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TTC Busker Profile: Ronny Cameron

Posted by Jennifer Tse / December 4, 2009

TTC Busker Ronny CameronI 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.



Benjamin / December 4, 2009 at 09:37 am
I love this piece and I think it should be a regular series. If only people took the time to talk to these performers, we could learn quite a lot. They come from all over the world and have incredible stories to tell. Can't wait for the next in the series.
James / December 4, 2009 at 10:10 am
I agree w/ Benjamin. More Busker interviews, please.
Tom / December 4, 2009 at 10:16 am
This is great. Please make this a regular series.
DS / December 4, 2009 at 10:29 am
I liked this piece a lot. Please consider making it a regular feature.
LK / December 4, 2009 at 10:41 am
Yes! Make this a regular series!
Melted / December 4, 2009 at 10:44 am
Agreed, great story! Keep it going!
lauren / December 4, 2009 at 10:49 am
agreed! great article and would love to see more like it.
Clarence Johnson / December 4, 2009 at 11:04 am
This is a great story idea. Keep them coming.
Picard102 / December 4, 2009 at 11:40 am
It's a shame they don't dress up a little because I always assume it's a panhandler.
TORocker / December 4, 2009 at 11:52 am
Terrific article! So much talent around town buried in the subway system. You must come north of Bloor Station - Finch Station has the best artists around :)
Scott / December 4, 2009 at 11:58 am
nice article enjoyed reading it!
Brian / December 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm
"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."

AHA. An hour and a half later? Great show Constables!
Jennifer Tse / December 4, 2009 at 12:05 pm
Thanks so much for all the positive feedback, everyone!

Yes, I plan on making this a regular series. Look out for new TTC busker posts on Fridays. ;)
Brian / December 4, 2009 at 12:07 pm
Also, Why not a panhandler profile every once in a while?...lets hear their side of the story.
emmay / December 4, 2009 at 12:19 pm
I grade 12 I did a short documentary on buskers in the city - definitely learned a lot from these musicians. No one was rude or brash - everyone was so welcoming and interesting. Definitely worth chatting with if you ever have the time. Hundreds of people audition every year to be buskers, so the ones you see on the TTC are the real deal.
G Smith replying to a comment from Picard102 / December 4, 2009 at 01:36 pm
Look for the little laminated license card (it's inside the lid of this guy's guitar case in the photo) to check for "legit" musicians on the subway.

Also, those yellow dots mark the designated areas where the buskers are allowed to play. In some stations (Pape comes to mind) they're fairly poorly located and make the musicians block the top of stairwells. It also means there's not much time to spot them and get some change out of your pocket. Spadina's probably the complete opposite, with a long hallway giving you lots of room to maneuver and lots of advance notice --- incoming busker!

I miss the electric sitar-playing busker. I wonder if he doesn't have a license this year...
RocM / December 4, 2009 at 01:50 pm
you never know who's in cognito... remember Josh Bell posing as a busker in DC?
(shameless plugs are forgiven at christmas right?)
jennifer / December 4, 2009 at 02:22 pm
Great article! I love the buskers at Spadina. My favourite is the guy who plays cello. These guys make the long walk enjoyable.
Matt / December 4, 2009 at 02:43 pm
Ya I really liked this article, keep them comming!
rjs / December 4, 2009 at 03:05 pm
Agreed - very interesting! Make this a regular series!
Dawn / December 4, 2009 at 03:43 pm
I agree with everyone, make this a regular. Some of these buskers really brighten my day.
MusicLover / December 4, 2009 at 04:52 pm
Great write-up. Ronny is of a rare breed. Hope to run into you soon!
Michael / December 4, 2009 at 05:18 pm
I enjoyed this. Very candid.
nib / December 4, 2009 at 05:48 pm
+1 to the sentiment that this should be a series!
i see this guy in st clair west station quite a bit. today actually.
Christopher / December 4, 2009 at 06:50 pm
Good work Jen Tse. You should do one on the Y&Bl station woman with the piano. She plays Debussy in the morning, transporting you from the grimy fevered depths to a calmer, more romantic place. Gah. Her.
mondayjane / December 4, 2009 at 06:50 pm
Wonderful! I agree with everyone else, this needs to be a regular series.
mondayjane replying to a comment from Jennifer Tse / December 4, 2009 at 06:51 pm
just saw this - excellent!
Jennifer Tse replying to a comment from Christopher / December 4, 2009 at 07:04 pm
Thankee muchly Chris Reynolds! I know exactly who you're talking about and I'd love to profile her; she's made many of my frazzled rush hour subway jams a little more bearable. I've seen her up at Finch, too. The thing is, the busker schedule changes all the time and the most I can do is try to bump into her. I never know whom I'll get. Leaving it up to chance is much of the fun.

Glad to see so many people as excited for these posts as I am. Thanks again for the comments!
saltspring / December 4, 2009 at 07:27 pm
Amazing article, well done!!! Glad that the distinction between grimy, lazy panhandlers and snappy buskers is clear.

There's an old guy who plays wired acoustic pretty well on the west side of Yonge just north of Gerrard, near the street art flake. He'd be a good interview, I'll bet.
Denny / December 4, 2009 at 08:21 pm
Another great article from my favourite journalist!
Does anyone remember the guy who played "Don't Worry, be Happy" for almost 2 months straight at the Spadina walkway?
Roger / December 4, 2009 at 08:55 pm
I always search through my pockets for change every time I encounter a busker in my travels. Not just on the TTC. They brighten up my day, even if only for a few minutes, so they deserve our gratitude.
Jeremy / December 4, 2009 at 11:49 pm
I love the guy who plays acoustic guitar with his hands and a 2 string bass with his foot and the guy who plays spanish guitar and sings. I have not seen Ronny, but I like his style in the video.

I'd love to see the city expand the program. Y&B is the only station where I tend to see buskers often, although I realize most stations don't have spots that are both high traffic and not inconvenient for commuters. I will try to make a point of carrying a bit more change and tossing it in when I can.
Laura / December 5, 2009 at 09:21 am
this is great! i love listening to the buskers on that long walk in the spadina station! and elsewhere, of course.
Tommy Pang / December 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm
I'm so happy to see Ronny interviewed! We use to go to high school together and he would busk at Don Mills station for years where you don't need a permit. Finally he's a official TTC busker! GO RONNY!
Fred Spek / December 5, 2009 at 08:37 pm
As a licensed busker I applaud your article and hope it continues. As coordinator for the Transit Musicians Association of Toronto (TMAT) I can tell you we do appreciate the distinction between us and unlicensed buskers & panhandlers. I really do enjoy the work but have days when the amount of people passing by without even leaving 25¢ gets me down.
After passing the audition we pay a fee for the license. Many of us also are bandleaders, composers, play club dates and have other gigs. There are JUNO winners in our ranks. Public art is good!

Jennifer, METRO daily is considering having a weekly column on the TTC musicians, profiling different artists. Maybe you could be their writer for this! Please contact me.
Samer / December 5, 2009 at 11:32 pm
He's right about the bums thing, I used toook at the street performer in the same way until I read this piece. I've seen him play before, I'll start paying more attention next time
Diana / December 6, 2009 at 01:25 am
Jennifer, this article is an AWESOME idea!!~
It really opens up us to the lives of those strangers we walk by everyday... now I can't walk by a busker without wondering what his/her story is...
Really cool read, keep it up!!~
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