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futurelaker88's avatar

What are the laws/rules regarding "busking" or subway entertaining in NYC?

Asked by futurelaker88 (1594 points ) July 21st, 2009

are there rules? do you need a license? can anyone just stop and set up a little spot to make some extra cash? I’ve seen people who undoubtedly have NO talent, yet they show up with a violin and make horrific noises and have a bucket for donations. can anyone do this, or am I going to be the moron who starts doing something and gets kicked out and humiliated in front of everyone?

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7 Answers

aprilsimnel's avatar

It’s a low priority for cops to bust buskers, I think, unless one creates a major disturbance. The MTA has tryouts every year for individuals and groups to play in the busiest Manhattan stations under their banner and sponsorship.

If you want to do it on your own, go for it. It’s protected free speech under the 1st Amendment.

futurelaker88's avatar

im thinking of just bringing a cd player and dressing up as michael jackson and doing some moves. not to “promote” or brag, but i can do a lot of the stuff that i think lends itself to this kind of entertainment, and Target’s hourly rate isnt really cutting it for me. somebody saw my video and suggested it and I’m really considering it! I go to school in NY anyway so its perfect!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wJoo9AS38o

thats a video of the type of things i would be doing. Im sure i will have to confine my space and keep the music at a reasonable volume, my fear is working up the courage to actually get going, and then instantly being grabbed by a cop and humiliated and asked to “pack it up.” lol.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@futurelaker88 Here is a good Wikipedia article about busking and the evolution of the laws regarding the practice. In my years performing on the streets (mostly San Francisco, New Orleans and Austin) I don’t remember ever being bothered by the police. It was more likely by shopkeepers who saw my audience as impeding their business traffic, blocking doors, etc. Do some research. Observe some of the more successful buskers, and watch the traffic patterns. Check out potential spots in advance. If you happen to attract a crowd, make sure your audience does not block walkways, shop doors or public exits. Good luck to you

fireinthepriory's avatar

I know that in Boston you do need a permit to busk in the subways. If it’s public property (for example, the Boston public gardens) you can busk for tips because, as @aprilsimnel said, it’s protected free speech. It might be different in New York though. And a really good way to find out would be to ask a police officer or a subway employee.

Buttonstc's avatar

It took me awhile to find it and it used to also have a Forum for street performers to share tips on performing in various locations, but Stephen Baird at the first link I will include is the go-to-guy as he has been active in busking (or street performing) for around 30 yrs.

In my personal experiences back in the day, I found that many Police officers knew very little about the actual laws regarding this as it’s not as high on the radar screen as a plethora of other crimes. It’s usually the new guys just coming out of the Academy or just transferred to the area who give buskers a hard time. This was the case in Philly and from discussions I’ve had at conventions with guys in other locales, it’s the frequent pattern.

The experienced cops basically turn a bliind eye as long as other stuff like drugs, etc. is not part of the picture. They realize how much paperwork and court time is involved :) and have bigger fish to fryl

Of course that’s not an iron clad guarantee that you will never be hassled by them, but there have been some recent court cases where the city has lost. There are more details in the page in the link. I just didn’t have time to read much but I think you will find it very helpful.

Also, in dealing with the cops, if your are polite and act normal, arrest is unlikely. The ones likely to get arrrested are the ones who want to argue or smart mouth them. Most likely they’ll just ask you to leave—and that is precisely what you should do. There are plenty of other locations and its just not worth the hassle.

I was always very nice to the cops and never had a problem (except the aforementioned new guys) it may have also helped that I’m Female and they did feel sort of protective of me when South St. started going through some chaotic times especially at night. All that the Sgt. in charge wanted of me was to promptly shut down when he gave the word and that was fine by me. You know the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar….

The old Forum seems to have been replaced by an email list. If you aren’t familiar with them, they function similarly to forums except more monitored so you don’t have all the drive-by trolls to deal with. I subscribe to a Face Painters email list and actually prefer it over a forum.

Most street performers are pretty helpful to other performers, especially newbies. It ‘s also a plus for you that you have a faily unique act so you really aren’t in direct competition with them——there are a whole lot more duplicate magicians, balloon twisters, and half-assed musicians around.

Get to know the N.Y. network of street performers and realize that even if the unthinkable happens and you are arrested, you will know your rights and have a network of others who have your back.. But my hunch is that will prob be the smallest of your problems. There is a lot to learn about finding success on the mean streets, but the great part about it is you never know which of those passersby may see you and like your talent enough to hire you.

Some of my best jobs came from folks who picked up one of my business cards while I was busy twisting balloons or face painting.

Oh, did I forget to mention that you should DEFINITELY have business cards for folks to take? Rather than just an uncertain amt. of meager tips for exhausting hours of work, you can potentially make several hundred bucks for an hour or so of work for those who would love the idea of your moonwalking at their event.

Keep an eagle eye on your hat (this is N.Y. after alll) and don’t forget to seed
it at the beginning with some ones fives and even a ten——no coins——people will be more likely to tip generously if others before them have done so (even if that’s you :)

If Penn and Teller could go from the streets of Philly to a steady Vegas gig, so can anybody. Good luck to you and let us know how things turn out after your first time.

http://www.buskersadvocates.org/saaNewYorkCity.html
This link is for the N.Y. page of Stephen Baird’s site, but there are plenty of other links and great stuff all over the rest of his site.
==================================================================

http://www.performers.net/forums/showthread.php?t=16087
This is a post from a guy starting a website for N.Y. Street Performers
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Yetanotheruser's avatar

I was in Boulder the other day. The Pearl Street Mall is a great place to observe a whole range of busker activity. There was the old hippie-type who might as well be pan-handling; the really talented jazz saxophonist, who was sitting on the curb with no place for a tip (could be he was just playing for the pure enjoyment of it); the young schoolboy with his folding table who was doing card tricks; the banjo/dobro bluegrass duo who seemed to be doing fairly well (at least they wouldn’t starve that day). But the one that really impressed me was the fire-juggler. He put ropes on the ground, defining his stage. His routine had a definite beginning and end to it. He addressed the audience directly, and even had a part where he used the assistance of two volunteers from the audience. He also had a “finale” which he mentioned several times during the course of his act. Before the finale, he announced to the crowd his name, and that he is doing this for a living, and then said something like, “If you have enjoyed the show, please express it by putting a 5 or 10 or anything you can afford into my bucket which is right there.”
I was so impressed I put a $10 in. I saw several 5’s and singles as well. I left not only entertained, but impressed by this juggler’s showmanship.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@futurelaker88 – You know where you might score even more ducats? At the fountain in Washington Square Park. There’s people who put on shows there all the time from spring to late autumn and the tourists give them lots of money! No one makes them leave.

Also, if you were already planning on going to London (IIRC, you were going to one of the MJ shows at the O2 Arena, right?) you might try your routine at Regent Park, too.

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