Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Subway Musicians

Occasionally there is a busker in the Harvard Square T station. They have a captive audience because people have to wait for the train, often for up to fifteen minutes. On the street, of course, people rarely stand and listen for an extended period of time. Thus, buskers get more money in the subway because listeners get more value from the music.

One thing to worry about is overcrowding. Having two musicians in the same platform section would sound terrible, since they are typically amplified and the station is very boomy. But the two might still earn more money than they would playing on the street. It's also more comfortable, air conditioned, etc. So it's regulated. They allow one busker per platform and the busker must have a license, which is obtained with $25, a passport photo, and a trip to "Transit Realty Associates, LLC" during business hours.

One wonders if $25 is the optimal fee. Especially since there is another busking market failure besides overcrowding: it's a public good subject to free-riding. So, if unregulated, there's one source of oversupply (overcrowding) and one source of undersupply (they are underpaid). Street musicians also pick up a lot of gigs and students (for somewhat expensive lessions) by busking. It's not clear that it should be regulated, in this case. Maybe it should be subsidized!

Still, some spots are better than others (like the subway as opposed to the street). I think it follows that there should be a higher cost to using the good spots. That doesn't mean that street musicians shouldn't also be subsidized, however. I wonder if the guy who plays in from of the big open-air Au Bon Pain has any relationship to the restaurant.

Anyway, there was an obviously blind (he had a seeing-eye dog) musician today playing the banjo. Would you expect that he would get more or less money than someone who wasn't blind? People might feel sorry for him or think that he must be very talented to be able to play the banjo sans vision and give him more money. Or, they might not feel as guilty about not paying him since he couldn't see who was and wasn't giving him money. As far as I could tell he got a lot more money than the usual, but that could also be because he was playing the banjo, which people seemed to enjoy a lot.


Anonymous dick said...

I once gave my last 12 cents to a blind accordian player in San Francisco. I figured he could do more with it than I since he'd be adding it to his day's take. I knew I'd soon be coming into 5 bucks as I was taking inventory that night at a department store.


8:26 PM  

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