Who had to jump through the most Olympic rings?

During the last couple of weeks, it's been hard to go downtown without encountering at least a half-dozen buskers. With several musicians to each block, you'd think the market would have been fierce. The Olympic crowds, of course, inspired the influx of performers, and it wasn't only buskers reaping the benefits. Translink musicians saw a fast and heavy flow of people at skytrain stations as driving downtown became unrealistic. But weren't there special permits that they had to get during the two weeks of the Olympics? And who really had the best deal during the time period- street buskers, or transit musicians?

Tyler Hotti, busking with an electric guitar on Granville Street, discreetly wore a street performer permit around his neck when he was playing. He says he got if for free by "going into a building and asking for one", though he admits that nobody official has ever asked to see it. Matthew Lennox, busking with a 12-string guitar in an even more open part of Granville Street reports that he made over $200 in fewer than two hours. He doesn't have a permit, and nobody has ever asked him for one. "I think it's probably because I'm decent," he laughs. "If I was really bad they may have asked me to show a license." Both performers also explain that nobody has ever asked them to leave for playing too long, and that typically they will play for at least two hours, if not twice that long.

Translink musicians are only allowed to play for an hour and a half, and must follow a schedule that gets made up for them. They also had to purchase a $50 winter musician license, which they could only obtain after performing in front of a panel of Translink judges and fellow musicians. Scott Wallace, a musician at Waterfront station, explains that the process was actually quite fun. He displays his winter musician license when he plays, though it's never been examined closer than that. "I imagine that if I didn't display it [the transit security] would ask me about it pretty quick," he says. Wallace reports making about $20-50 an hour during the Olympics, which isn't quite as good as Lennox on Granville st, but not too shabby either.

According to Ward Clapham, Chief Officer of Translink security, "There hasn't been any trouble that I've seen." Another officer at Waterfront explained, "Usually what happens is we walk around and if we see somebody we don't recognize we'll ask for their license and then ask them to leave." Both officers reported that they'd never personally had to kick anyone out of a station, and that the musicians tended to regulate themselves.

The benefits to being a transit musician are obvious as well. You get the whole station to yourself, a steady flow of people around you (Translink moved 1.5 million people a day during the Olympics) and security guards to help you if anything goes wrong. With their legitimate licensing and scheduling system, being a transit musician seems like the more professional approach to busking. For people who just want to go out every once in a while to make some extra cash, street busking is probably the answer.

Particularly during the Olympics, it seemed like Granville Street was the best spot for street performers to make a lot of money without getting hassled. Granville Street, as well as several other locations around the city, are free to busk on without a license but, as Tyler Hotti observed, “I guess for the Olympics they just wanted some kind of organization.” The licensing idea may have deterred a few people, but evidently it shouldn’t have. Downtown during the Olympics was a huge party, and what’s a party without music?

//Sarah Vitet
assistant arts editor

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