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 heâ€™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. [â€¦]
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.