The next time you’re walking down the street and hear a cool beat, don’t forget to stop and see who’s playing it.
Malik Stewart – aka Malik D.O.P.E. – has been performing on the streets of Washington, D.C. and other major cities since 2013. His unique freestyle drumming and dancing has attracted more than just the attention of thousands of bystanders – it’s also brought him international recognition, viral videos, opportunities with major artists, and the chance to use percussion and performing arts to educate and inspire people around the world.
What does it take to be a street drummer? Malik talks about the perks, the logistics, and that one time his music created a block party that took over a boardwalk.
Depending on how much equipment I have, it can take 7-15 minutes to prepare an average street performance setup. The amount of time I play also depends on the day, weather and location (if it’s busy or not) but it can range from 30 minutes to 10 hours, and yes I have been out for almost a whole day before!
When people pass by and watch me play, they usually stop in amazement and pull their phones out to record while others may dance or get extremely hype, causing it to look like what I would call “the block party effect”. It turns into a legit party with drums on top of music people love.
While most people love my street performance energy, there’s always that 5-15% that don’t like it. I would get complaints about noise so police officers would urge me to turn down my music or turn it off, but most of the cops loved what I did too, so they’d let me keep going sometimes.
Street performance is definitely profitable for an up and coming entrepreneur like myself. The money for me has ranged from $20-$1100 in one day. You gotta know how and when to hit the right areas with the most traffic and good spacing for people to really crowd around the show. Another plus to street performing is that the traffic of your audience is always changing and growing which gives all types of people, from locals to tourists, a chance to enjoy the show. Just think about it! There are thousands of different people who pass by me daily, which is sometimes more than a one-time crowd I’d get from performing in an inside venue. A street performer has more of a higher chance of crowd engagement than your average inside venue performer.
Another good way I marketed my street shows was by buying a blank white poster board and writing my social media and booking email information in big black bold bubble letters so people could easily see it, follow me and/or book me for gigs, which all happened numerous times. I was so consistent with this method, I ended up going viral several times (being in the right place at the right time), gaining a solid fan base and recognition, and even inspiring others to do the same.
My setup varies, but it mostly consists of:
In this street performance journey, there are many joyful experiences. Watching an area go from nobody around to a bunch of people screaming, shouting, singing, dancing, and having a great time outside (basically a block party) is one of the most amazing experiences I can think of. Knowing that I created this fun atmosphere for the public on a daily basis felt like having super powers and also felt like I was giving back to my community. Simply doing what I love, making money and giving people a great outdoor music/cultural experience is the dream life for any musician, I would think.
The reason I became a street performer was because I didn’t want to work for anybody anymore. l wanted to express my gift to a larger audience and simply live off my talent as I do now. It wasn’t easy though – it took some time. Countless times I struggled lugging my equipment everywhere. I had it rigged up to a dolly on wheels while sometimes carrying more equipment in my other hand. I had to catch the bus to the train station to go downtown and back home, or I’d ask my parents or friends for help.
I even street performed in other cities, catching the Megabus or Greyhound bus to different cities. I still had all the bulky equipment with me, making it hard to pack into the bus. In some places, I needed a permit in order to perform because it was private property. Sometimes there would be performers already in the hot spot, so I had to find another spot. Other times there was nowhere good to play and I still had to carry my equipment back home, leaving me very disappointed. As time went on, I learned that even though anyone can street perform, you still have to know the right spots to hit and the right time to do it. There’s a science to it.
I have had many crazy experiences, including going to New York, sleeping in a boat just to street perform, and even renting Airbnbs just to perform in other cities. One of the most memorable moments was the time I took my portable snare drum and my Ion Bluetooth speaker down to Ocean City’s beach week alongside my cousins and friends. Everywhere we went we caused a crazy scene filled with very hype screaming, shouting and dancing. We encouraged more people to follow us as we went down the street, leading them with only a Bluetooth speaker and me carrying my drum on a stand. I would stop and drum at different spots, recruiting more people to follow us. When I turned around to look back, we had at least 300 people going crazy partying behind us. It was like the movie “Project X”. My mind was blown! The power of music was very strong that night.
We then led them all to the boardwalk, which was closed, but everyone trampled over the gate and rushed through. A helicopter flew overhead and police tried to stop us, but there were so many of us they gave up as they saw we were just teens having a good time. My speaker eventually died, which calmed everyone down and put an end to our crazy boardwalk parade. It was such a super crazy memorable night.
My advice to any drummer thinking or hoping to do this? GO FOR IT! Do not let self doubt or fear hold you back. Let the world see your amazing gift! Street performance engraved a lot of courage in me which ultimately allows me to move free and fearless with my drums regardless of if people like it or not. I LOVE IT! Self love is the best love, and when you love yourself everyone around will too.
A Washington, DC native, Malik Stewart formed his own brand “D.O.P.E, Definition of Percussion Entertainment LLC” to provide entertainment, education, inspiration, motivation, innovation, artistic awareness and production through the live nature of percussion. He has participated in numerous events, Masterclasses/workshops and live performances all around the DMV as well as New York, California, Atlanta, New Orleans, Virginia Beach, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Jamaica, South Africa and more. The result of Malik’s constant grind has generated him a huge internet presence, including international media attention, multiple viral videos, and endorsement deals with Promark sticks and Evans drumheads. Using percussion and performing arts as a therapeutic tool, he strives to promote education, entertainment and healing as a lifestyle.
Feature Photo: Leigha Jenkins
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