Busking is a crucial part of the music eco-system in London; a chance to develop and grow in front of the public. It all adds to London’s reputation as one of THE capitals in the world for live music, with music tourists contributing almost £600m to the economy each year.
Freedom of Expression
Busking epitomises the principle that people are free to do things in the public realm, unless expressly forbidden. It reminds us that we are free to interact with each other, creating an unexpected, informal culture which makes London feel so vibrant.
Unfortunately the reality of busking in London is not quite as simple as just walking out onto the streets armed with your instrument and some songs.
The Legal Stuff
Busking is legal on public land. Depending on where in the capital, you may need a licence while you also need to think about the kind of sets you want to play.
– You need a licence to busk in the London Borough of Camden if you are using music in your act
– You cannot collect money in the City of London (the financial district known as the ‘Square Mile’)
– Any type of act needs a licence to perform in Uxbridge Town Centre
Private landowners can impose their own rules. Here are some notable ones:
– Busking on the London Underground requires a licence via an application and audition process akin to appearing on the ‘X’ Factor auditions on TV. They usually happen every 2 years and 2019 is likely to be audition year. These auditions are periodically held in London’s Underground stations and some of the capital’s finest music venues held in conjunction with Yamaha Music London and the Mayor’s ‘Busk In London’ programme.
– The Southbank Centre Busking Scheme (between the London Eye and Hungerford Bridge) requires permits for the area by the river in front of the Southbank Centre
– Covent Garden which is a mixture of public and private land
The difficulty in big cities like London is that land might look like it is public, but is actually privately owned but has public access such as in the Southbank of the River Thames.
The legal age for buskingin London is 14 years old. Some private schemes may have different rules. For example, the London Underground busking scheme requires performers to be at least 16 years old.
The London Underground is not the only place for busking. You can find out about the Mayor of London’s Busk in London opportunities. Buskers may have to pay for the top busking spots and some of the prices seem a bit steep in my estimation, but there are also free spots around London too to suit everybody’s pocket.
You have to really appreciate live music at its rawest and liveliest form to tip a busker. I guess the point when you reach into your pocket and pull out some coins must be when you get mesmerised either by the genre of the live music or talent of the performer. Showing appreciation by tipping is voluntary.
Anyone wishing to collect money for charity while busking must obtain a permit. The Metropolitan Police issue permits for street collecting on behalf of all London boroughs (not including the City of London). I am not altogether sure about what happens when people aren’t busking but collecting money for charity. So it is better to be cautious when you see an elderly gentleman with a bucket standing at the underground station.
The ‘Social Problem’ of Busking: The Big Brother view?
It is true that busking can be associated with crime. There are nuisance buskers who play the same song repeatedly at full volume, beggars masking as buskers, areas where it may well be inappropriate for buskers to perform.
It does seem that over regulating these musicians is stifling busking on the streets of London. Some Buskers complain that certain parts of the capital have become no-go areas and they are sometimes moved on by the police even when they know they are not breaking any rules. This is really sad when everything seems to be over controlled and young talented musicians who just want to gain experience playing to the public just lose their confidence for fear of paying heavy fines or penalties.
The Brighter Side of Busking
On a brighter more positive note, for some lucky musicians, busking can be life changing. Being at the right place at the right time and getting noticed by the right people is all that matters. People have gotten record deals, gigs, permanent jobs from a busk.
Recently this New York busker got my attention when his Sax cover was sent to me by a friend. It transpired later that following on from his performance and by also trending on social media, he got noticed by the artist who owned the song and got invited to play at his concert. Good news right?
For more information, visit the Busk in London website.