What are the economics of street performance?
An FKD Feature exclusive

As a theatergoer and concert lover, I often grow frustrated at how expensive Broadway shows can be, and the same goes for concerts. Art is vital to human growth — a quality performance can make us more aware of an experience outside of ourselves. Aristotle famously preached that theater is needed for people to experience catharsis. He believed that a cathartic experience was a purification for the soul, and that theater was the only way to enjoy such a heightened state of knowing.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s trying to elevate her being but can’t afford the $300 Hamilton tickets? She could just treat herself and go anyway, or just walk through the boroughs of NY and listen to the many diverse street performers.

Street Performance in New York City

New York City has such a dense population of street and subway musicians, all looking either to get discovered or just to put a piece of themselves in the bustling city. Street performers in this city have become an attraction on their own, and online there are guides and walking tours to see the most notable actsWhile not all performances are musical, they are all unique attractions of some sort. Some, like the infinitely famous Naked Cowboy in Times Square, can even be booked for parties and events. Commonly to be a busker or performer, one does not need a performance license. However, if your act has a megaphone, speaker or you wish to play in a park a $45 license is required.

How much can a street performer make?

Street performing is not an easy job, but it is rewarding for artists both financially and socially. The amount people tip these artists depends on timing. Priceeonomics.com released an article showing the average a quality act can make during peak hours, for example on Fridays between 8 and 9 p.m, performers can be tipped up to $117. On a Saturday, the same act could only make $6between 6 and 6:30 p.m. Like other non-traditional careers, the uncertainty of how much you will make hourly makes it difficult to live on busking alone. Most street performers work another job part-time, just to have the financial stability, which in turn allows them to keep performing without the pressure of needing to meet a goal. But despite the uncertainty, playing on the street means people see and hear you. That means gaining popularity, which in turn can lead to starting a following and fanbase.

Despite the uncertainties of finances, busking is on the rise. In 1996, a group of performers created The Street Performers’ Advocacy Project in New York. Their goal is to build a guide for performers looking to start, or just need some advice on street life. This project believes that street busking adds something valuable to the community and must be preserved. Within their guide, they have a history of street performance, rules — such as respect one another — and they also have resources for the legality of busking for artists wanting to get started.

Artists are needed in the streets

Street performance may not be perceived as the most glamorous lifestyle, but with pure talent and a passion for performing, an artist can make a decent amount of money from tips and selling merchandise. And while most need another job to support their performing, the payoff of putting art on the streets of New York for all passersby to enjoy is priceless.

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Header image: Adobe Stock

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Posted 09.08.2017 - 01:00 pm EDT