Subway Performers Decry Auditions

This morning, BuskNY is at the Music Under New York auditions, pointing out the negative effects that MUNY’s banners have on freelance musicians who give over 90% of all subway performances.

If you’re stopping by, please check in with us. Our Press Release follows:


Matthew Christian –
Adam Walsh –


Since 1985, subway music has been constitutionally protected in the New York City subway – and from
1987 on, MTA rules have specifically authorized artistic performance for the general public. Still, on
Tuesday, May 19, the MTA will hold auditions to provide banners to a select few musicians – a practice
that has come under increasing scrutiny for its tendency to place the city’s freelance performers at risk
for wrongful ejection, ticketing, and arrest.
Music Under New York, the MTA program that manages the promotional performance program,
provides a visible public face of performing arts in the subway; past internal MTA reports have lauded
its contribution to MTA approval ratings. Yet, subway performance advocacy organization BuskNY
notes, over 90% of all performances are given by freelancers – while MUNY performers provide,
according to the MTA website, a tiny fraction of all live music, with a mere 20 performances daily.
Worse, advocates say, freelance performers are negatively impacted by the mistaken impression that
MUNY membership is a legal requirement to perform. Many freelancers receive tickets or are ejected
from the stations where they perform; according to BuskNY, its data shows this type of harassment
particularly affecting Black and Latino performers, as well as musicians with disabilities.
In one much-publicized case, singer and guitarist Andrew Kalleen was arrested in the fall of October
2014 when a police officer, apparently referring to MUNY’s promotional banners, mistakenly claimed
that Kalleen needed a “permit” to perform in the Metropolitan Avenue “G” station. (According to
freelance performers, MUNY’s promotional banners are widely referred to as “permits” by police and
by MUNY members).

Freelance performers credit this inaccuracy as the cause of many arrests, and say MUNY has done little
to clarify the situation. “Every year, MUNY’s auditions are covered by national media – and many
reports claim, mistakenly, that MUNY membership is a legal requirement, or that MUNY provides a
‘permit’ to perform,” says Matthew Christian, co-founder of BuskNY.

Christian adds that MUNY’s promotional materials and website make no mention of the law permitting
public performances, leading police and media to believe MUNY is a legal requirement. For its part,
MUNY has refused meetings with freelance musicians – and this year, advocates’ permit to distribute
flyers outside of the MUNY audition was denied. In 2015, it seems, the fight for performers’ rights