TTC Busker Profile: Ronny Cameron
I first stumbled upon TTC busker Ronny Cameron in the long passageway between the trains at Spadina station. The 23-year-old classical guitarist is just one of many licensed TTC buskers that Torontonians hear performing in the city's subway system every day.
So I decided to chat with Ronny to get to know the man behind the music some of us may have already enjoyed, without realizing it.
Where and when do you usually busk?
We're scheduled at different spots all the time. There's a 6 a.m. to noon shift, a noon to 6 p.m. shift, and a 6 p.m. to midnight shift. So we'll be scheduled at one station (for instance, Dundas) and for three days in a row, we'll play from 6 a.m. to noon. Then we'll move on to the next station and play from noon to 6 p.m., and finally move to the next station and play from 6 p.m. to midnight. It always rotates, so everybody gets an opportunity to play at stations at the good times and the bad times. It's fair for everybody.
How long have you been playing the guitar?
I've been playing for 10 years. My genre is classical guitar. I play on an electric simply because I can project the volume a lot louder, and I can add sound effects if I want.
Why did you become a TTC busker?
Well, I'd seen other people doing it and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The only thing I really wondered was whether or not there was money to be made. So I asked a couple of them how they do, and surprisingly, they said they do quite well. Some of them make upwards of $20 or $30 an hour, on average. That really intrigued me, and I figured, "Hey, I'm as good as some of these guys, so why not give it a shot?"
Do you make as much as you'd like?
Yeah, actually. I typically make upwards of $25 an hour. There are some stations, however, where you don't make very much at all. So you have to be smart while doing it. It's not just how good you are or how well you perform. You have to know what stations and what times do well. Morning rush hour from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. is great, and the evening rush hour from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. is good as well.
Do you find it challenging to play to a constantly moving and changing audience?
You know what? I actually find it easier to play to a crowd that's not 100% attentive. You can make a few mistakes. A couple people might be listening to you at any given moment, but you don't feel that same pressure as when you're doing a regular performance.
Do you take song requests?
I predominately play classical music, and it's very rare that people ever request a classical piece. I just find that most people love hearing it -- it's the best music to make money off of because everybody knows Für Elise or Ode to Joy. I like the fact that I can play something that everybody can immediately relate to. I don't know many pop culture tunes, so those would be kind of hard for me.
What do you do when you're not busking?
I actually practice a lot. I try to play for a couple hours every day. I'm heavily involved with music outside of subway busking, as well. I busk all over the city. Other than that, I've been going to the gym and working out a lot. Busking is my full-time job, and this is my first year as a TTC busker.
Any interesting stories from your job?
One of my biggest pet peeves with this whole TTC busking experience is panhandlers. I can't stand people begging for change. First of all, it makes what I do look bad--sometimes people see us in the same light as panhandlers, when we're really quite different. Secondly, they take business away from us -- sometimes they even strategically station themselves around so they take money from people before they pass by us.
This one time, there was a panhandler who was sitting in my station, near me. I asked him politely to leave, and he said no. I told him I was going to call security and he wouldn't listen; he was really drunk. So I went and told the collector, and he made the call to the constables. By the time the constables got there an hour and a half later, the panhandler had already left. Soon after the constables left, he came back. I was really frustrated with him, he was really cutting into my business, and it really bothers me that people are giving out money to people who are just going to spend it on drugs or alcohol. I finally went over and took his sign away from him.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I find a lot of people feel guilty or they feel bad only throwing in a dime or a quarter. But if you think about it, hundreds of people get off the subway at once. Thousands of people walk by me every day. If every single person gave me a quarter or a dime, I'd be making over a thousand dollars every day. We TTC buskers really do appreciate anything people have to offer if they enjoy our music. Sometimes people even drop in a bag of chips or a chocolate bar. I've gotten stuff like laundry detergent.
Watch Ronny play Bach's Gavotte en Rondeau and some of his own original work below.
Every Friday, TTC Busker Profiles aim to shed some light on the talented people who add a little something to our daily commute -- Toronto's true "underground" musicians.