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December 9, 2015updated 29 Jul 2021 10:32am

No change? This app lets you pay buskers by card

By Barbara Speed

Do you carry cash? No? Me neither. Well, unless you count the detritus of pennies and Euros lurking at the bottom of my purse. If asked for change on the street by a performer, charity or Big Issue seller, I’m usually too embarrassed to even ask if they might be travelling to France anytime soon and could use my €1.73. 

So some way of making cashless payments on the street is so long overdue. However, the way most such payments works acts as a barrier to most of the groups listed above: card machines are expensive, and charge per transaction, meaning £2 donations woldn’t make much sense (though one Big Issue seller in South Kensington, Simon Mott, has invested in a bluetooth card machine and says sales have doubled as a result). Charities get round this by asking you to text a number to donate through your mobile phone provider; but individual buskers and homeless people, unsurprisingly, don’t have the means to set this up.  

A few schemes around the world have attempted to solve the street payment conundrum. In Sweden, Big Issue sellers were provided with smartphones and a card machine by payments company iZettle at the beginning of each shift so they could take money by card. In London, The Busking Project has just launched BuSK, an app that lets you pay buskers on the street with your phone.

BuSK’s minimum payment is £5, which may be more than some want to pay; but it could help plug the gap left by the move away from CDs, which used to be an easy way for street performers to make money on the street while promoting and spreading their work. The Busking Project website emphasises that many performers rely on busking for income, and are a group worth supporting:

Buskers are often drawn from society’s most excluded groups: immigrants, the disabled, the homeless, offenders, addicts or those with mental health problems. For many, busking gives them the chance to go from a place of exclusion to one of social and financial inclusion, with a stable income and self-respect.

Nick Broad, the project’s founder, says buskers have an unfairly negative reputation, despite the fact that many famous musicians began their careers on the street: 

The old joke is that buskers are “beggars with a gimmick”, but Ed Sheeran, Pierce Brosnan and KT Tunstall all started off as buskers. What we are trying to do with BuSK is to show that being a street performer is a legitimate and accessible way of earning a living.

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The app is also a campaigning tool. Its creators say that they hope to encourage local authorities to “treat buskers like artists instead of criminals”, by promoting the “economic and social benefits of busking”. It includes a map showing where local performers, from clowns to musicians, are located; you can choose which types of performance you’re interested in when you sign up:

You can download the app via the BuSK website

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