Thursday, August 13, 2009

Busker Economics

I have long enjoyed being a free rider on the efforts of buskers, most recently in Quebec City, watching the major derring-do of what looked like ex-gymnasts, but over my life in many places. One of my favorite spots is Covent Garden, but Toronto's Harbourfront often features great shows, and I can think of few cities I have been in where busking has not provided me enormous pleasure.
I think it was at Covent Garden one day, watching what looked like some moderately regimented succession of performers, that I began to wonder what the rules were. Were I there today, I would undoubtedly ask one of the performers, after having uncharacteristically left some money.
CBC's online news today reports that Ottawa is introducing some degree of bureaucratic regulation (and, of course, new fees) to the process in the Byward Market (which seems to me would be a fine place to busk).
The buskers seem to have different opinions.

From her music stand in the market Wednesday, violinist Cheryl Fitzpatrick said she thinks the rules are fair.
"It will regulate the musicianship," she said. "Also, give other people a chance so that somebody doesn't monopolize a corner all day."

But some clearly think that spontaneous self-regulation has been pretty effective:

But flutist Thomas Brawn said buskers respect each other's space and already do a good job of regulating themselves.
"Some bureaucrat's idea of controlling something is to put a fee on it," he said. " I've been improving their market for 30 years. They should be paying me."

I was a bit puzzled by this:

Sisters Madeleine and Ella Hopwood serenaded passers-by with the harmonies of their flute and cello. They come from Victoria, B.C., each year to play in Ottawa, where their father lives, during the summer.
"It's basically our summer job," Madeleine Hopwood said.
The permit fee might be out of their budget and could stop them from playing in the market next year, she added, as they take in quite a bit of money some weekends, but don't do well on others.
"It's a real chancy thing, so I don't think it would be worth it."
Her sister said a similar permit in Victoria costs only $10 for the whole summer.

Ottawa is asking $100 rather than Victoria's $10. But two sisters can travel from Victoria to Toronto (surely not for nothing) and are daunted by a $90 difference (though maybe if they stay with Dad and he pays the travel costs it makes more sense).
A search for 'busker' on the City of Toronto web site turns up an application form, mentioning no fee, and addressing implicitly another question I had.
That question was whether rules would be different in different spots. And the Ottawa case is an instance - they seem concerned only with Byward Market. In London, there could be a difference between Covent Garden, which has two really prime spots, and the South Bank, where the busking is a little less exciting and there is a lot of space for it. The Toronto application clearly makes the corner of Yonge and Dundas, where the Eaton Centre is, a special case.
I must become more curious about how this all works out.


At 3:17 AM, Blogger M said...

I think it's terrible to charge buskers, who are essencially giving their art to the public for free. As itis some buskers don't make that much money at all, and if they had to pay for the permit to play, they would lose money! I think cities are becoming too greedy. Playing music on the street is a form of freedom of expression - one shouldn't be charged money to express themselves.

In NYC the permit is obtained through an audition, but no charge. This ensures high quality performances.
My favorite busker in NYC is the 'Saw Lady' - she plays the musical saw in the subway. In her blog she described the audition for permits to play in the NYC subway.


Post a Comment

<< Home