Busking–A Venue for the Alternative, Not-Ready-For-Mainstream Artist?

We need to create venues for musicians (and other artists), so that they may freely showcase their talent. Busking enables artists to perform publicly at very low cost and with few restrictions placed on the performer (or at least, that’s how it used to be…)

Lots of people play musical instruments, but not everyone performs publicly, nor is everyone meant to play out in public. But for those musicians who are creating original music and want to be heard, having places to play, to demonstrate their musical talent is a challenge but a necessity. Because of the marketing tools available only to already successful and established bands, it is difficult and nearly impossible for bands in their early stages to find performance venues.

One solution to this problem is to allow public performances on the streets—also known as “busking.” Many cities are regulating this practice, even requiring a license to be obtained. Despite the freedom of speech argument that inevitably ensues, there’s another issue—providing a chance for musicians of all backgrounds to display their talent. Does busking need to be regulated and licensed? I would argue not. Little harm is done to society when an unlicensed musician strums a guitar on the sidewalk. In fact, most of the time, such street performances enliven the community. So then why is it tightly regulated?

City officials will claim that a public nuisance can exist when a musician is too loud (or perhaps lacking talent?) However, busking licenses can be eliminated altogether by signs posted that inform musicians of how loud they can be and that they will receive a warning (not a ticket—at least not for the first offense) from the police if they exceed that volume. Signs posted publicly could look like parking signs and would serve the purpose of letting street performers know what they can and cannot do.

But the purpose of the busking license is… What? Honestly, I’m not sure what purpose it serves at all except to bring in money for city officials. And the result of instituting busking licenses clear: fewer live street performances. As usual, this benefits the established. A famous rock star isn’t worried about busking on a public sidewalk. He/She performs at venues and makes probably thousands of dollars each night, no problem. But the amateur, the undiscovered, the experimental, the just-starting-out musician has no such luck. To get their music out there and find the audience that loves their music, undiscovered musicians need the right to perform in public. Allowing and even encouraging busking is one way to foster talent, enrich a community, provide culture and educate children about the arts. Public art is beautiful. But once it is regulated by the government it loses its artistic value. Good art is meant to make government officials uncomfortable but once artists have to ask the government permission to perform that must change. Suddenly, art is sterile, empty, making no socially-redeeming statement at all because the artist is beholden to the establishment before he or she can display the art in the first place.

But a democratic society requires freedom of expression, and art is a huge part of that. We need artists who make us think, make us question reality, who startle us into thinking outside the box.

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