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Smartphones for the modern busker January 12, 2011

Posted by onyxashanti in Uncategorized.

At the time of the first edition of this book, it is the beginning of 2011. The world has experienced exponential social change at the hands of technology. We are more connected in more ways than we dreamed possible only 10 short years ago.  From laptop super computers that  enable us to have not just “an” entire studio in the space something the size of a textbook ( and smaller),  but multiple “studio’s” more powerful than their  physical world counterparts. From global music distribution instantly to social relationship constructs that allow us to connect with as many like-minded people as we want.  Todays world is surreal in that everything an artist could want is now available and in many cases, for free!


One of the emerging big movements in the world of technology lately, is the smartphone.  Let me preface by stating that the term “smartphone” has been around for years to describe phones with functionality that allows them to do much more than merely make voice based phone calls.  I am not really talking about that device.  I am referring almost exclusively to the world wrought by the introduction of the apple iphone.  In 2007, apple released a device that repurposed the term smartphone to being a small continuously internet connected  device, running an OS capable of running “apps” which enhanced the abilities of the device after the point of purchase.  Before this, almost all smart phones came preloaded with carrier specific applications that allowed severely limited functionality. The iphone blew that out of the water.  Now you had a device that could run apps, downloaded over the air, to allow you to do things far beyond anything possible before on a device of this size and type.  With its integration of high speed wireless internet,sensors, a camera, gps, wifi, Bluetooth, multitouch, and even PHONE CALLS, the iphone lived up to the hype, as a device that changed the world.


For myself and my busking exploits, the iphone is now indespensible.  I use mine as a wireless midi controller using an app called TouchOSC.  When I  arrive in a new city,looking for locations to busk, I make use of a gps enabled map app called MotionX GPS which allows me to download maps of an area before departing home, then drop map points of interest either from research at home, or from recommendations of people I meet in said city.  It allows me to arrive in a new place and bike around, finding interesting locations as I go.  When I find one that is viable based on the criteria to be covered in the next chapter, I drop a map point and location notes onto the map.  This allows me to do recon on many areas of a new place, quickly and efficiently then when I am ready to play, I can focus on playing rather than pitch recon. If one potential pitch is occupied or in some way, undesirable, I can look at my map and go to the next closest potential pitch,without having to go into “recon” mode,which saves a lot of valuable time.


This is digital nomadism.  Which is defined as The ability to use technology and the internet to work remotely from anywhere, is profoundly  freeing. Maybe not so much if you work for someone elseand are  inundated with a constant barrage of emails from your employer, but as a freelance artist, YOU are the boss and your now enhanced ability control your own destiny, easily, fromanywhere, will prove to be life altering, to say the least.


The ability, in between sets, to return email, or inform fans on your social networks of your performance whereabouts, or find a local jam session or open mic quickly, then navigate right up to the door of the venue using gps and online maps, means you can spend much more time performing and less time scanning local magazines and paying for overpriced internet cafés to find out what going locally.  At very least, you can use the GPS to find places where buskers and other musicians hangout and ask real people face to face.


That is only the tip of the iceberg of the reasons that modern buskers need a smart phone.  Selling merchandise? With a smartphone you can accept different forms of payment in different currencies.  It is now easier than ever to accept credit cards with systems like square and/or you can use paypal, which has grown far beyond a simple method of making payments on E-bay.  (Although you may want to refrain from selling Wikileaks cables, lest paypal shut off your account;-) ).


How about creating spontaneous street concerts in the form of flashmobs? You can simply inform fans and friends on your social networks that you will be at a particular place, marked by a gps map point they can see in google maps or equivalent mapping service, at a particular time, and watch as dozens or hundreds (ok, your girlfriend and one guy from a music forum you frequent, but still…)of people come to check you out.  This type of spontaneous gathering is all the more powerful now, with these tools.


One of my favorite functions of such devices is as a portable press kit.  I love busking as much as I love playing shows in venues.  Many times people who book such venues, will see me on the street and hire me to play.  But sometimes I happen upon a place or person and strike up a conversation and said person wants to see what I do.  So, I whip out my trusted iphone, which i have preloaded with different types of videos. Some more “jazz” oriented for cafes and jazzier places, some more “dance oriented” for clubs and bars, and some live “street oriented” vids for farmers markets and street fairs.  A picture may say 1000 words but a video says it all. The video quality on the iphone is extremely high and the volume is adequate.  Very useful and powerful.


If you keep a blog, which you should, being able to photograph and post the many wonderful locations you find yourself a part of, builds excitement about you and your art.  On my summer 2010 busking tour, I blogged daily with nothing more than my iphone, even without a cellular data account in the countries I went to.  I simply took pictures and notes then the following morning during breakfast, I would summarize the previous day and include a pic or two that was the most descriptive.  Afterward, I would use the wifi connection to upload it to my blog where an automatic link would be sent to my twitter feed and facebook account.  I received loads of very positive feedback from the people who follow me online.  Some of whom commented back instantly asking me to do such things as “take a picture of yourself for in front of the Eifel Tower”,which I was more than happy to do!  All of my fans came with me on my adventure!


So here are are few suggestions for incorporating a smartphone into your busking concept.


  • Pick a smart phone that has apps.  That may sound silly today, but there are still a class of these devices which look like modern smartphones, but are really just holdovers from a bygone age.  I prefer the iphone, which I have jailbroken,  and the google makes an OS called Android that is, in some ways, just as good, some ways better (and also runs on my jailbroken iphone) .  it is your choice.  Just make sure that you are able to acquire apps that allow you to do the following things.
  • Take and EDIT photos and video.  Although the capability to edit video wasn’t even around just a couple of years ago, I find it indespensible now. Being able to edit in the device allows you to record your career without having to go to the financial and temporal expense of laptop/dedicated camcorder based editing.  You can take your pics/vids and do what you want with them, instantly.  It also allows you to take pictures of the many flyers, and business cards you receive while playng in the street.
  • office software. Knowing when and where you can perform is very important.  Such as knowing the local farmers market schedule and the name and mobile number of the person you must speak with there.  Having decent contact management and scheduling will make your life much easier as you jump around from place to place.
  • GPS. Having a database of map points with associated information such as event schedules, crowd type (local/tourist/festival), event type, trouble makers (drunks, jealous vendors, cops,etc), will make your busking much much more efficient and therefore stable (ie profitable). If you share your mappoints with other like minded buskers, and they with you, you will have a viable “busking circuit” that will allow you to work consistently, anywhere in the world.  I will cover this topic later in the book.
  • Always have performance videos, pictures and audio recordings of you act.  You would be amazed at who you meet and when.  Many times, upon seeing what you do,people offer up valuable information concerning everything from potential busking locations to potential paid gigs. Make sure that the media that you share, is of high quality and focuses on your art, so no “drunk at a party” pic or vids, please.   Your media should show what you would look like or bring to a particular place so different videos or different  types of performance may be necessary.
  • Payment systems. There is no reason not to have paypal on your device.  Same goes for Square, which is a credit card merchant account type system that allows you to swipe credit cards using a small “square” reader that plugs into the headphone jack of your device.  All processing and verification is done online and the purchaser gets a receipt sent to their phone as an sms msg. elegant.  This will increase your sales potential and best of all, both of these are free to download and use, except for a transaction fee.
  • Musical controller.  There is currently a revolution in mobile music making, not seen since the rise of laptop music making.  From guitar fx to vocoding to midi controllers to gestural-multitouch synthesizers,  to full DJ applications and sheet music, these devices are becoming powerful musical devices.  So much so, you may find that you need more than one; one as a dedicated musical device and another for the functions I mentioned above.  My iphone/touchOSC based system is so integrated into my live performance and studio music making concept, that I can no longer perform what I now consider as “my music”, without it.

These types of connected smart devices will only get more powerful and the above suggestion only scratch the surface of what is possible so, as soon as you are capable of absorbing the cost of one of these device, you should definitely acquire one and learn how to use it. You will be happy you did!



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