When Andy Grammer first started busking for a living, fresh out of college, on Santa Monica’s busy Third Street Promenade, he quickly realized that his music business degree was essentially worthless. He had entered a world that was just as competitive as Justin Timberlake’s singing-mascot skit on “Saturday Night Live.”
“The problem was, as an acoustic-guitar guy, you can wait for a really long time to get a spot,” he says. “But then a break-dancing crew will walk up next to you, right before it’s time to go on, and you’re screwed. Because if people are doing backflips and spinning on their heads? No one will listen to some song about love.”
But after three years of open-air strumming, Grammer, 27, has made it in a huge way.
His jangly eponymous debut just hit the streets, preceded by an irresistible breakthrough single, “Keep Your Head Up,” and a hit video featuring his actor buddy Rainn Wilson.
Natasha Bedingfield is bringing him along on her current “Less Is More” tour, which visits The City on Tuesday, and she’s quick to praise him.
“He’s very talented, I’m really impressed!” she says of her energetic charge, who learned performing the hardest way possible: on the street.
“I wasn’t dressed like a snake, but that was exactly how it was,” Grammer says. “Because you have to figure out, ‘OK, why am I intriguing? Why would you watch me?’ You have to see it from the perspective of the people who are walking by. If they have a choice between a little girl singing Janet Jackson and a guy with a live snake, and you’re in the middle, it’s like why? And if you can figure out the answer, you’ve got something going on.”
Grammer splashed his solution across his CD cover — an image of the actual beatbox/one-man-band setup he employed every weekend.
His schedule was rigorous. He was up at 7 a.m., lugging his equipment downstairs from his apartment in four trips, parking his minivan, and on Third Street by 9 a.m. — several hours early to get a spot before the lunchtime rush — and done by 10 p.m.
Off hours were spent burning CD copies of his indie album “Soft Lights on Bright Colors” and printing out artwork at Kinko’s.
Grammer was discovered there by his manager, but he penned “Keep Your Head Up” as advice to himself, after his worst payday ever.
“I would put a sign out that said, ‘make change — I trust you!’ with a little smiley face and my CD for 10 bucks,” he says. “And I would keep playing while people put money in. What on earth was I thinking?”
If you go
Opening for Natasha Bedingfield
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., San Francisco