- Band Management
- Home Recording
- Live Sound
- Best Instruments
- New Music & Video
(Not to Mention a Novel Approach to Direct-to-Fan Engagement)
We’ve all seen musicians on the streets playing their hearts out to passersby, an open guitar case littered with spare change and a few crumpled bills at their feet. Their songs affect us at the most basic of emotional levels, and if we’re moved by appreciation or generosity we might leave them some money and a word of thanks. We do this for street musicians…so why not for all musicians? That’s the concept behind Busker, a Chicago-based crowdfunding startup that bills itself as “the online tip jar.”
“The guy playing on the subway who makes you feel good, you give him a dollar,” said Dan Schiller, founder and CEO of Busker. “If everything’s basically free online, why shouldn’t we be able to do that with all these bands?”
The Internet has, at this point, so drastically reduced the payment of royalties that Schiller’s statement is effectively fact. To him, paying $10 each month for Spotify Premium and its nearly limitless database of songs “feels like stealing,” particularly with streaming music already under fire for shortchanging artists. Many nascent indie bands just put their music up online for free because the exposure they stand to gain is more valuable than any money they can make off their recordings. The notion that online music shouldn’t cost anything is one that some artists (notably Taylor Swift) have been trying to fight, but the overall attitude amongst consumers remains one of entitlement.
On the other hand, live music and vinyl products are simultaneously thriving. Listeners justify using Spotify and other little-to-no revenue online services by supporting their favorite bands in concert and at the merch table. Appreciation for musicians and their songs has not disappeared—it’s merely transformed—and that’s where Busker comes in. “There needs to be a simple way for a fan to show love to an artist,” said Schiller. In the case of Busker, the simplicity is in the transaction: a small amount of money for the good feeling of helping out an artist whose music you value.
Unlike other crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which require that users have a project toward which the funds will be directed, bands don’t have to be completing an album or raising money for a tour van to use Busker. The website’s flexible platform allows for artists to display customizable goals along the right side of their profile, atop a button to “support the band” on a one-time or monthly basis. A photo of the artist adorns the center of each profile, and scrolling down the page reveals a bio, media clips, and an invitation to share the profile on social media. There’s also an option to provide donors with a pay-what-you-want selection of merchandise, which can act doubly as a reward for giving and as promotion for the artist. Essentially, Busker presents artists with a blank crowdfunding canvas that can be transformed into a moneymaking juggernaut with the right combination of compelling content and skilled marketing.
Currently Busker is in beta mode while Schiller and Mike Endicott, Busker’s web designer, tweak the website’s design and features. The duo is focused on recruiting a wide base of artists to use the platform and expanding their reach to include profiles for festivals and concert series. The long-term goal, though, is the incorporation of a “Busker Button” on streaming music services that would allow listeners to donate immediately to a band they hear and enjoy. “We would streamline this so you could literally click a Busker icon on Pandora or Spotify and tip that musician your default tip,” said Endicott. And while the company acknowledges that one of the online music giants could be working on something similar, Schiller finds it unlikely. “A lot of companies can’t do what I’m trying to do here, because part of it is an admission that they aren’t providing [adequate artist payment] for their services,” he said.
The fact that music is made by real people can easily be lost in the jungle of online music. Busker would like to remind you that every musician loves a little appreciation—especially in monetary form—whether they’re playing on the streets or on the Internet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zach Blumenfeld is a recent alumnus of WRVU Nashville, Vanderbilt University’s student radio station. Over the past three years, he has interviewed over forty songwriters and bands on his weekly program The VU Backstage, as well as contributing music commentary and reviews to the WRVU blog. He has also worked at Nashville radio station Lightning 100.