Ever wanted to busk but didn’t know where to begin? Here’s a quick guide to busking in Charlotte.
Be sure to check back often as this section of the site continues to develop!
• What laws apply to busking here in Charlotte?
• What permits do I need, and how do I get them?
• What are the best days and times to busk?
• How can I stay safe on the streets?
Have a topic or question we haven’t covered? Let us know!
Busking-Related Laws in Charlotte
1. Busk (v) – to entertain or perform in a public right-of-way for tips and donations.
2. Busking IS allowed…
• without a city-issued license.
• in public sidewalks, plazas, and parks (within posted hours and rules).
3. Busking is NOT allowed…
• on any means of public transportation. (code)
• within 20 feet of a transit stop, outdoor dining/retail area, bank, or automated teller machine. (code)
• on private property, unless invited by the property owner or his/her representative. (code)
Note: Many plazas, parks, parking lots, and open spaces are privately owned. When in doubt, ask.
4. Buskers may NOT…
• solicit for specific amounts or sell merchandise without a city-issued peddler’s license. (code)
• impede the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic or block entrance to private property. (code)
• operate sound amplification equipment without a city permit. (code)
• place flyers or other ads on private property, including vehicles, without the owner’s consent. (code)
• deface property (i.e. sidewalk chalk, code) or climb on railings, poles, and posts (i.e. parkour, code).
• attempt to compel an individual to give a tip or watch a performance. (code)
• cause threat to public safety (i.e. fire activities, knife juggling, etc). (code)
• consume drugs or alcohol on public property or perform while intoxicated. (code)
5. Buskers must keep their areas clean both during and after performance. (code)
6. Buskers under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult after 11pm. (code)
While there’s currently no permit required to busk in a public right-of-way, there are permits required if you’d like to use sound amplification (anything with speakers, even battery-powered boom boxes), sell merchandise, or reserve a date/time to busk in a public plaza or park at the intersection of Trade & Tryon.
Sound Amplification Permit (free!)
These are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis no earlier than seven days prior to the day you’ll be busking. You’ll need to fill out the application provided at this link and email it to Danielle Strayer with CMPD at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peddler’s License ($25)
If you’d like to sell your merchandise while you’re out busking, you’ll have to get a peddler’s license. Also, keep in mind that peddlers are only allowed to stay in one spot for 30 minutes at a time, so be prepared for portability. To get a peddler’s license, fill out the application provided at this link and take it to the City/County Tax Office at 700 North Tryon Street.
Tryon Street Mall Use Permit (free!)
While public sidewalks, plazas, and parks are open to buskers without a permit, temporary permits are required for vendors and event organizers (NOT buskers!) to use the following public areas at the intersection of Trade & Tryon – Polk Park, Disk Plaza, and Independence Square.
NOTE: Even though buskers do NOT have to obtain a permit to use these spaces, if you need to guarantee that a space will not be in use on a specific date and time that you plan to perform, it would be wise to obtain a permit anyway, as a way to reserve the space. Otherwise, any permitted user(s) will have first rights. The mall use application and instructions are provided at this link.
Best Times to Busk
Buskers need an audience, so what better time to busk than when there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic like lunchtime, end of the work day, and late evening? You can also aim for days and times when events are already happening, either indoor or outdoors… for example, a game at Bobcats Arena, a play at Blumenthal, or a concert at Knight Theater. Here are a few great websites with online event calendars and email newsletters. (Note: You can also post events on these websites at no charge!)
Busking is no more dangerous than going to an ATM or walking through a mall parking lot. But even in those everyday situations, robberies and assaults do occasionally happen. Instead of being afraid, just take the necessary precautions that everyone should to avoid harm to yourself or your property.
And don’t forget to factor in the special circumstances presented by busking like staying in one spot for long periods of time and having cash on your person. That means street criminals have the potential to know where you are, an estimate of how much cash you have, and when you come and go.
So let’s look at some tips specifically for buskers to help keep your well-being and property safe:
Avoid High-Incident Events – A big crowd is a busker’s dream, but remember that rowdy event themes and unmanageable numbers can turn a docile crowd into a big mess. Assess the potential before you hit the street. Also be careful of events that draw throngs of the general population who will be arriving and leaving at the same time.
Go Where the Good Crowds Are – If there’s a large and orderly crowd present, that’s of course the best scenario for exposing more people to your art and making more tips. But criminals will also be less likely to offend. And if they do offend, chances are good that someone in the crowd will come to your aid or at least be an eye witness for a police statement.
Busk in Pairs or Groups – We’ve all heard it before: there’s safety in numbers. But beyond safety, it’s also a great idea to organize a other buskers to get out on the street with you because it will create more of a spectacle. Ask yourself, which would draw an audience more – just a guitarist OR a guitarist, a juggler, a painter, and two tango dancers?
Vary Your Schedule – If you’re trying to keep a schedule so that people know where to find you, keep it flexible. For example, you might have two regular days (Tuesday, Thursday) and two regular times (lunch crowd, dinner crowd). If you vary the combinations of these days and times, not only will you expose different crowds to your art, you’ll also avoid having a predictable schedule that someone undesirable could follow.
Be Mindful of Where You Park – That great parking garage with lots rates several blocks away may be great when you go out at 5pm among throngs of hungry dinner-goers. But around dusk when the crowds have turned into bar-hoppers, that walk and that garage may not be all that safe anymore. Park as close to your spot as you can, and make sure it’s in a well-lit surface lot, if possible.
Get to Know Beat Cops – When you’re settled on some good days and times, introduce yourself to the beat cops stationed there. First, a professional introduction will go a long way toward building a rapport (i.e. less hassle, more help). And secondly, someone on the street with skills and resources will be able to quickly come to your defense. To get you started, here’s a link to the police commanders and key staff for each area of the city.
Know Your Surroundings – Once you scoped out a few favorite spots, be sure to study them for nearby restaurants, businesses, transportation, roadways, alleys, etc. You never know when you might have to make a quick getaway in case of rain, storm, or impending danger (such as a small riot, which recently happened in uptown).
Stash Your Cash Frequently – Instead of leaving all your tip cash sitting in your hat or guitar case, you may want to occasionally stash some of the cash in a bag or (better yet!) a nearby ATM. Thieves will assess how worthy you are of robbery based on how much cash they think you have, and even if you become a target, at least they can’t get what you’ve already put in the ATM.
Beware Busking After Dark – I’ve yet to receive any compelling evidence of drunks being great tippers. It’s likely they’ve blown their cash on booze, and it’s also likely they’re not going to be able to appreciate your art. Not to mention, more street crime happens under cover of darkness (even from the drunks), so why not just call it a day and go have a couple of beers with all those busking tips you just scored?