Busking in Canada? How to Stay on the Right Side of the Law

by John Burke

3 min read

Emerging musicians often times perform in the streets for voluntary donations. This is know as busking and it can be a great way for talented musicians, artists, and other performers to earn money in their extra hours, replacing or complementing income from typical jobs. Though you aren’t required to show up for scheduled shifts or dress in your business best, you still have to keep up with relevant laws to stop your busking career from going bust.

Check Local Laws

Laws about busking vary from province to province and even city to city. Larger cities such as Vancouver and Montreal require busking permits and even auditions for certain locations. Small municipalities, such as Stratford, Ontario, do not require permits but still have guidelines about noise levels, merchandise sales, and panhandling.Read up on the laws in your chosen busking area to avoid issues. In the best-case scenario, you may simply be asked to leave. For serious violations, you may receive a fine, have your equipment confiscated, or have your busking permit and performing privileges revoked. Losing your equipment or prepaid permit fees can be a serious financial blow to independent street entertainers.

Stick to a Schedule

In small cities, there may be no limits on the amount of time you are allowed to perform in one spot. Bigger cities with dozens of competing buskers typically limit performance time to two hours or less. You want to wear a watch or keep a timer in your equipment to make sure you don’t overstay your welcome. Are you a juggler or mime who can’t check a visible clock? Set a timer on your cellphone, and then set your phone to vibrate. Slip your phone inside a shoe, interior pocket, or other hidden location for a private reminder that you need to pack up.

Plan a Route

Before heading out to perform, try to make a list of potential performance locations. Don’t get your heart set on one location; many places limit the number of buskers in a certain area. For instance, if you want to busk in Vancouver, make sure your chosen street hasn’t hit its limit of allowed buskers. Plus, if you hit your time limit in one location, you may need to move a certain number of metres or blocks before setting up again. Creating a list of strategic locations can cut down on your waiting and travelling time, helping you increase your profits per day.

Evaluate Your Equipment

You want to review local laws to ensure your equipment complies with the guidelines for your city or even your specific location. Some areas prohibit noise amplification devices and sound systems. Other places allow them but make exceptions for certain locations like metro stops. Street musicians should familiarize themselves with equipment restrictions before lugging their equipment to their target location. You may also face restrictions on tables, signage, merchandise, and potentially hazardous objects, such as knives intended for juggling.

Befriend Other Buskers

Other buskers can be your biggest competitors or some of your best allies. These fellow artists, musicians, and performers can help you out with tips and tricks unique to your new busking location. In popular places, alliances of veteran buskers may control whether you get a chance to perform. One new busker in Toronto explains that, in one heavily trafficked square, buskers pull numbers from a hat to determine performance order.Keeping up with local laws helps you avoid any legal pitfalls, while networking with other buskers helps you keep up with local customs that don’t show up on any map.

References & Resources

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