Since 1985, freelance artistic performance has been legal in the New York subway system. With no permits, schedules, or auditions, freelance performers have delighted generations of subway riders — and their approval ratings have soared above the MTA’s own.
Yet freelance performers continue to face vivid challenges. Far from being acclaimed for their contribution to New York’s artistic life, they are ejected, ticketed, and even arrested by NYPD officers unaware of MTA rules permitting artistic performance. We think it’s time for that to change.
We believe in a New York where public performance is a vibrant and celebrated part of artistic life.
Ending wrongful arrest is not easy. It requires providing accurate information about the legality of subway performance to MTA officials, NYPD officers, and to every subway rider; assisting subway performers in advocating for themselves when their rights are violated; and promoting, organizing, and curating events and exhibitions that celebrate the diversity and the excellence of New York City’s subway art.
Check out our about page and blog to find out how we’re doing that. You can connect with us on Facebook, sign up to support us here, and reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hey, my name is Joseph Hall But I’m well Known from My Dance Name “J black ” & I’m A Subway Performer. In The Video Link Above Im The Guy In The Cover Hanging from The pole, But Anyways Me & My Friends Who Has A Team Called W.A.F.F.L.E Which Stands For “We Are Family For Life Entertainment” Have Been Doing This For A Couple Of Years & Have Done a lot Such As Television , Documents & Etc. today I Was With One Of My Friends & A Guy Told Me About This Website , To Contact It & So I Did .
Hello , joshep m really glade that I found this site I play guitar and I just arrived in New York on 19th from India … I was planning to go busking on sub way but not alone cus m really not used to this if I can find some musician and jam it would be really good thnx
You any good? Have any audio online or video?
Hi Joseph — thanks for getting in touch! This is a good time to connect, because the new Police Commissioner has been cracking down on subway performers intensively this spring. Can you send us an email (email@example.com) so we can communicate directly? Thanks.
Thanks to the guy who interrupted. I wish I had gotten your name! While I was busking at 42nd street mezzanine an officer approached and asked for my permit. I replied that I didn’t have one. He responded by telling me that the spot was reserved for MUNY members only or I had to have a permit to continue. Meanwhile a guy approached to let me know about this site and suggested that I check it out and know my rights. I’m so glad he did. Now I feel more confident to share my talents legally on the mezzanines with a moderate sound device. I’m going to carry with me a copy of my rights just in case next time! Thanks!!!
Great, Henyo! Glad to hear that someone interceded on the grassroots level. It’s particularly wise to carry a copy of the MTA Rules for next time. There are official copies — glossy and blue — available at the Transit Adjudication Bureau, and you can also drop us an email if you’d like to have a copy mailed to you directly.
How could I get a official copy mail my email is firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks and lets keep music alive with so many talent out there need to be heard.
can i also have a copy sent to me? email@example.com thanks
Can I also get a copy please, firstname.lastname@example.org
hey matthew how are you
Matthew, Larry here, The World’s Most Dangerous Bass Player, lol! It was a pleasure to meet you at Busker Ball7 and I look forward to performing again at Busker Ball8. I have a somewhat different situation as I perform on the streets and in the subway with an amplifier. I feel very fortunate that I haven’t been ticketed above ground in years, and when I have been, they are always dismissed. I never got a permit for using the amp because at first when I legitimately tried, I got so much run around, and then when I found out the cost, at the time, for the money I made busking, it seriously would not have been cost effective to get the permit. I would basically be paying to make $5 or $10 after the cost of the permit. Underground, cops just usually tell me to move along and only if a token booth clerk calls them complaining. I got 4 tickets underground in the 13 years I’ve been busking; 3 from the same rookie at the same spot, (I guess he was just trying to easily fill his quota and make points with his superiors) and one from a lieutenant with a different rookie who told me he was on his way to handle a complaint about a bucket drummer at 1st Ave. and he just happened to see me at Union Sq. The look on the rookie’s face actually made me feel sorry for him because I could see he did not want to do this. “Ticketing a musician when there is probably a real crime going on not too far from here.” Any way, I just want you to know I think it’s a great thing you’re doing for your fellow artists and performers and if I can be of help in any way, if it is in my means I will, just let me know.
Larry, thanks for this comment — I regret that I’ve only just seen it now. We appreciate your support, and I look forward to hearing the World’s Most Dangerous Bass again soon!
I play the world’ most dangerous electric guitar.
Hi, I’m glad to have found this site while researching the legalities of busking in ny! I’m new to the city, am a singer/violist and usually love getting out onto the streets wherever I go to pay some tunes. I’m tentative about playing in ny because I’m on a visitor visa and don’t want to risk any kind of arrest that might jeopardise my stay here!
Is it worth it? If so where’s a good place to start? Do I need to apply for a permit or is it possible to just get my hands on the MTA rules and head out?
Many thanks 🙂
Hi Anni. Great that you’re looking into performing. There is no permit required to perform in the NYC subway. In fact, no performance permit exists — you may have confused that with the Music Under New York program, which is often mistaken for a permit.
We strongly encourage you to go out performing, and we are happy to mail you an official copy of the MTA rules. Drop us a line at info (at) buskny (dot) com and we’ll get back to you ASAP.
Just wanted to let you know it is actually a violation of immigration law to earn money while here on a tourist visa (Yea, even money thrown into a guitar case!) I know firsthand from getting stopped at Border Control with guitar and nearly sent back on the next flight. Most cops won’t know about that one, but still is an added risk when defending yourself.
Oops, I meant *play* some tunes..
hey Matthew, I’m so glad I found you! We need your help so much! I have a trial date coming up on the 7th of October and it’s so good to know that I have support from people and organizations like this one! Thanks again!
You Have the Right NOT to Remain Silent
NYC Busker Ball 8 Takes on Police Crackdown on Street Performers
Buskers Rally & Rock Spike Hill
NEW YORK CITY – The next NYC Busker Ball is taking a stand on the current, and unlawful, police crackdown on busking within and above the New York City subway system with a protest party on October 16.
“We’re rallying and issuing a call for action in defense of our 1st Amendment rights,” said Theo Eastwind, organizer of the event. “The cops have been out of control as of late with their increased and unjust harassment of New York City public performers. With our next NYC Busker Ball 8 event at the club Spike Hill in Williamsburg Brooklyn we promise to be about more than just music and good times; we plan to shine a light on what’s been going on above and underground to our busking brothers and sisters at the hands of local law enforcement. The unfair ticketing and illegal arrests have to stop!”
A super secret surprise guest gets it going at 7:30 p.m. and is followed by Congolese subway songstress Grace Kalambay at 8:15 p.m., Theo Eastwind at 9:00 p.m., then experimental cellist and prison reform activist Jacob Cohen at 9:45 p.m., the underground guerrilla music project named Bandits on the Run hits the stage at 10:30 p.m. and The Blue Vipers of Brooklyn bring it all home at 11:15 p.m.
Busker Ball 8 takes place on October 16 at Spike Hill (184-186 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn). Convenient transportation to the event is available by taking the L train to Bedford Avenue or the G to Metropolitan Avenue. The suggested donation for the show is $10. Doors open at 7 p.m. and more information about the NCY Busker Ball 8 party is available at: https://www.facebook.com/nycbuskerball
This is more than just a fun fight for your rights party, it’s a call to action to other musicians, the general public and members of the media to stand up, come together and demand justice for all. These are our rights, and if we fail to use them then we’re going to lose them.
Mia Mind Music
“Exhibitions that celebrity” I think you mean “celebrate”
Thanks for what you did at the Metropolitan subway stop yesterday!
Please inform me about other events and protests-if I can be of help to your organization please let me know.
Thanks, Gary — we’ll get back to you by email shortly!
I think a Clear to the point Fact Sheet explaining the LAW concerning subway (and other) -performing could be given to the performers to let the Public and Police Officers know the Rules.
Information is Key to winning this battle of the Minds.
Yes! We are working on bringing more visibility to Susie Tanenbaum’s Know Your Rights Guide (currently on our resources page). Appreciate your input and will integrate it into the effort!
I say there are lots of cop’s who are wrong. in NY, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Virginia. allot of people got arrested or fined for no good reason. like the girls who wore the bracelet that was for breast CANCER AWARENESS WEEK, or the kids with airsoft guns. I was on my bus to school last year and there was a bus next to mine at the light. the bus next to mine didn’t turn on his/her lights until the lights changed green, and then my driver was talking to the cop who was telling my driver the rule he already knows. If I wasn’t on the bus that cop could of arrested him. the crossing guard and the guy in the car behind us vouched that it wasn’t my drivers fault for passing the other bus stop sign. What I say is the world needs more OBSERVANT cops who see better. Like trying to stop something important for once. I admit that I’d phony call them when I was young, my parents yelled allot and I was scared of them fighting, plus if they did it at me when they weren’t angry at me for something, I was just the person they could think of to holler at me. some other things get on my mind from time to time but that’s for another story.
What wound up happening with Andrew Kalleen and the dumb cop that arrested him after finding out he had the right to play music in the station per his own findings?
Hi Rob. Andrew’s case has not been resolved — though not through his fault. In a nutshell, the charges appear to have gotten lost in the DA’s office, and the courts are unable to specify when he will receive an update. Please stay tuned for a formal statement by Andrew about that process and his future plans.
I’m a student journalist at NYU and would like to speak with you for an article. Please let me know what the best way to get in touch with you is.
matt, what if I get u police emails and we try and put them on board. Wouldn’t that be great to have them be like we don’t wanna arrest these guys either.
Please call me. Cops tell me new rules went into effect need to know if this is true. My name is Ramon 3478415650. This is urgent. Call me.
What are the current rules and current status as of April, 2015?
Is there a collection of rules and regulations, which I assume are diverse?
Where and when are permits, etc. needed?
What are the regulations concerning amplifiers? Backing tracks?
Are the rules different for subways and streets, parks etc? (I assume so…)
hey. Just letting you know. I have an emailing list of over 3,200 people who each gave me a donation on the train while I was performing on the train as I do. They gave me a dollar so I gave them a free CD and asked for their email address for my mailing list. I wanna hopefully get up to like 10,000 MTA riders email addresses who all have my back. Can you please council me on how to go about lobbying city council. I want to get it to be legal to busk on a moving train.
May I please have a copy of these rules that everyone else is so eager to possess? Masterpeacemcclusk@gmail.com
Can tourists from Ireland be costumed actors in Times Square on a tourist visa?
Hey team! I’m amanda and looking for great places to busk or people to busk with – also, leads on cafes where I can play for tips. I’m a wonderful singer and play guitar: amandajhoffman.com