year, some 250 singers, musicians and dancers call the Metropolitan
Transit Authority to apply for a spot somewhere in the city's elaborate
subway system. Eventually, only about 60 of them make it to the
annual grand audition in May, and just half of those
get the chance to sing, play or dance in 25 designated lucrative
a look at rules subway performers must
The finalists will join the more than 100 individual performers
- classical, Cajun, Caribbean, bluegrass, African, South American,
Native Indian, R&B and jazz - who are already part of the MTA's
Music Under New York program.
do an impromptu jam session on the Union Square subway platform.
The goal of Music Under New York, initiated in 1985 by the MTA,
was to encourage the use of public transit for the performing arts.
Originally, the idea was to make subway rides more appealing to
"Why do you think corporations sponsor art programs?"
said Gina Higginbotham, a consultant for Performing in Public Places,
the firm which administers the program for the MTA. "To attract
more customers," she said, answering her own question.
But subway musicians don't buy that explanation. In fact, most of
them believe the MUNY was set up to regulate the subway music industry.
As soon as the MTA began implementing the MUNY, musicians challenged
its constitutionality and soon won their right to play their music
anywhere down under.
As a result, there are now two types of musicians underground --
the MUNY-accredited artists and the freelance musicians.
"Anybody can play their music in the subway," said Higginbotham,
"as long as they don't block the flow of human traffic and
as long as they don't play their music too loud."
Under MTA rules, musicians and performers are not permitted to use
amplifiers on platforms. And if they block commuters on their dash
to the train, police can ask them to move and strut their stuff
The major difference, though, between a MUNY-accredited performer
and a freelancer is that MUNY musicians are offered several three-hour
shifts a week at the prime locations.
MUNY musicians also get invited to play at 150 weekly performances
in select subway stations throughout the transit system and to perform
in concerts scheduled by the MTA, sometimes in venues above ground.
It's easy to spot MUNY musicians -- they perform under or beside
a MUNY banner with their name and contact number printed on it.
And they often wear MUNY buttons and shirts.
Lance belts out a ballad under the banner. Listen to his music
freelancer William Ruiz, 35, a second-generation Puerto Rican, who
plays the Taino Indian log drum on the 1 and 9 platform at the 42nd
Street station, is not impressed.
"No big deal. You can still play anywhere you want, even in
those spots supposedly reserved for members. So why take the trouble
of applying and auditioning?"
Another freelancer, Larry Wilson, 41, was swinging his dreadlocks
while playing an R&B tune on his bass guitar on the mezzanine
of 42nd Street.
"A MUNY musician? He should be right here, right here where
I'm playing. This is supposed to be a MUNY spot."
But for New Orleans native J.W. Lance, 45, who prides himself as
the only black country music singer aside from Charlie Pride, MUNY
accreditation is the permit that guarantees him a hassle-free work
"It's the license. That's what's important. I would rather
do it legal. You got the license, then the cops can't hassle you,"
said Lance, as he set up his equipment on the mezzanine of the Union
Square station. "For me, the MUNY is the best thing that ever
happened to struggling musicians like me. I'd give it a top rating."
article: The Performers
York Subway MusiC
Metro Transit Authority
Under New York
Other Subway Musician Sites
Songs About the Subway
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