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Business idea: Put buskers online

Here’s a business idea, inspired by an email from Stephen Brown today.

Put the street musician / busking process online. (“Busker” = “a person who entertains people for money in public places, while asking for money.”)

A website where videos of street musicians are collected all in one place, each with a PayPal link so anyone watching can give some money directly to that musician.

See a great musician playing on the street in Cuba, Argentina, Egypt, India, or anywhere else? Make the best recording you can with a video camera.

When they take a break, find out if they have a website and a PayPal address. If so, write it down. If not, set them up with one. (If they don’t have email, set them up an email account first, then a PayPal account pointing to that email account, etc. Write down the info for them. Even if they can’t access it yet, they will some day.)

Then, with their permission, upload the video to YouTube with their name, exact location, and email in the metadata.

Then go to this website and make a page for them. It only needs to ask a few things:

  • Performer’s name
  • Email address (linked to PayPal)
  • Exact location and date of performance
  • URLs where videos and photos can be found
  • Optional: text box for any other info you want to add

The site will automatically display the videos, and make a PayPal donate button that goes to the musician’s account.

Anything to add or change to this idea? Brainstorm in the comments, here. Click any commenter’s name to go to their website to contact them directly, if you want to get involved and make this happen.

Reader Comments (12)

I think this is a fabulous idea - and my brainstorming contribution is to encourage participation of musicians in rural areas, who don't have the kind of street traffic to warrant actual busking. A musician could get filmed standing up against the side of their barn, or out in a pasture - or in places with cold winters, just sitting beside a wood stove or at their kitchen table. There are some amazing live performers out there who would make great street performers - if they lived anywhere near a street.

December 9 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Hickey

It's an interesting idea, though I'm concerned that it could possibly create a huge amount of black-box income that may never get claimed.

Looking at the buskers performing here in Poland (plus, having read a number of articles on the topic), I am unwilling to bet that the majority have Internet access, much less PayPal. Go to most of the places mentioned in the post and the chances are even slimmer. Even if you set up a PayPal account for them (which may or may not be very easy, given PayPal's customer policies, plus the fact the performer in question would have to have an email account that they will remember/maintain), one should consider the question whether the performer will later be reasonably able to access the account and withdraw the funds (bringing the issue back to the Internet access/literacy problem). Papers with details have the tendency to get lost, especially when unused for a long time. Some of these people might not even have a bank account, given the cash economy that their "business" entials.

Of course, this will probably be a non-issue if the busker is already an Internet user (as is likely in Western Europe and the US).

One way I see this idea benefitting even those musicians who are unlikely/unable to collect the on-line donations is if a community develops around the site, that would then seek out the buskers in question when in the vicinity. This could be of particular benefit for those who play in popular tourist locations - going to listen to a musician you had seen play online could become an item on the to-do list while visiting. Members of the community could then share their experience with others through their comments/videos. The best performers could develop an online popularity that would translate into cash tips, even if they have no way to collect donations through the Internet.

One final caveat: since buskers rarely perform original material, opting rather for popular tunes, the site could potentially be exposed to take-down notices from copyright holders. I do not have sufficient legal knowledge to suggest how it could immunise itself from infringement claims, so I leave this issue for someone else to tackle.

I think revenue generation for buskers is dependent on immediacy. When the performer plays and you feel the moment, you are more likely to pry open your wallet and plop a five into the open case. Take a look at for a product/service that could be useful to anyone that performs untethered...

December 9 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

I also think that the reason busking generates tips for those who do it is the personal interaction. If you are walking past something who is performing and you like what you see, you drop money in front of the performer.

Watching and paying online is not the same thing. An analogy: the difference between a real hug and an online hug.

December 9 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Agree with the comments above. There's a certain amount of ego in giving money to a busker. Wanting to be seen supporting by both the busker and other people around. Will people be AS willing to give cash if they aren't seen to be doing it?

December 9 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Green

I am a busker and i love the idea but i dont think it would work.

first off, busking expoits are an impulse buy type situation. the people know it and the buskers know it. people tip and buy because they are move then and there in the moment. I dont think people will go to a special website to give virtual tips for 30 variations on stairway to heaven or peruvian pan flutes. and speaking of peruvian pan flutes, those guys are fronted by agencies that are way worse than the RIAA and would (thankfully) either completely opt out or sue,unless they saw moneyin it, then would game the system to death and it would simply become the peruvian pan flute site.

Buskers are talented but,as a group, technologically unsavvy. the minute you show up with a camcorder to tell them that you are going to put them on a site where they can get tipped online, their bullshit detector is going to start screaming, "DANGERWILLROBINSON!! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!" what they will see is someone who want to make money off of their work. But, if you tip them first, they may be up for it.

the idea of streaming it in realtime might be more plausible, but on the street you've either got to pay(!?!) someone to hold the camera for the prospect that you "might"get paid online, or you've got to risk putting it on a stand, which is not smart on the street.

and buskers see piracy and the internet directly affect them. CD sales used to be enormous,now less and less people want them ALTHOUGH they are still the cash cow.

buskers are person to person interaction, and circle acts (buskers that do a routine of about 20-30 minutes where the crowd gathers "around" the performer) do a build up to climax that i'm almost certain they would not want immortalized on a site because it is their signature. the immediate impulse of energy from the street is what makes the interaction so special. this would serve to make some site builder some advertising revenue but i highly doubt it would help buskers at all. being overexposed, as the internet tends to make things, is not something buskers want. and if independent mp3 sales are any indicator, making an extra $3-5 a month is not really fair trade off for overexposing your show.

what you COULD do is create a centralized way to follow a busker with self posted clips and google maps of street corners wherethey are playing and or have played,ala, flash mobs, then that would serve the purpose of building trust with the buskers. then create a self contained way that a busker sell digital merchandise on the street such as instant smart phone downloads of music, wholesale short run merchandise, like t-shirts, delivered in 24-48hours and or credit card verification on site without a merchant account, all built into an easy interface, then that says, we want to help you do what you do better. then there is value added because there have been a number of times someone has paypaled me money because i gave them a disc. at that point, a tip system would interact with realworld and help build system that makes people want to come see the set in its natural environment rather than the "bootleg" experience of a flas video window. in other word; create a system that supports the spontaneous,impulse buy/tip system that busking is built on, and then you would have a system worth supporting.

the same models that are being experimented with in the wider music industry can be applied to busking but the details must be respected. busking isnt simply "music on the street". its an artform that is specialized and mastery is hard enough that many big name acts,busking anonymously for publicitiy, cant hack it.,35791/

here are some of my notes on the subject.

enjoyed the article and the site,

onyx ashanti

December 9 | Unregistered Commenteronyx ashanti


great comment. you should post an article on this subject on MTT Open..

December 9 | Registered CommenterMusic Think Tank

sounds like an idea. i'll check it out.

December 10 | Unregistered Commenteronyx ashanti

This idea is indeed an interesting one. @onix, I'll be spending some time reading your articles. Your comment was well thought out and clearly you're very knowledgeable on the subject.

I'm wondering if a similar idea might be available to musicians already online. Has there been any discussion on using a service like uStream and display your link for a "Pay what you want" concert? Or what about on YouTube? Using the annotation feature (which of course, I have yet to learn, but now have a great reason to try to) to point to a pay pal-type link and upload or perform live.

Well, off to read and put some ideas into action.

Thanks again for this post.


December 10 | Unregistered CommenterJamaicaBob

Where I live, Boulder, Colorado, the main community center is the Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian-only collection of blocks with stores, sidewalk cafes, offices, etc. People stroll, sit on benches, etc. Great people watching. There are a lot of buskers. They are encouraged.

There was one fellow, in his 70s, who played jazz saxophone. I always dropped some money in his case as I walked by. He made my experience more enjoyable.

My tip was both to help him out, but also as a reward for giving me something. I would not have the same motivation online. Similarly, I might buy lemonade from a kid selling it in front of his house, but I wouldn't be looking for kids selling stuff online. I support efforts that make my community a better place to live. Local music, and kids selling stuff are part of that.

And I suppose that's a big point. Support local. You don't need to get online to do that.

December 12 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

cheers. this is something that i care deeply about. some people use the internet like a robot,where in this context it's better to use it as mecha suit.

what i mean is that rather than putting an automaton out into the world on it own, which is useful in some situations like alot of the web 2.0 fullfillment systems where you dont have to watch everything or push every button for it to work, music in the context of human interaction should be more of a mecha suit; something that enhances your abilities and reach. so rather than automating such an intimate artform, we should (and what I am working towards) bring the power of the cloud and the internet to these places. street corners, farmers markets, malls, beaches, parks...and make it transparent and powerful and invisible.

i predict, now that we are entering the performance era of digital music presentation (slowly leaving the DJ era, or rather adapting it), that busking, serious busking, is going to be a very very big deal for the foreseeable future. this last summer in Berlin, many many "club" bands were out busking regularly to promote shows, sell merchandise, rehearse new material, chill out...busking will go mainstream in 2010-2011,mark my words. the technology is good enough, small enough and cheap enough to present a quality experience anywhere.

(sorry for ramblin on and on...maybe i should just go ahead and write that article you mentioned;-) I created a style of music called beatjazz. it is a wind controller/laptop based style of improvisation that results in long form improvisations that sound very similar to a DJ mix. the uniqueness draws people. I distribute a dual format CD as Pay-what-you-want which has easy links to twitter,facebook,et al, and the disc is composed of improvisations from previous performances, mastered and put together in ahand made cd sleeve and finally, i take the better examples of my live performances, like this one and create a definitive "studio" version for distribution to DJ's, podcasters and fans like this. by making the unpredictatble (improvisations) more tangible and working to connect rather than simply sell, busking is taking over or enhancing many seprate jobs (songwriting, promotion, rehearsal, networking, sales and distribution...)

Busking becomes a powerful tool in ones arsenal. playing a new city where no one knows you? busk in front of the venue or somewhere in that city to promote. need to acquire your 10,000 hours that it takes to really smoke on stage? go to the park, practice, and possibly makemoney from said practice. trying to convince a promoter to book your act? play in front of thier offices. the opportunities are endless.

concerning the internet and busking, one should integrate into the fabric of a community. In this Maurer Park video collaborations like this happened regularly, and thousands of people came every week to vibe on the dozens of artist performing and presenting their art each week. it was chaotic and beautiful. but the artist must also learn to expand the range of how they monetize their art (hench the mecha metaphor...the mechaphor...hahahaa,i kill me...). I am investigating everything from blockparties and barbques inthe park to bike tours that end up at a plaza with loads street artistand performers,all easily manageable with free internet tools.

2010; year of the busker!

(hmmm...maybe i'll put these posts into a cohesive article.where should i send it?)


December 12 | Unregistered Commenteronyx ashanti

there is an online busking site that my mate was on and its great, he posted his video on line and ppl were giving him donations from all over the place. i cant remember the name of it off the top of my head but if any one is interested send me an email just saying "online busking "and ill get the link for them .

July 20 | Unregistered Commenterjames quinn

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