with people for that. The other side of it is I want to build a career in entertainment and that means people are paying money at that point. So that means if you go into a venue and there’s a $10 cover there’s an expectation. It’s not just all about creative expression, there’s other people in the equation now.
Q: How do you meet in the middle of the two theories?
A: Sometimes violently. They’re separate schools of thought and I’ve had arguments with musicians in town. When you want to make it your job it becomes something else, I think. There’s a responsibility for the people who pay money to see a live show to perform and entertain them well, but I also want to progress in a career so I have to make sure everything I put out is beyond my artistic expression.
Q: Why did you decide to live in Kelowna to become a musician?
A: It’s kind of a microcosm of society at large. You have news organizations that are local and focused locally. Also, the dichotomy and closeness (of rich and poor) is a recipe for something to come out of the creative scene. It’s beautiful, and there’s money here. Being an entertainer that’s what you need; the people with a disposable income to spend on entertainment.
Elliott performs for weddings, at vineyards and does solo performances as well as with his rock band, That Awful Rhythm.
You may find him casually busking around Kelowna or at Doc Willoughby’s Public House.
Elliott is a part of the Capital New’s latest video project called Carli’s Corner. Every two weeks throughout the summer, reporter Carli Berry will interview local musicians in a quick Q&A on kelownacapnews.com. Email Carli at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.