Busking 101: Street and Subway Performers Earning a Living

Just how much money can you make singing in the subway?

Thanks to generous tips and CD sales, some buskers can earn enough to support themselves.

But performing on subways platforms or on the street is also about networking and booking even better-paying gigs in more conventional venues.

As with real estate, it's all about location. 

In subway stations, Music Under New York (MUNY) governs some of the most popular performance spots. It was created in 1985 by MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design to improve the often dreary commute.

One artist who joined MUNY this year is Susan Keser. She’s still playing in Central Park most weekends, but now she’s an official player in subway stations as well.

"I highly recommend busking because it’s the best way to get yourself out there," Keser said. "It’s better than the internet." 

Keser estimates 60 percent of her gig offers come from people who pick up her business card while she's busking."Free publicity," she called it.

As a new member of MUNY, Keser has her eye set on Union Square, generally agreed upon by members in the busking community as the most profitable MUNY location in the city.

How much are the performers on the subway and in the parks making at the end of the day?
How much are the performers on the subway and in the parks making at the end of the day?
Depending on factors like location and weather, many musicians can make a living from busking.
Depending on factors like location and weather, many musicians can make a living from busking.
Each member of the band Gypsy Train took home about $300 after performing on the subways last Christmas Eve. From left to right Eran Fink, Miguel Lantigua, Tommoraw Mortimer, and “Gypsy” Joe Hocking.
Each member of the band Gypsy Train took home about $300 after performing on the subways last Christmas Eve. From left to right Eran Fink, Miguel Lantigua, Tommoraw Mortimer, and “Gypsy” Joe Hocking.
The band Select Blendz performs at the Union Square subway stop. Musicians say the right location is key to making money.
The band Select Blendz performs at the Union Square subway stop. Musicians say the right location is key to making money.
Select Blendz is a doo wop group that is permitted to perform in various transit stations by the MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design program, Music Under New York (MUNY).
Select Blendz is a doo wop group that is permitted to perform in various transit stations by the MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design program, Music Under New York (MUNY).
Musicians from all over the city performed on this stage in Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal in mid-May hoping to gain access to the more than 30 big money-making spots of MUNY.
Musicians from all over the city performed on this stage in Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal in mid-May hoping to gain access to the more than 30 big money-making spots of MUNY.
One artist hoping to get a chance to perform at profitable MUNY spots like Union Square is Julian Hintz, who performed his "accordion alternative" music as Squeeze Rock.
One artist hoping to get a chance to perform at profitable MUNY spots like Union Square is Julian Hintz, who performed his "accordion alternative" music as Squeeze Rock.
Susan Keser waiting to audition in Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Station for MUNY, in which she was accepted late May.
Susan Keser waiting to audition in Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Station for MUNY, in which she was accepted late May.
Susan Keser plays in Central Park most weekends but also auditioned for MUNY in May.
Susan Keser plays in Central Park most weekends but also auditioned for MUNY in May.
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