Street performers, or “buskers” can greatly enhance the atmosphere of what might be a routine, busy street. However, if not careful, they can create a situation unpleasant with both those passing by and law enforcement.
If you’re going to be a street performer, it is important to know the local laws and ordinances so that you will not only be successful, but that both you and your audience may also have an enjoyable experience.
Some cities have very clear laws on street performing. However, there is a gray area—commercial solicitation. As a street performer, you need to make money. Everyone does. But how aggressive you are with obtaining it from a crowd can be considered solicitation, and that will get you in trouble with the police very quickly.
While busking may be accomplished almost anywhere that might have a crowd of people, compiled here is information for several major US cities that may be found useful. Some may seem like common sense, but it is always best to have it in writing just in case!
The City of Atlanta is divided up into many different neighborhoods which combine both residential and business districts. Busking laws vary from one neighborhood to the next, but there are a couple of general guidelines to keep in mind:
- Do not amplify (but if you choose to do so, keep it as transparent as possible and turn down the bass EQ, as those lower frequencies are the ones which are most intrusive).
- Buskers cannot request a certain amount of money, nor can they single out certain individuals or groups of people requesting money. Accepting unspecified donations is the safe route.
For specific busking laws and ordinances in various Atlanta neighborhoods, visit
Sometimes referred to as the “live music capital of the world,” Austin has only since in the latter half of 2014 passed specific laws and regulations pertaining to busking.
- Cannot obstruct public walkways or entrances to businesses or residences.
- A permit is not required for voluntary contributions.
Boston has over a thousand miles of sidewalk running through the city, so busking in Boston can allow for great exposure in a low-risk arena. They also have very specific regulations for sound level and power usage.
- Permits are required for performing in the subway.
- Subway volume must remain below 80dB(A) at 25 feet.
- Horns and drums are prohibited in the subway.
Chicago does have specific laws for street performers as well as permits.
- Special permits are required depending on where you perform
- You may be required to obtain insurance
Las Vegas, NV
Fremont Street is the main area for buskers, however, it has had its problems recently, and laws and ordinances are currently being written for specifically, busking. Best to follow the general rule of no implication, and stay out of the way of direct traffic.
Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles does have specific regulations for street performers, and some areas do require a permit.
- Amplifiers cannot be used without a permit
- Street performing is only allowed on the public walk
The home of country music, street performers can be seen everywhere.
- No drums, amplifiers, saxophones, stools
- Permit required to sell merchandise
New Orleans, LA
The home of Mardi Gras—of course street performing is a must in this city! The city council has also been working to revise the noise code, which may greatly affect your street performance volume.
- Keep percussion to a minimum to avoid noise violations
- Do not block traffic or you may be cited
New York, NY
Performing in the city that doesn’t sleep requires knowledge of various regulations depending on where you’re busking—street or subway.
- Permits are not required for the subway, but auditioning for the official MUNY program can help to avoid possible issues with law enforcement.
- If busking on the street and using amplification, you’ll need a permit.
- New York has a history of tension between police and buskers, so it is invaluable to know the law.
While there may be plenty of sun for performing, busking is a gray area that is often considered panhandling.
- You can purchase and entertainer’s license, but you may still be required to relocate to a designated panhandling area.
- “Donation Solicitation” is the legal jargon used to deal with panhandling buskers and street performers.
San Diego, CA
San Diego may have some of the best year-round weather, and it makes for an excellent street performing environment.
- Balboa Park does require a permit, and it’s through a lottery system.
- You may still be issued a ticket in other places without a permit.
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf has an official street performer program, which helps to remove legal confusion and greatly enhances the community’s artistic atmosphere.
- Street performers are licensed and scheduled in Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Permits are not required outside of Fisherman’s Wharf.
Known for its rainy weather and grunge music, Seattle has legalized busking since 1974.
- Pike Place Market does require a permit.
- Performers are limited to an hour and can sell CDs.
Laws and ordinances will vary from city to city. If a permits and regulations are strictly enforced, it’s best to follow those rules. If the law is somewhat ambiguous on busking, then play, but stay out of the way.
Performer Onyx Ashanti said:
There may be an official or unofficial system in place already. If it is official, you can simply find the office where you may sign up to be on the rotation for locations. Some places hold auditions. Some cities have a licensing system. Many of these things you can find out online at the city’s website, but somethings you can only really gain a proper perspective on them by being there and seeing it first hand.
If you’ve any experience as a street performer, and would like to share your story, email us.