Nick Broad Interview

by Paschale Straiton

Paschale is Artistic Director of Red Herring, ‘which creates playful and provocative outdoor performance in collaboration with creative producers Time Won’t Wait. The current touring show is That’s The Way To Do It! – a comedic take on the Punch and Judy’. Read more by Pascale on her blog here. Paschale on Twitter here. 

Paschale Straiton

 

I recently spoke to Nick Broad in Colombia about the wonderful international initiative that is The Busking Project.

P: So how long have you been living in Colombia for starters?

N: I’ve been living out here for a year and 2 months I think. I moved out here at the end of 2015.

P: And how come?

N: For Love! My girlfriend and co-founder of The Busking Project is Colombian and she was moving out here and I thought that I’d give it a go. And it’s been really nice – cheap living, good weather, nice food.

P: Is there much good busking going on in Colombia at the moment?

Nick Broad in Colombia.

N: Street performance here tends to be traffic lighters. So, you’ll see insanely talented jugglers, unicyclists, I’ve seen a German wheel, stilt walkers…actually just around the corner from my house there’s a tree where there are always silks wrapped around one on the branches. So, for an hour a day someone will untie the silks and let them drop in front of the traffic lights and they’ll do a silks show – a 30 second show and then 30 seconds of hatting the cars and then a minute waiting for the lights to change again. But no, there isn’t really a tradition of large circle shows here in Colombia, not that I know of.

P: So, how’s it going with The Busking Project at the moment?

N: Well, we started with the idea of being a community, which transformed into finding ways of fixing various problems that street performers face, like legal issues, the criminalisation of busking and the privatisation of public spaces.

And then, as a way of gaining more interest and being even more useful, we decided to find technological solutions to things like cashless payments and respond to the fact that everyone’s using social networks and asking, ‘How can we drive some of that traffic back into the street?’

So for 2015 and 2016 we were really looking at developing technology and creating a large growth company. We had dreams of tens of thousands of daily users adding hundreds of thousands of pounds to the busker economy.

P: How did that work out?

N: Mixed, really. I think  that by the end of last year, we were slightly jaded that we didn’t get the numbers that we were hoping for. But also, I think that we got a little lost in trying to please everybody. We were looking at how to interest the buskers’ audiences – creating a product that someone who isn’t a street performer would come back to again and again.

Really, I think that we should have been focusing this whole time on how to help street performers, not their audiences. I don’t know if you can see it behind me, but at the top of our board it says, ‘We’re here to help buskers succeed.’ This is our new mantra. It was implicit before, but now, instead of focusing on how to help other people find buskers, or how to get them to download the app, we’re asking ourselves instead, ‘Does this help street performers? Is this the most valuable use of our time to help street performers?’

On the other hand, we had some really good results last year during the festival season. I think we got something like 1,500 downloads of the app and I can’t remember exactly the number but we had several donations to street performers. And basically, what we’ve proven is something that nobody had proven before – that people are actually willing to take the time to download an app to donate to street performers.

P: That’s a good result.

N: Exactly. Of course, we’re not talking about millions of pounds of life changing money. But at least it’s showing that people are interested.

P: That’s brilliant and so entrepreneurial as well.

J: I never really thought of us as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs sit down with a piece of paper and think ‘Right how are we going to change the world?’ But almost everything that we’ve done, we’ve come to naturally.

It was always like, ‘Oh yeah, that is a problem, let’s have a think about that…and maybe we can help here…okay, let’s look into whether or not cashless payments would work and which methods would be the most popular…and well if we have that, we might as well have a live busking map of the world because all phones are GPS enabled…and so wouldn’t it be cool if you could see who’s busking right now near you?’

We’re also booking a ton of gigs this year. We just did an engagement on Skinny Bridge in Amsterdam. And just before this interview, I started looking for street performers in Manhattan who’d like to help somebody do a little gig on the north bank of the reservoir in Central Park.

P: So you’re building as a sort of agency?

N: Yes, except that we don’t manage people. There’s no audition process or anything. Anybody can sign up. Anybody can upload videos. People search through the website and we get thousands of clicks on the ‘hire me’ buttons. We have no way of tracking how many of them actually turn into successful gigs. But I’m sure that it’s at least in the hundreds.

Now, some people can’t find exactly what they’re looking for and they get in contact with us. So Rolls Royce in Canada contacted us this morning and said we’re doing a party in June and we want stilt walkers and clowns and magicians. And so we’ll help them find talent for that.

P: Do you then put out an ad on The Busking Project website?

N: Depending on what the client wants. Sometimes it’s an ad out on our Facebook page. For larger things, they tend to want us to do some form of curation and so we’ll individually select people. A guy who messaged us this morning for his engagement wants a husky voiced male guitarist. So I know a couple already in New York and we’ll just go through our database and give him a selection.

There’s another client who’s doing events in 34 cities in the US, and they wanted us to put together a list of 5 street performers in each city for them. So, last week we made a list of 165 street performers around the USA. Their budget is pretty good. They’re paying performers between $500 and $1,000 each. If you take an average of $750 each, multiply that by 165…I’ll just quickly use my calculator. My God, that’s over $120,000 that they might be spending on street performers!

P: And you make money through these bookings?

N: We decide whether or not to take a commission, depending on the client. So if it’s

someone’s birthday party or an engagement, we’re not going to charge them for the service. But if it’s a large company and they have a huge budget, we’ll add something on the top. It takes time, so we charge for our time.

P: Tips, a map, gigs… what else are you doing?

N: Well, another thing that we’re looking into is the music problem. For example, there are a lot of street performers who sell CDs. I still buy CDs from buskers. But, to listen to them, I had to buy an external CD drive to plug into my computer; my computer doesn’t have a disk drive, I don’t own a car, I don’t own a hi-fi anymore, so the only way I have of playing the CDs is through that CD drive.

And then, of course, I have to transfer the music from the CDs into my computer’s music library, and then transfer that onto my phone, and only then I can walk around and listen to it. It’s a really laborious process. The next decade is definitely not going to be the decade of the CD! So buskers need to work out a way to get their MP3s onto people’s phones, which is something else that we’ve added to buskers’ profiles on our site.

P: So, how does that work?

N: The way it works is pretty simple; you upload your music onto our website. Then, when you’re performing in the street and people come up to you, you say, ‘Hey, you can buy and download my album here.’ You set a minimum price for the album, and get a personalised, short URL. It might be busk.co/nick or something. So, people take their phones out and go to the URL. They click ‘Buy Album’ and they can download that music straight onto their phone, no CD or computer necessary.

Well, I say that, but iPhone actually makes it terribly difficult to do. All customers get an email link for the music they’ve bought on our site. iPhone users have to go through the process of downloading the mp3s to their computer, transferring them into their music library, then syncing the music onto their phones, because Apple is Apple. But for the majority of phones – all the android phones that are out there, it’s just a straight simple download and you immediately get the music to walk off and listen to.

P: And the buskers get the money direct into their bank accounts?

N: Exactly. One of the many reasons why I’d like to change our company into a Community Interest Company (and if any of your readers have any advice that they would like to give about this we’d be very grateful), is because we could be fully grant funded, and actually remove the commission that we take on the transactions. At the moment we take between 2% and 8%, depending on how big the tip or album sale price is, which is a few pennies for us, but it covers the cost of hosting our artists’ content. We would love to have that kind of thing covered by grants so that we effectively take none of the money out of the busker’s hat. That would be the dream.

P: Long live the dream! Do you do all the tech for that yourself?

N: No not me. I have a wonderful team of very intelligent people. In fact my co-founder is the real brains behind all of this. She’s a designer, developer, user experience strategist. She did a business degree. I’m just an ex-professional pool player!

P: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?

N: Yeah, I would like to add that that we’re very interested in collaborating with outdoor arts producers with our app and website. We already have a few different people that are working with us, a BID in New York and a couple of different councils.

We can geo-locate performances that happen in a defined space. Obviously this could be well used by all outdoor arts producers, to show their audiences where to go. And if enough outdoor arts producers pay to get their own event webpage or place on the app, we we can distribute the costs amongst them all, and therefore any festival would be able to have an amazing app for just $1,000 or $2,000. That’s a large initial investment, but not when you consider what it can do.

If anyone out there is interested, you could have an app at your outdoor arts festivals, which shows your food trucks, your clothing stalls or whatever you have on site. You can show local businesses, like cafes and restaurants, who could then pay you to be featured on the app, so you could make some of the money back from sponsors that way. It would show you who the performers are, where the stages are, the schedule on the stages.

P: So, it’s a live map of an arts festival?

N: Yes, but you can also click on performers’ names to see whether or not you’d want to go and see their shows. You can then donate to the performer or buy their music. You could even donate to the festival through the app, or buy the PDF download of the festival programme through it.

Anyone who has produced an outdoor arts festival knows that their street team are answering questions all the time like, ‘Where is Dan performing right now?’ Or ‘When’s the next time that Bob is performing?’ ‘What stage am I standing next to,’ or ‘Where’s the info tent?’, or ‘How do I get to X or Y?’ But with one of our webpages, or with our app, you could just direct them to a URL and they’d have this information at their fingertips.

The benefits of course to the performers are that people know who they are, and have an extra way of donating to them. And, hopefully, if we get enough outdoor arts producers interested in it, we can spread the money around for the basic development of the app for one festival and because it’s all based on the same technology we can push it out to all festivals for cheap.

That’s another thing that we’re trying to get done this year. So, if any of you out there reading this run a festival and are interested in getting your hands on an amazing app, then let me know and you can contact me at nick@busk.co.

P: Thanks very much Nick and good luck with everything!

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