Cashless payments. It’s a controversial topic.

Every year we speak to a dozen buskers who dislike one thing or another about our website or app. There’s something about an app – or technology in general – that seems to turn some buskers off. So, here’s a list of our problems, and what we’re doing about them.

Just quickly, though, for those of you coming here for the first time, here’s everything you can do on busk.co: 

The #1 problem with cashless payments: the loss of a personal touch

Cash might be filthy, smelly and cumbersome. Nobody likes the metallic residue left by counting coins, nor the hunt for someone who’ll exchange them for notes. But, coins and notes have one advantage over cashless payments: they require your audience to walk up to the hat, to say thank you and exchange a personal moment with you.

You don’t want to lose that, and neither do I. I don’t like the idea that after a street show the audience will get their phones out, click a button and walk away. Regardless of how you view your earnings (as tips, donations, gifts, payments, etc), they’re special in that the exchange of money happens between two human beings, in the moment.

So, what are we doing about it?

Android or Apple pay, probably. The moment both become widely used via websites, or some other kind of NFC device takes over the market, we’ll switch to that, and people will still walk up to tap their phones on your hat.

Also, we’re trying to develop features (like the ability to gain “fans” and get hired for gigs) that extend the relationship between busker and audience past the edge of the sidewalk. Until cashless payments become easier and more widely adopted, we’ve loaded up profiles with these features to make our apps and site more beneficial for the buskers signed up.

After all, this project isn’t all about the money. And nor should it be.

Our other features and their biggest flaws…

Yet Another Online Service…

To be honest, I’m a bit sick of social networking. So, we wanted this to be like the anti-social network, where the result of getting online fans wasn’t to share cat videos or have political arguments, but to harness the power of the internet to inspire people to actually get out of the house and see a live show. The fans you pick up on this website have done exactly that – and liked you enough to become a “fan” of your profile. THOSE are the kinds of people you want to collect in one place, right?

Music sales

We all know about the death of the CD and the prominence of low-paying digital streaming services. So, we created the ability to sell music, straight to people’s phones. Imagine something like a “Bandcamp for Buskers”.

Now, you lose the physical album sale, that sense of having physically picked something up to remember you by, but at least everyone can play an mp3! And unlike Spotify, you actually get some money. The biggest problem we have at the moment is that Apple makes it annoyingly difficult to get music onto your phone – you have to download the mp3 at home, then sync it with your phone later. But, CDs have the same problem, right? You can’t play a CD on your phone…

Quick note: we have one of the lowest rates in the industry on the commission we take from music sales (10%, with no sign-up fee). So, we’re not trying to get rich off you.

Getting the public involved

You can think about our app as a sort-of “Pokemon Go for busking”. When audiences open the app, they’re greeted with a map of nearby performers who they can then go and see. Of course, until we have dozens of performers in your city using the app every day, and thousands of tourists/locals with it downloaded on their phone, the rewards for downloading/using the app will be limited. However, this year we’re focusing on putting it out at busking festivals, where the geolocation and cashless payment features would be really useful. And this is a good start on getting people interested.

Changing values and the conversation around busking

Perhaps this is our hardest challenge. But, too many locals and governments see busking as the work of opportunistic artists, or a public safety concern that needs to be dealt with, or, at worst, beggars with a gimmick. Our “products” (this website, and our apps, book and documentary) are all intended to make people understand that buskers are worth seeing, worth hiring, worth hunting down, worth keeping, worth promoting, worth encouraging even. We’ll let you know when we’ve literally changed how the world views you…

We do various pieces of advocacy work. We’ve donated to buskers’ legal fees, written open letters to councils, gained national press for local fights, and have conducted research into busking policy in over 30 cities around the world. And, we are currently doing more research, trying to firmly place busking on UN Habitat’s Urban Prosperity Index, to prove to doubtful local authorities that busking does, indeed, have real, palpable social and economic benefits.

Necessary criticism…

I’ll admit that I’m hurt when people criticise The Busking Project. This has been a labour of love for several years now, and every time we make a mistake, including even the slightest bugs, I’m frustrated, sad…you know, it gets to me.

BUT. Without criticism, I’ll never learn. So, I endeavour to get into conversations with our biggest nay-sayers. The internet can be a rough place, but any disapproval needs to be taken seriously. I try not to argue. I try not to get defensive. And I try to be honest.

With that in mind, let us know in the comments if there’s anything else we’re screwing up. Or why you’ll never use cashless payments. It’s super helpful! And if you want to join our community and support our work, because you think what we do has more pros than cons, sign up.

We exist to help buskers succeed. So we need to hear your opinions to learn how to improve. Give us your comments below, or if you need help in any other way just let us know and we’ll do our best…

Cashless Payments are the future of busking.