Friday, February 20, 2009

Licensed Freelancing

Want to be a sidewalk musician in the London subway? busk--the practice of performing in public spaces for tips--inside the London Underground, musicians have to play by the rules if they want to play at all.

First you need a license.

Muttel's official busking license, good for one year, hangs visibly from a lanyard around his neck. It took six months of rigmarole to obtain that license, in which time he applied, auditioned for a panel of four or five London Underground staff members and agreed to a mandatory police background check.

You don't just go down and play.

A sticker, stating that he has checked in with a London Underground supervisor, is also clearly displayed on his tattered T-shirt (he will also have to check out).

A busker’s performance spot is a “pitch”. To reserve a pitch in London’s Underground, buskers must call in to an automated phone service on Tuesday mornings up to two weeks in advance. The process can be gruelling. On a good day, performers may be in a queue for about an hour and a half, hitting redial over and over again. But the task can take up to a day or two.

It can be competitive.

If a busker shows up late for a spot, the previous busker is entitled to stay for the next two-hour time slot. Unsurprisingly, this can get messy.

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