Tech City: App helps buskers earn a living in ‘cashless’ society

From left to right: Mardy Malika, Giles Roberts, Belle Crawford, Nick Broad, Dawn Marie, Chris Smith

From left to right: Mardy Malika, Giles Roberts, Belle Crawford, Nick Broad, Dawn Marie, Chris Smith - Credit: Archant

Tech City is the third largest technology hub in the world, and it’s right on our doorstep. Each week, we bring you news from the thriving area around Old Street roundabout. This week, Sophie Inge talks to Nick Broad, the founder of BuSK, a new app that allows street performers to receive cashless payments.

Nick Broad filming The Busking Project in Barcelona

Nick Broad filming The Busking Project in Barcelona - Credit: Archant

In 2004, British university drop-out and professional pool player Nick Broad moved to New York to work for a software company.

He moved in with a Chinese violinist Chen Cong, who busked for a living. And it was meeting Chen, he says, that changed the entire course of his career.

“He was stunningly good at what he did,” recalls Nick, 32. “Every time I saw him perform, I saw children dancing and people wiping tears from their eyes - or missing their train on purpose just to hear him.”

Unfortunately, the authorities didn’t feel the same way, and the subway violinist was constantly being fined. But to Nick, Chen was nothing short of a hero – and deserved to be treated like one.

Busker Yogi-laser in London

Busker Yogi-laser in London - Credit: Archant

“I started looking into busking and found that it was misunderstood all around the world,” says Nick.

Inspired by his friend, he started Undercover New York - a website that acted as a kind of database for buskers. This included videos, photos, profiles and contact information, so that people could hire their services if they wanted to.

Most Read

Then, in 2010, Nick teamed up with two friends to film The Busking Project – a documentary about busking around the world. This project took them to 40 cities on five continents, where they filmed around 27,000 videos over 287 days.

After returning from his epic trip, he decided to take his ideas a step further, and came up with plans to create an app that would unify buskers around the globe.

Busker Giganteria in Havana

Busker Giganteria in Havana - Credit: Archant

Back then, in 2013, Nick had “zero experience” in the business world. Despite this drawback, he moved into the Google Campus in London’s Tech City, which he says he found eye-opening.

“All of a sudden, I was surrounded by people who were having conversations about things I didn’t understand - like KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Just by overhearing them, I gained a lot of knowledge about the start-up world and business.

“Some helpful people sat down with me and actually laughed at my business plan, then helped me to write a new one.”

As his ideas began to take shape, Nick fought off competition from 280 other companies to enter The Busking Project into the business accelerator, Wayra. His first hire, Liliana Maz, a UX specialist and business strategist, is now co-founder of the company.

This year, the app BuSK became a reality when the UK tech charity, the Nominet Trust, invested in Nick’s business.

It was finally launched last week during a weekend of street celebrations on London’s Southbank, and in Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.

Using the app is simple. Users or “fans”, can either sign into the app through Facebook or via email.

Once you have created a profile, you will see a live map of the world that tells you which buskers are performing near you. As with Undercover New York, “fans” will also have access to any busker’s profile, as well as photos, videos and information on future gigs.

“We call it a backstage pass to the streets,” says Nick. “It gives you a grounding in street culture that you wouldn’t be able to get just by walking around.”

But one of the most important aspects of the app is that “fans” can also donate money to their favourite buskers, with 90 per cent of the money going to the musician.

In an increasingly cashless society, this may even produce better rewards than the traditional hat or empty guitar case.

“Ten per cent of people already don’t carry cash on them on a regular basis,” Nick points out. “Seventy per cent carry less than £20, and a third of people less than a fiver. Good buskers hope for a few £5 or £10 drops in a day, but a third of their audience are physically unable to do that.”

Above all, Nick hopes that his app, which already has over 1,700 street performers in 666 cities in 75 countries signed up, will help overturn any negative stereotypes.

“In the old days, buskers used to go from village to village and they were celebrated. But nowadays, people see them and think about homelessness, begging and drug dependencies. But, really, for 99 per cent of buskers out there, it’s just untrue. They’re artists making a living without waiting tables or doing clerical work.”

“Who knows? You might be seeing the next Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber, who both started out on the streets.”

Click here for more information