An SA start-up is looking to help musicians and entertainers earn a living despite being confined at home in the solitary days of lockdown.

Busqr (pronounced "busker") helps musicians and performers to monetise live performances from their living rooms, explains Jon Savage, who created it for InBroadcast, a division of Cape Town communications agency HaveYouHeard.

"For a lot of artists, touring and live shows is their livelihood. With the lockdown the whole live music industry just collapsed overnight," he says.

"The idea of supporting your favourite performers is accepted in the gaming community, on platforms such as Twitch.

"When your favourite gamers do something cool you can send them a contribution. With the lockdown it made sense to try to bring this contribution culture to the music industry."

Savage is no stranger to the music industry. He was lead singer in chart-topping rock band Cassette, is a former DJ on 5FM and was musical director of the SA Music Awards for three years.

The mechanics of Busqr are simple. Each artist is assigned a unique code, which can be embedded in live streams across a variety of social platforms including Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

While video tutorials and guides are available to explain the embedding process, even technophobic performers can find a way to use these quick-response (QR) matrix barcodes, says Savage. "Some artists use an iPad with the QR code on-screen. You could print the QR code onto a T-shirt, or put it on the wall next to you. Even when Instagram reverses the picture, the code works backwards."

Jon Savage. Picture: Supplied
Jon Savage. Picture: Supplied

For the audience, a modern smartphone camera will scan the code and redirect to the artist’s unique payment page, for the audience to donate via PayPal, SnapScan or Zapper. Artists receive live notifications of payments, as well as a weekly report of donations from Busqr, which levies a 5% administration fee.

While payment platforms such as Patreon similarly allow for micro-payments in support of artists and performers, these favour monthly subscriptions. With Busqr the dynamic live appeal is key.

"What’s interesting is that we’ve seen many contributions higher than the typical ticket price to a live show. So far the highest single contribution to a performer has been $300," says Savage.

The potential has caught the eye of some of SA’s leading performers. In the few weeks since it launched it has been embraced by the likes of former Freshlyground vocalist Zolani Mahola and Arno Carstens, as well as comedians such as Rob van Vuuren.

Noting the rise in artists looking to support local communities, a separate Busqr code — purple, with a heart in the middle — is available for artists to use when fundraising for charitable organisations. A recent fundraiser that included Ard Matthews, Kurt Darren and UK singer-songwriter James Bay raised more than R100,000 in less than an hour.

"It’s a real mind shift for artists and audience," says Mahola, who has used Busqr both to earn a living and raise funds for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust. "It’s such a new way to interact with an audience, to directly ask people to be our patrons. But then as an audience you have much more intimate access to your favourite artists."

Artists are having to tweak their performances to suit their new cyber-audience.

"Without the physical response from an audience, and the two-way communication, traditional stand-up comedy is very difficult," says Van Vuuren, who switches between character-driven Corné and Twakkie routines with fellow-comedian Louw Venter and a more personal Storytime with Rob slot.

And while Busqr is providing immediate financial relief in a crisis, the goal is to create a long-term income stream for performers.

"I’ve found Busqr a really great stepping stone," says Van Vuuren, whose live performance income evaporated overnight when the lockdown began.

"It has offered an immediate source of income, and given me some time and space to think about long-term solutions.

"I’m really excited about the possibilities, and how this major event is forcing us into a new way of thinking and adapting. I’m hoping that by the end of this I’ll be able to go back to live performances, but also have a supplementary stream of income."

Savage agrees. "The intention of Busqr is to become an income stream for artists long beyond the lockdown. I’d like to see artists earning a living through live concerts, album sales, merchandise … and then you have Busqr."

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