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Busker Idol needs your help!

“Busker Idol,” you ask?

Yes. Busker Idol. (!!!)

Busker Idol is my working title / codename for an idea I’ve had for at least two years, that I’ve started to flesh out and test a little more earnestly in the past little while.

Where did this come from?

The basic idea is the intersection of me asking the following 4 questions (while commuting on transit, of course):

  • Do musicians or performance artists have ventures or creative artifacts that would be aided by Internet-based distribution or marketing?
  • Would people be more willing to see musicians or performance artists as “legitimate” if they had Internet presences, Paypal tipjars, or online media available displaying their talent?
  • Is the existing busker audition program run by TransLink serving well the needs of a) transit riders, b) the transit authority, or c) the musicians who perform, and according to what criteria is this being improved or gauged?
  • Are people with mobile phones more likely to engage with their physical surroundings if methods of participation through mobile Internet or text messaging are properly communicated to passersby?

So, you want to do what…?

The above was a long way of explaining the idea. The shorter way is this:

Busker Idol encourages crowds roaming on foot to participate, à la American Idol, to vote for the best buskers (musicians or performing artists) for recognition in a variety of categories (some examples could be best comedy act, best original song with a local theme, etc). Methods of voting would include web, text messaging, and phone (among others). Buskers would also be encouraged to submit videos to a website for online voting; this website would also promote their future performances, and possibly act as a point of sale for online music or video. Videos would also be available for viewing for voters to determine category winners.

The purpose of this event would be:

  • to bolster awareness and encourage celebration of local cultural performers and artists;
  • to encourage place-making and interaction, contributing to Vancouver’s vibrant and unique street life; and
  • to expose buskers to the low-cost, self-publishing promotional methods available on the Internet (especially if they collaborate with their fans).

Will this work? I’m not really sure, but I’m very much willing to try, and so far, those that I have run this idea by have been very supportive.

But of course, there’s tech

One of the exciting parts of this idea to me, by far, is that the technology to power a contest like this is being built by people (people I know, even!) who are based in this city:

  • Strutta is a platform for deploying online contests.
  • LiveVote from Handimobility allows easy voting in polls through text messages.

So to me, this has the potential to be a really homegrown and awesome affair celebrating the work of a whole lot of people in the city; and, like many of my favorite things happening, it aims to bring together people from different backgrounds with common interests (like celebrating Vancouver) into somewhat novel situations.

What’s happening now?

I’ve been invited to present this idea to the Vancouver Public Space Network‘s Transportation Committee; that presentation is happening tonight – Thursday, January 15th at the Vancouver Public Library at 7pm (room TBD). I hope to round up some people who will be able to help me bring this thing to life at that meeting.

And then what?

The next steps are:

  • Talking to buskers: how can we make this useful to them, in the long- and short-terms? What do they need or want – from the public, from the city? What challenges do they face, and how can this event support them?
  • Talking to the City of Vancouver (and/or surrounding muncipalities in Metro Vancouver) and TransLink: I’ve run the idea by people at TransLink, so I know a few of their concerns, though it’s been a few months and their situation may have changed in the interim. I’m particularly happy to hear that Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer is calling for more car-free days; I could imagine this going over pretty well in the summer if those happen!
  • Talking to tech companies: what would they need in order to get involved?
  • Cooking up a business plan: That’s how other people believe that we’re serious about making this happen.

…and those are just a start. (!)

This is where you come in

I can’t do this alone. Nor, frankly, do I really want to! If this idea sounds cool to you, please…

  • Tell me what you think of this. Have I missed something? My comment box awaits you!
  • Tell me if you’d enjoy this, or if you’d hate it. There’s no such thing as too early or too much user research. What would make you more willing to participate, online or in person?
  • If you’ve ever busked or known anyone who’s busked, please, please get in touch with me and tell me what you think would be useful, or make or break this.
  • Do you have a superpower, like writing business plans or talking to buskers? I would be ecstatic if you could lend me your magic.
  • If you’re free Thursday evening, catch me at the VPL Central branch tomorrow tonight. Let’s have a drink and tell me what you like about the idea. The meeting is scheduled to go until 10pm because there’s a lot on the agenda, but if nothing else, come say hi and I’ll be in touch! Update: I’ll also be at Likemind Vancouver at WorkSpace on Friday, January 16th, 8am, and I’d be happy to talk about this then too.

And of course, this would be a community-powered, community-centred endeavour, so I want to involve as many people in this as possible.

I think this could be such a cool thing for our artists and for people in Vancouver generally. So much of the thing we are told, or we think of ourselves, as being staid or cold towards each other – let’s give ourselves an excuse to throw that out the window.


  1. I love this idea. I am also a member of the VPSN and have been talking to Andrew Pask about starting up a VPSN podcast. Would you be interested in doing a short 20 minute interview about your idea, public space and art?

    Posted January 15, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink
  2. Ashley,

    I am intrigued by your proposition and would love to talk with you about this! I’ll be in touch to talk deets.


    Posted January 16, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  3. Greg

    Reading this too late, but pretty neat idea. what came of VPSN pitch? Passing to my burner friends

    Posted February 4, 2009 at 7:09 am | Permalink
  4. Amiel Martin

    sounds cool. do you already have a system for delivering and receiving text messages? I work for tatango.com, and we have an api for sending and receiving text messages that is really easy to use.

    Posted February 20, 2009 at 1:45 am | Permalink
  5. Michelle

    I think the idea is not good – why make it a contest? Buskers are all friends with one another, they are like a family, seeing each other every day, helping each other. Why pit them against one another?!
    MSG TV did a “buskers Idol” reality TV show. ALL the buskers on this show said the same thing: they don't want to compete against one another.
    Most buskers I know (and I know many)have a website and MySpace, they sell their music as CDs and downloads – why is this project presenting buskers as technically challenged?

    Posted March 4, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  6. countablyinfinite

    Michelle, my response to you is so long it is becoming its own blog post. I'd love to discuss this with you by e-mail as well, but you did not leave one so I hope you come back to read the post when I have posted it!

    Posted March 4, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

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