10 Rules of Mass Transit Artistry

1. Have Respect

  • Respect your fellow subway artists.

  • The procedure is first-come-first-served on all public Property/Locations everywhere!

  • NO public place and therefore no location belongs to anyone

  • Respect your environment. Don’t litter or leave your trash behind.

  • Respect your audience, even the ones not listening.

  • Respect other artists’ sphere of influence. Don't set-up on a spot where others are performing.

2. Communicate 

  • Don’t call the police on other subway-musicians to obtain their spot or to sooth your ego or pride unless you are reporting a crime. Create solutions.

  • Talk, have a conversation: “Hey, how are you? Do you have any idea how long you are going to be on this spot?”

  • Negotiate. If you believe the time given by the fellow artist is unreasonable, try to negotiate. If all fails, look for a different spot, call it a day, or check back later.

  • Be reasonable. Don’t occupy a spot for more than five hours, especially if/when other musicians have asked what time you will be finished performing.

3. Be Polite

  • You are playing in a public place where your audience came to catch the train. Impress them with your talent. Do not yell at them.
  • Don’t take it personally!! Some days are slow and there will be nothing you can do about that. It’s not the audience’s fault. Most likely they still love hearing you and will remember to give you a tip next time. Consider days like that public service! And, remember, you may have done enough that day for someone to buy a CD next time or tip you $2 as opposed to $1.
  • Stay positive!! It’s just better for ya! There will always be good, great, or absolutely amazing days that will make up for the bad ones. Just remember to always love your audience.
  • Be extra polite to transit cops, follow their orders, and don’t question their authority where not necessary. Politely communicate with the officers and listen to their concerns. I’ve made many friends in the NYPD this way.

4. Obey The Law

  • You're authorized to perform in the subway as long as you don’t interfere with transit operation. It’s a sensible thing! Don’t stand in a busy commuter lane, spread out your equipment too far, etc. There are specific rules that govern performances in the subway, but Freedom is the most important law of all.
  • Have the rules of conduct with you at all times. You can print out a copy of the Rules of Conduct for NYC-transit at:  http://www.mta.info/nyct/rules/rules.htm . Look for section 1050.6(c)
  • If you get a ticket, always challenge it at Transit Adjudication Court! If you lose, appeal the ruling. If your ticket was dismissed, have a copy of the ticket and ruling with you the next time you perform.
  • You can't refuse the lawful order of a police officer, but you can try to educate him or her, if you don’t force your views! Educate even if ever so slightly.

5. Do Not Appear Intoxicated

  • Don’t be obtrusive with random passengers!
  •  Don’t harass women!
  • Basic etiquette still applies, you are in the public spotlight.
  • Remember, you might run into a police captain or station manager who will use your bad behavior to stigmatize all street performers!

6. Be Discrete

  • Don’t publicly (loudly) discuss money or brag about how much money you make. It discourages people from giving.
  • Most of the time it is better to decline requests by random passengers to play your instrument. They may end up damaging or breaking your instrument.

7. Persevere

  •  Not all days are good days. Sometimes you can’t get a spot. Sometimes subway service is canceled or changed. Sometimes the cops tell you to “move along” even though you have the legal right to be there. Sometimes there is nothing you can do except try again later. It is important to go out every day to catch the good days.
  • Be patient. Sometimes it will be slow for a while and then the last ten minutes of your performance will make your day worth while. So, set a minimum time you'll spend performing and stick to it no matter what.

8. Inspire

  • The only way to make money in the subway and grow from the experience is to enjoy your own performance. Use it as your platform to become better, promote your art, and promote the subways as a legitimate stage.

  • Play to your audience. Open your self up. Feel it! Make your listeners feel something. That is your job! Express!

9. Have a Bottle Of Water. Use the Restroom!

  • The biggest nuisance of the subway artist is our bodily functions. I have lost many spots and had to quit for the day because I had to use the restroom or had to get a bottle of water. When I returned, someone had taken my spot.

10. Move Around

  • Don’t rely on any one spot. Always look around for new spots to use for future back-up plans. Numerous things can happen to your favorite spot. It might not be available and it is not wise to depend solely on a single location. Finding new audiences can also expand your notoriety!
  • If you see an open spot, take it! Sometimes looking for a potentially better location will cost you a perfectly fine and free spot. At times the difference between getting a spot and losing it is a matter of seconds.

~Theo Eastwind