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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.
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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.