2014 MUNY Auditions

Yesterday, Music Under New York held its 27th annual auditions in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. About 20 acts out of the 60 contestants will be chosen by a panel of 35 judges to be added to the MUNY roster. The auditions lasted five minutes each over the course of about six hours, and winners will be announced within the next few weeks.

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We asked MUNY manager Lydia Bradshaw to make sure the legality of freelance busking was mentioned during this year’s auditions. Kalan and I attended the first few hours of the auditions to find out if our requests had been honored as well as to see some of the performances, and MUNY turned out to be quite supportive of our cause. We were unexpectedly invited into the press area where we found that MUNY had included a highlighted copy of MTA rule 1050.6 in the press packets for the event.

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Every reporter covering the auditions has one of these.

We stuck around to see the first 20 performers, and I managed to get close enough to get clear shots of most of them:


Based on some of the articles we’ve seen so far, not every member of the press has actually read everything in the packet, since some still conflate MUNY membership with a general busking license. BuskNY has been largely successful, however, when asking the authors of such articles to make corrections. If only informing the NYPD and general public that busking is legal were that easy!

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Megan Gillis rolling her xylophone out after a really excellent performance.

But back to the auditions themselves: we’ll be looking forward to finding out who wins, and hope to run into all sixty of the contestants performing in the subway soon.

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6th Busker Ball


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Last Thursday was the 6th Busker Ball at Spike Hill, and BuskNY was there to give another report on the state of buskers’ rights in NYC.

Shiloh Levy gave a speech about the recent and planned further increases in enforcement of “quality of life crimes” (which results in increased enforcement of fictional laws as well.) Matthew asked me to check out Union Square a couple weeks ago and I went up and down every line; it was totally silent underground except for a single MUNY performer and a religious pamphlet table. Since then buskers have begun to return, but in smaller numbers, and I haven’t seen a churro vendor anywhere since.

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Meanwhile Kalan, whose recent arrest has prompted some pretty bizarre political commentary as well as the more straightforward news coverage, arranged his equipment and assorted beasts, and ended the presentation with puppetry and balloon music.

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In other news, last night I managed to make it down to open mic night at Goodbye Blue Monday for the first time since the place was saved from shutting down. In addition to coming out to the Busker Ball next time, I encourage everybody to check out GMB on a Tuesday night or whenever you can, and make sure the place doesn’t suddenly evaporate like Pearl Paint.

Fourth Busker Ball at Spike Hill

This Wednesday I attended the fourth Busker Ball at Williamsburg bar Spike Hill, an event organized by Theo Eastwind that features performances by New York City buskers. Arthur Medrano and Shiloh Levy performed wearing their BuskNY “Music is Legal!” t-shirts.

Shiloh and Arthur at the 4th Busker Ball

Shiloh and Arthur

Ken Ruan went on second, and has also given me permission to use his photo here. Since I don’t have any training as a photographer, I considered myself pretty lucky to get some shots of everybody that weren’t totally blurry.

Ken Ruan

Ken Ruan

Great performances by everyone involved. Jess Goular at BreakThru Radio has written a more detailed article about the event,

We hope to see you at the next Busker Ball on January 23, 2014.

8/17: BuskNY’s back in town!

BuskNY’s back!

The last few days have been busy, both with busking and because I’ve taken on a commitment as the volunteer ESL instructor for a summer after-school program. That said, I’m still finding time to busk and to do community outreach. And we’re looking forward to having Kalan back in town soon as well, which will double our boots on the ground.

In any case, today brought big news. I spoke by phone with a violinist who received a wrongful summons (‘blocking traffic’ for a solo violinist playing in the evening, written expressly once she had asked for the officer’s badge number.) She was adjudicated guilty at her first hearing, but we’ve gotten her in touch with an attorney and are looking forward to a fairer outcome on appeal.

Then, I met another performer who’s received a summons, this time with a charge of ‘disorderly conduct,’ for playing guitar and singing on the platform. Her court date is just before mine, at the beginning of September, and we’re looking forward to seeing that thrown right out with a lawsuit to boot.

And finally, I met a jazz saxophonist — an excellent one — who’s been arrested no fewer than five times for acoustic, rule-abiding performances. Is that unjust? Well, apparently New York City judges think so: they’ve dropped the charges all five times. Can’t even say how much I look forward to seeing this go back to a court of law — this time with the real wrong-doers as the defendants.

Pretty exciting for one day’s developments. Justice, justice, we’ll get you one day!

Printing the “Music is Legal!” shirts

The shirts arrived Thursday evening, and since I only had two days available to print them before losing access to my studio space (and I’m spending Sunday helping to install my show at the Painting Center), we had to rush to get them done.

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135 t-shirts

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Printing the first shirt.

With only two people, it took seven or eight hours to finish the front side of all 135 shirts.

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We started with the pink shirts.

My cousin Zeke took a detour into the city on his way up the Appalachian Trail, and he offered to help us print the backs. With his help, we finished them in four hours.

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And he bought us food!

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The print shop’s mustachioed Pratt Cat, who is most often found sleeping in the paper guillotine’s scrap bin, visited us in the silkscreen lab.

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About half of the finished shirts.

Matthew and Kalan will start distributing them to subway performers this week. Remember: Music is Legal!

18/7: How to request the MTA rules booklet

Update: we eventually found a source of official MTA rules pamphlets. They’re available in Downtown Brooklyn at the Transit Adjudication Bureau. The address is 29 Gallatin Place, and the pamphlets are on the 3rd floor on the rack outside the elevator.

Lately we’ve been picking up an increased amount of traffic from Google. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about a flood of thousands yet! But there is definitely targeted traffic coming from buskers — and indeed, last night I got an email with a question specifically on busking legality.

So, like I mentioned yesterday, we’re planning to post more tips and resources for musicians, all the way from macro (class-action suit, you say?) to micro. Today’s subject is how to get your hands on a official booklet version of the MTA Rules of Conduct.

Many of you have seen me walking around, doing my folk-lawyer act, with my trusty blue-and-white booklet of the MTA Rules of Conduct. In fact, I often have it lying in my case while I perform:

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It’s pretty visible, and it may remind transit officers doing routine station-checks that my work is permitted. Who knows — maybe having it out even provides a measure of protection to other buskers? And on a more pragmatic note, I suspect it may even make me a teensy bit more money. We all know where our priorities are!

To request a booklet, go to the MTA online comment tool. You can choose from several categories of request, and I believe either “MTA-wide” or “MTA Police (non-emergency only)” would be a good bet. Then, just write that you’d like to have a copy sent to you, and include your mailing address. You’ll receive a booklet in about two weeks.

Want two copies, to create the much-desired akimbo justice effect? Just ask a friend to submit his or her own request! When it comes to law, the more, the merrier.

Subway law: the MTA Rules of Conduct

Welcome to BuskNY’s all-new blog, a site to behold!

As tradition mandates, our first post is a link to the under-read, under-loved MTA Rules of Conduct. Don’t forget:

“The following nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules: public speaking; campaigning; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration; artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations; solicitation for religious or political causes; solicitation for charities.”

That means YOU, buskers!