How can I make a liv­ing as a busker?

Vancouver Magazine - - Featuring - Stacey McLach­lan by By­ron Eggen­schwiler il­lus­tra­tion by

Whether you’ve been laid off from a Gas­town start-up or are strug­gling to af­ford your for­eign-buy­ers tax, busking is here for you. It’s Vancouver’s truest equal op­por­tu­nity em­ployer: as long as you can strum a gui­tar or stand per­fectly still while cov­ered in sil­ver paint, you are ready to lean in to a new ca­reer in the arts.

De­pend­ing on the weather, the lo­ca­tion and—mi­nor de­tail—your ta­lent, take-home pay can fluc­tu­ate wildly, though online sources self-re­port an hourly av­er­age of over $20 on a good day. It would likely be more if Vancouver would just re­lent on its nanny-state rules against jug­gling chain­saws, but that’s clas­sic “No Fun City” for you.

Luck­ily, you don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to spend money to make money. Yes, to busk on most side­walks here you need a street en­ter­tain­ment per­mit, which will cost you $39.90 for four months, or $118.41 if you want to com­mit to your key­tar act for a full year. But you can also haunt cer­tain pub­lic spa­ces sans per­mit, like out­side the Vancouver Art Gallery or li­brary square (not the Donnelly pub—I can­not stress this enough).

If you’ve per­fected your steel-drum ren­di­tion of “Take on Me” and are look­ing for a more elite venue, snag a year­long SkyTrain li­cence ($75) to per­form at one of eight sta­tions. The catch? They’re avail­able by au­di­tion only. Au­di­tions are held each Novem­ber — it’s a pub­lic tran­sit ver­sion of Amer­i­can Idol, only with a crim­i­nal record check.

But even more pres­ti­gious is earn­ing a spot on the Granville Is­land busker ros­ter. It’s an exclusive list: the dark arts (tarot card read­ers and bal­loon artists) are strictly for­bid­den, and a twofold au­di­tion is re­quired. Ac­cepted buskers pay any­where from $80 (acous­tic acts) to $400 (groups) to reg­is­ter, then per­for­mance slots are as­signed via lot­tery daily.

And af­ter all that, if you want an am­pli­fied pan flute li­cence, you’d bet­ter get in line; numbers are strictly lim­ited, pre­sum­ably to avoid flute-re­lated gang war­fare from over­tak­ing the is­land.

If you want an am­pli­fied flute li­cence, you’d bet­ter get in line.

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