This video of Erykah Badu only making 3.60 street performing is going around:
She didn't only make 3.60 because New York sucks, that people are heartless, or that they don't recognize talent. She made 3.60 because she isn't good at what she was trying to do. Street performing is its own separate art form. The people who make good money on the street are not the same people who you would want to give a record deal to in the same way that someone who is a successful pop star would probably not be a very successful opera singer (there are of course people who manage to crossover, but they still have to learn their new medium before they become successful). Beyond just being a fish out of water, here are some of the specific reasons she wasn't able to get people to stop and pay:
1) She wasn't performing, she was begging. The entire lyrics to her song consisted of "give me money please" if you're performing on the street people are going to pay you for your performance, not because you flat-out ask them to. At that point you're basically panhandling and if you're going to panhandle, you should probably look desperate.
2) She really got in people's faces. There are two types of street shows: walk by and circle. Circle shows are usually jugglers, magicians or break dancers, they gather a circle of people and then collect at the end. Musicians are usually walk by performers because people walk by and pay or don't pay, it's basically a numbers game. If people like what you're doing, people might stop to watch and pay when they move on or simply drop in a few dollars as they walk by. The more interest you generate the more people will pay. If enough people gather around, it can help to say, "hi, this is what I do for a living. If you like what I'm doing feel free to give," but if you start by getting in people's faces, they're likely to just ignore you, especially in a big city where people are approached all the time.
3) She didn't do anything very interesting. On the street you don't have a lot of time to get people's attention. Cover songs tend to work better than original music because people already have an attachment to what they're hearing. Gimmicks also tend to work really well: weird costumes, odd instruments, young children, really anything that is unusual and attracts attention. Singing, "I need to pay my rent" doesn't really give people a reason to stop what they're doing. A lot of people are trying to pay their rent in New York.
4) She held the hat in her hand or kind of hovered over it. She basically blocked people from paying her. A lot of people are shy about approaching strangers, especially strangers who are asking for money. A lot of people will drop money in and keep going, but not if you're standing right over them. Also, she didn't "seed the hat." Most walk by acts will put a few dollars (usually a five and a ten too) in the hat before they start playing to indicate what the hat (the hat can be a guitar case or whatever and individual act uses to collect money) is for and how much they should give. When people see an empty hat, they kind of think you haven't made any money because you're no good. Similarly, if they only see change, they'll think you're only worth change, if they see dollars, they're more likely to give dollars.
5) Location is also an extremely important factor. Was she in a place where people were just passing through on the way to somewhere else or did they have time to stop and listen? Different locations demand different types of performances.
Also, not exactly related but if you're a celebrity and you want to street perform, this is how you should do it:
If I was one of these kids, I would have lost my damn mind. (the really amazing thing Lenny does here is that he doesn't try to make himself the center of attention, he doesn't do anything he isn't asked to do and even when he does, he does it in support of what the kids are doing)