Busking in the London Underground

Walking through the London Underground I usually don’t give much thought to the designated busking areas. However, the scheme, started by Transport for London in 2003, is surprisingly involved, as I discovered after reading this profile of Mike Muttel, an Underground busker.

Muttel’s official busking license, good for one year, hangs visibly from a lanyard around his neck. It took six months of rigmarole to obtain that license, in which time he applied, auditioned for a panel of four or five London Underground staff members and agreed to a mandatory police background check. The process didn’t cost anything, but took talent, patience and a little luck (audition judges are not required to have backgrounds in music). Still, of the 400 buskers that audition each year, 80% pass. Now that he’s in the system, Muttel is not required to re-audition; he just re-applies for his permit every year. He has been busking for almost three years. […]

Of the 28 or so total pitches at 21 Tube stops throughout central London, some argue there are really only half a dozen ideal spots: two at Green Park, two at Tottenham Court Road, one at Piccadilly Circus and one at Leicester Square. If a busker shows up late for a spot, the previous busker is entitled to stay for the next two-hour time slot. Unsurprisingly, this can get messy.

5 thoughts on “Busking in the London Underground

  1. Andrew Smith

    “They claim that altercations involving buskers have dropped 300% at some stations” – Does that make any sense? So disputes dropped to zero, and compliments to each other rose by twice the same amount?

  2. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    Good spot—I didn’t notice this.

    I like your idea of disputes dropping to zero and compliments rising by twice that amount.

    I presume what they’ve done is taken the new value of altercations as the 100% mark after it falling from a number four times the size (a drop of 75%).

    Whatever they’ve done, it’s a very poor way to present a statistic.

  3. benny da buska

    i got back to england last october from sunny australia. i was busking freely and successfully over there. but it was a different story here! having no licence for the underground and licences not being given out due to a lack of sponsorship i was forced to busk illegally. it was hit and miss but i managed to earn a living thanks to the help of licenced buskers. they would give me a heads up of free pitches and unofficial spots to play at. fortunately i have a ‘proper’ job now but would love to get back down there. still there is no way of applying for a licence and i imagine the licenced buskers are still paying through the nose for the premium rate pitch booking line! sort it out L.U. hats off to the busker man!!!

    benny da buska

  4. george de la string

    Benny da buska, we should join forces! And “keep the Underground going!” What do you think? It is redicules that nothing is going on. For years now. Does the Underground realize that there is a constant feed of new talents, growing up and coming to the city? These artists don’t have a chance to share their talent like so many others before. Simply put, in our days, it is a new form of discrimination, in my eyes. Everything is put to a halt. For years now.
    I persive London differently, as a vibrant town. Therefore, London needs buskers!!! It needs to keep it up, to keep it vibrant, to be a city full of life – and a city of inspiration and one which is full of art! What do you think?

  5. Peter Murphy

    Disputes aren’t too frequent, the majority of LU licensed buskers are now members of an email group.

    Regarding late arrivals under the 20 minutes rule, if the previous busker has
    already played their 2 hour pitch, they cannot play for a further 2 hours if the
    subsequent busker is 20 minutes or more late. A rule which was sometimes
    misinterpreted by some licensed buskers and even certain site managers
    formerly employed in the scheme.

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