WEST LOOP — For musician Martial Martin, playing along the Red Line for what sometimes amounts to $10 per hour in tips can be hard.
“I don’t like playing music in the subway ‘cause it stinks,” the 47-year-old musician said. “I like music. But I don’t like playing music in front of people who treat me like trash.”
But now, at least one night a week through the summer, Martin — who makes a living off of his music — will be guaranteed some dough from the good people at the new Cone ice cream at 1047 W. Madison St.
“He was able to knock out a couple of tunes people knew and I could tell the people were interested straightaway,” Cone owner Sean McGuire said.
Rather than a fortuitous Red Line encounter bringing Martin and McGuire together, it was Madeline Crowley, founder of “The Busk,” an online experiment that hooks up local musicians to local businesses.
The concept of busking has existed as long as musicians have been willing to play for tips. But more recently, projects like The Busking Project and the documentary "Busk or Bust" are tapping just what it is about busking that draws people in.
Crowley, a 21-year-old student who lives in Hyde Park, has been around music since she was old enough to follow around her sister, who used to be a busker in Crowley's native Pasadena, Calif.
A singer herself, Crowley saw the connection formed between buskers and their audiences.
“It’s like match.com for performers and local businesses,” Crowley said of her project, The Busk. “It’s getting away from the idea of there needing to be a venue space for a performance.”
She started The Busk after an entrepreneurial assignment at St. Olaf Collage, where she’ll be a senior next year. That assignment prompted her to take a semester in Chicago to connect with as many Chicago musicians and local businesses as possible.
Her concept is simple: street musicians want some guaranteed dollars, and businesses willing to support those musicians for a $20-per-hour flat rate are more likely to draw in the crowds.
While it’s not hard to connect with struggling musicians, Crowley said getting support from local business has been harder.
So far, she’s had musicians play at a West Loop berry-picking party and Cone ice cream, and has collaborated with artist collaborative Southside Hub of Production (SHoP) on a Woodlawn music fest featuring local musicians like Let’s Go to Peru and Project Film.
SHoP artistic director Laura Shaeffer said she sees The Busk as a potential connector between South Side artists and North Side gigs.
“There definitely could be more opportunities for the independent music scene and the independent art scene on the South Side,” Shaeffer said. “In the future, SHoP could provide South Side locations for [Crowley’s] projects.”
Crowley’s also found support from McGuire, who only just recently opened Cone, a West Loop ice cream shop with Irish flair.
At a Cone “busking” event Sunday, Martin gave guests a little Jason Mraz, while Xander Wikstrom treated Cone-goers to a banjo version of R. Kelly’s “Ignition.”
Locals downing ice cream seemed more than happy with the combo of sugar and song.
“This is new. I feel like the neighborhood’s really been growing rapidly lately. It’s cool though,” said Mike Walker, 32, who lives down the street from Cone.
“It adds to the atmosphere to have some music here,” added Mary Jursenas, 27.
Currently, “The Busk” exists as a Facebook page, but Crowley hopes to get a full-blown site up before she finishes her final year at St. Olaf in the fall.
And though ultimately a business plan will have to be created around the site, for now Crowley said she’s just happy playing matchmaker.
“I’d love to be making money off what’s going on because I put a lot of effort into it, but I also feel really great being like, ‘OK, this is working and I’m seeing people make connections,’” she said.
Cone has two busking performances this week, Musician Geoff Schott at 7:30p.m. Thursday and Colin Borows on Saturday afternoon, time TBA. To keep in touch with more city busking, check out The Busk on Facebook.