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Busker’s Rights: Know the Laws of Street Performing


A recently circulating video of Andrew Kalleen being arrested for busking in the NYC Subway has caused a lot of concern in the music/busking community.

You can watch the video here.

Andrew was armed with the exact citation for the MTA’s rules that permitted him to play, and despite his repeated attempts to get the arresting officer to understand the law, the officer failed to understand, and arrested Andrew after he refused to be ejected from the subway.

There is a lot of ignorance out there, folks. People who want to tell you “YOU CANT DO THAT!” when in fact you CAN.

This video is proof that you can be armed with all of the right information, be completely on the side of the law, and STILL be denied your right to play. So, best to be fully informed, and then, wherever you are, carry a copy of relevant law with you.

Busking, aka street performance, has a long and storied past, enriching our culture since time began (although there were fewer street corners back then). As cities got more crowded, and security measures enhanced, and CERTAINLY after 9/11, more and more regulation of our unbridled expressions of joy and love has been implemented and enforced.

Unless there are strict anti-busking laws in your area, it's usually OK to just start performing on public property, as long as you're not obstructing people or otherwise creating a nuisance. If you're asked or told to leave, and you don’t know the law, best practice is to just leave.

On private property, however, (including many open air markets and fairs) you should always get permission first. Always best to check the ordinances of the towns in which you’d like to perform, and then print out whichever rules and regulations protect you. And be forewarned that many many places require permits, and many many of them require auditions to obtain permits. And some only hold auditions once a year.
• London's Underground? They have a limited number of licenses and require auditions, which are held once each year.
• New York? Unamplified busking is allowed almost everywhere in the city, except within 50 feet of monuments. Performing on a subway platform is protected by the First Amendment, but not if you step onto a train.
• Chicago requires a permit for every single public performance, and there are designated hours and “noise” limitations.
• Boston requires an audition, a criminal background check and liability insurance in order to play in some parts of the city.

Kudos to AidanKS, and check out his post that has more city-specific information here.

Got a permit to play on the streets? Great! But not good enough to play in most subway/metro stations. Almost every one of these has its own rules and regulations. If you look online you can find info pertaining to live performances. Here are a few links:
NY MBTA Subway Performers Program
San Francisco BART
DC Metro, section 100.10

There are organizations popping up all around the world to connect buskers and share information like http://www.the buskingproject.com and http://www.buskercentral.com

So, remember- KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! Be prepared to combat ignorance, and go forth and engage in your chosen “free speech activity.” You make the world a brighter place. Thank you.

Singer-songwriter Laura Zucker wins audiences over with a hard-won perspective and a positive spin. The powerful imagery of her songs and stories ring so true you might think she’s read your diary – and you’ll find yourself humming her infectious melodies for days to come. She’s a two-time finalist in the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk competition in Texas, 2013 West Coast Songwriters Association Best Song of the Year, and has received numerous accolades and awards from the organizations around the world. She has released four CDs of original songs with the latest, Life Wide Open, released in late 2013. Find tour dates, music and more at LauraZucker.com

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