Sound Of The Underground

Not so much pocket money as a profession, busking might just be the best way to make it big


Contrary to what you may think, busking is not just for kicks, kids or those down on their luck. Au contraire. It propelled British pop prince Ed Sheeran from near homelessness to superstardom – and he still busks out tunes to keep on top of his game, saying it straight:

“When you’re busking, you know if you suck. Because people will tell you.”

The legendary B B King, Rod Stewart and Tracy Chapman also got their start on the streets, so it’s no wonder then that this well-trodden turf is hot property for performers.

Around 70 musical acts recently took part in something of an ‘Underworld Idol’ in New York City, battling for a coveted MTA permit to join more than 350 soloists and groups currently jamming on subway platforms where each week, your average city commuter whiles away the equivalent of a full workday underground. Could you ask for a more captive audience?

Bono couldn’t.

Cutting the queue of the months’-long and highly competitive process, Irish rockers U2 recently donned street-performer garb, fake beards and upturned bucket drums for a surprise performance on the S train platform at Grand Central Station.

Suspected to have been a stunt in the lead up to their appearance on The Tonight Show (Jimmy Fallon was spotted in the crowd, and we’re guessing he doesn’t usually catch the subway), these top-tier musos are very much aware of the exposure that this low-lying forum garners.

But big name or not, buskers have the potential to eke out a decent living underground – rumour has it anything from US$15,000 to US$80,000 a year on the New York City subway .

As for this year’s motley hopefuls, a third will win access to this epicentre of incidental entertainment, along with the required paperwork to get the all clear with the cops.

That’s right, permits are a must for street performers in many countries, so for those of you grabbing up your guitars, be sure to check out your city’s guidelines and policy. Then get out there like busking folk-lord Woody Guthrie – “this land is your land”.

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