Performing in the subway, students often contact me to interview/film/photograph my experience for a class paper. In NYC it's easy to find subway performers and the subject is too perfect to overlook. I thought you might be interested in reading how I responded to a recent request from a student doing a paper on subway performers:
Good Morning, of course I'd love to help out in any way that I can. On my website you'll find my subway gigs listed, feel free to come to one and I'll stop and chat. My website also has blogs where I write about my subway experiences, which you might find helpful for your research. I also use twitter to tweet the day of a subway gig where I'll be. You can also join my nycsubwaygirl facebook fanpage where I always list my spots. So as you can see, I use social media to connect with fans, even if they are just passing commuters on their way to where they need to be.
Here's my quick answers to your questions:
1. How long have you been performing in the subway?
2. What is your motive for performing in this particular space?
I believe that free art and music are an integral part of urban living. Live music in public spaces provides education and appreciation that is immeasurable and essential for societal growth and empowerment. Post 911 we see and hear much about security and fear, there are now armed soldiers and police officers in most stations. The presence of live music uplifts and attempts to balance this heavy warring image, to one of "keep the faith, we're still here and living."
3. Is there a schedule for when and where you play?
The way MUNY works is an artist calls the organization 2 weeks in advance their preferred time slot, in most cases it's 12-3pm, or 3-6pm, and their preferred locations of which there are about 20. I've learned, and the MUNY director appreciates, if an artist only suggests a preferred location not demand it, It's much easier for the booking of slots and provides each location with a diversified group of entertainers for commuters to enjoy.
4. If someone tries to take your spot or time, how do you handle that situation?
I have found that by being in the program with a permit, all I have to do is show my permit and be polite. I usually allow the person in my spot to continue as I set up on the side, which takes me about 10 minutes. In my 11 years with the program, I can count on my hands where an artist performing in my spot has asked to see my permit or has been rude. I also have had the experience of some buskers, notably the break dancers, ask to "buy" my slot, which I would never surrender. For one, I am there to perform to help provide a cultural experience for commuters, some who never get out to see live music, and two, by taking the money, it sets a very unfortunate precedent that these performers can buy their way into a spot. In other words, it diminishes the effectiveness of the program.
footnote: In rereading this post, I want to clarify my comments in question #4 which makes it seem like I don't think the break dancers are a cultural group, indeed they are and certainly entertaining. I just don't agree with their desire to "pay off" a performer instead of moving along and finding a different spot to perform. I also don't like to compete with their blasting music, which is not necessary and usually gets police involved. One day I heard "I Will Survive" so many times I finally just had to sing along.