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Street Musician

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"I don't ask for much. A stool to sit on, a song to sing, and some folks gathered 'round to hear it."
K. K. Slider, Animal Crossing

A street musician is a person who plays an instrument and/or sings anywhere large numbers of people congregate and/or pass by (such as at a busy street corner or subway station), with the goal of eliciting tips. If the audience members enjoy the music, they may drop money in his/her open instrument case. The act of performing on the street is called "busking."

Some buskers are a One-Man Band, so they will often sing, strum a guitar, and tap a tambourine with their foot. Buskers may also perform as small ensembles, such as several guitar players or a mix of instrumentalists. If percussion is used, it is more likely to be a few handheld instruments (shaker, tambourine, etc) or a snare drum with brushes, rather than a full-size drum kit.

In Real Life, many towns and cities regulate busking. Performers may have to apply for a busking permit, which may require an audition. Even once the permit is provided, the performer(s) must comply with rules on where they can play, what times of day are allowed, and on how long they can play. Some jurisdictions do not allow amplifiers and speakers, due to concerns about disturbing residents.

Buskers who have recordings or merchandise (t-shirts with their band name) may sell these items on the street. While getting tips is the main motivation for busking, some bands also do it to get practice playing in front of an audience, to drum up "word of mouth" interest among passersby, and simply for pleasure. Street musicians may include homeless people, students, adult amateurs, and even local professional musicians.

A common gag is to have the musician be purposely terrible and let people pay him to stop.

Sub-Trope of Street Performer, Wandering Minstrel, Super-Trope of One-Man Band and Organ Grinder.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Someday's Dreamers II: Sora has Yasuko, who sings and plays guitar across Shitokitazawa station in Tokyo. Main character Sora loves listening to her performances, and Yasuko's songs form a loose commentary on what happens in the series. Yasuko even interacts directly with the main cast later on and is included in the Distant Finale where she is shown to have a serious career in music.
  • The Christmas episode of The Big O has a saxophone player as a one-time protagonist. Although he's not very talented, he is portrayed in a very good light and certainly not a Dreadful Musician.
  • Part of Iwasawa's backstory in Angel Beats! is that she used to busk for money playing guitar due to her poor financial situation. It was her only outlet to express herself, until she was struck in the head by a thrown bottle from her drunk father, rendering her unable to play or even speak in her last weeks alive in a hospital.

    Comic Strips 
  • Floyd in Beyond The Black Stump, whose playing is so terrible people are more likely to pay him to stop — even when he's playing air guitar.
  • Little Orphan Annie: Annie worked as this together with "Uncle" Dan.

    Fan Works 
  • This is used for Jem's cover-up life in Starlight Is For Always. She was a mysterious woman who simply went by "Jem". One day, the Holograms met her as a homeless street musician. Her singing skills soon turned her into an international pop star, but she was suddenly killed in a plane crash ten years into her career (or so the story goes).
  • I've Got Your Back starts with Pearl meeting a homeless street musician named Marina. Pearl is enthralled by her music and looks, which urges her on to befriend Marina.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Coco, a poor guitarist learns the hard way not to play near an old lady with music as her personal Berserk Button.
  • Madagascar: When the zoosters arrive via subway to Grand Central Station, Melman crashes into the drum set of a blind drummer who doesn't notice he's drumming on nothing.
  • In Sing, Mike the mouse is first seen playing the sax in a train station.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Spider-Man Trilogy: A violin player is seen playing the old animated Spider-Man theme in the second movie. A blonde guitar player performs his own version at a subway station in the original ("Dresses like a spider/Looks like a bug...")
  • Jamie Foxx's character (a bum who happens to be a virtuoso violinist) in The Soloist.
  • In Zorro's Fighting Legion one of the baddies is a Dreadful Musician mariachi who uses his busking as a cover for relaying secret messages.
  • In Mary Poppins, buskers play back-up during "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". Bert also appears as a One-Man Band in the opening scenes.
  • Mr. Bean's Holiday: Mr. Bean does some busking to several songs playing from a borrowed stereo, culminating in a lip-synched performance of Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro."
  • There's a street band in Halloweentown on The Nightmare Before Christmas.
  • In Cool Runnings, Sanka tries to collect money for the bobsled team by singing in the street. He only made a dollar and sixteen cents, and most of that came from a man who said, "I'll pay you a SHUT! UP!"
  • In Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter, the tramp Percy sings and plays the spoons in London. The only response he gets is from a woman who accuses him of blocking her view of Westminster Palace.
  • In Savage Messiah (1972), Sophie stands with a group of other beggars, singing along while a man plays the violin.

  • Discworld
    • The harmonica-player in Moving Pictures.
    • Imp y Celyn plays on a street corner when he first arrives in Ankh-Morpork in Soul Music. This being Ankh-Morpork, he ends up with less money than he started with.
  • In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, the Lemony Narrator notes that people in Hyde Park do things they would never do elsewhere, and offers as an example a bagpiper who chases away tourists who try to put money in his case saying "I'm only practicing!"
  • Tommy from The Ballad of Black Tom works as one, despite his complete lack of talent. By sticking to his repertoire of three songs and humming to disguise his lack of singing ability, he can sometimes trick people into thinking he's good.
  • Joel Suzuki: In Legend of the Loudstone, the protagonists travel to Mono Realm, which is ruled by the despotic Uniter. The Mono Realmers are incapable of performing good music unless they're happy, and since the Uniter took over they've been so unhappy that they are desperately starved for music. Joel and his allies badly need money, so they start performing Spectraland folk songs at a market, where they make lots of money from the grateful shoppers. Then the manager asks them if they have a performing permit and they have to flee, but by that point they have as much money as they need.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One time on Mad About You Paul got some change for a payphone (remember those?) from a street performer by putting a dollar in the guitar case and taking coins out. He was looked at askance by the performer and passers-by, who thought he was just taking money out. He made a big deal about putting in a five and just taking a little change.
  • Mr. Bean: Once, he wanted to drop money into a busker's saxophone case but discovered he had no loose change, so he laid down his handkerchief and danced along to the sax music. When a lady walked by and dropped a coin onto his handkerchief, Mr. Bean transferred it into the sax case and continued along on his way.
  • The Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy" concerns a murdered street musician. The other police become convinced that it's the work of a serial killer in the making, one targeting street musicians. So they have Lt. Disher pose as a busker to draw the killer out.
  • The Benny Hill Show: Benny and a couple of cronies are going to rob a bank using a machine gun in a violin case, but when they get there they discover that their case has been switched with one containing a violin. As they stand there arguing, holding the violin, someone drops a coin in one of their hats. They realize they could get some money this way so start to play and dance.
  • Star's Hollow in Gilmore Girls had a recurring Troubadour who could regularly be seen with his guitar in the background. Toward the end of the series, he gets an actual record deal and leaves. The town is quickly flooded with new troubadours who believe they'll be the next to be discovered.
  • In Neverwhere, the Marquis de Carabas needs some information from one of these and offers him a song written by Merlin himself as payment. Later, the Marquis finds that the street musician wants to give the song back, as people love it so much they are literally throwing coins at his head and not allowing him to leave.
  • Phoebe on Friends sometimes played on the street or in the subway. One humiliating session just netted her some loose change and a condom (dropped in by accident).
  • Tony DiNozzo from NCIS once poses as a street guitarist to spy on an Arms Dealer.
  • The CSI: NY team encounters some of these.
    • "Grand Murder at Central Station": A plastic surgeon gets splashed in the face with lye during rush hour. The metal cup used to transport the liquid rolls away in the ensuing commotion. It gets picked up by a saxophonist playing in the subway who uses it for his tip jar... until Mac shows up requesting it for evidence.
    • One of the victims in "Help" is a young woman who sang for tips in the subway while her male friend accompanied her on guitar. At the end of the episode, Sid takes Mac and Stella there to hear another female vocalist whom he'd noticed and come to admire while commuting to & from work.

  • Saltatio Mortis started out as Street Musicians, and some of their band members still perform in the streets from time to time.
  • Ted Hawkins, who went from busking on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, California to become a cult figure, especially in Europe.
  • Russian folk-rockers Otava Yo started this way, playing in the streets of St Petersburg not so much for the money as for the practice and to hone their skills as a group. And for the sheer pleasure of playing.

    Music Videos 
  • The Bangles in "Hero Takes A Fall"
  • Dire Straits "Walk Of Life" features a Mark Knopfler Expy playing in a subway.

    Video Games 
  • Fable II - being a street musician (by playing a Guitar Hero-style rhythm game) is one way you can earn money.
  • Flight: Yamato is a Japanese guitarist who plays music on the streets in hopes of getting some money and keeps it in his instrument case. He ends up getting the paper plane and writing his composition in it, beginning the final stretch of the game.
  • In Steambot Chronicles, being a busker is a valid choice for making money.
  • In The Sims, the first job a Sim in the Music career has is "Subway Musician." Averted in The Sims 2, though; there a Musician sim starts off as a Record Store Clerk. In The Sims 3, anyone who can play the guitar can play for tips, regardless of their job.
  • These appear throughout the Grand Theft Auto games, often as simply NPCs. One rather funny switch scene in Grand Theft Auto V sees Trevor hit one of them with his own guitar.

    Visual Novels 
  • To introduce the title character of Melody to the idea of performing music, the protagonist has her play her guitar in the park. People actually start giving her money when they see her play.

    Web Comics 
  • The buskers in Questionable Content, who even get into a turf war at one point (it's Played for Laughs).
  • The Deaths in Irregular Webcomic! try this. They're so bad that they quickly realise their best option is to threaten to play someone's favourite song unless they're paid.
  • This is how Wolfe (and his companion Mal) made a living in Widdershins before they got their current ghostbusting gig, supplemented by Mal cheating at cards when possible. Wolfe still plays his violin, though, just not on the street.

    Western Animation 
  • There's a Pixar Short called "One-Man Band", where a little girl wanting to toss a coin in a fountain to make a wish is accosted by two street musicians, each wanting her coin. They finally make her lose it and she demands to be compensated. They give her a violin, and when she proves to be a virtuoso, someone tosses her a bag full of coins.
  • An episode of Tom and Jerry Tales has Tom and Jerry competing against each other on opposite street corners, performing music for money.
  • Home Movies had a street musician, basically a bum tunelessly strumming his guitar and mumbling a rambling improv. McGuirk, after flirting with a waitress, drops a bill into the guy's guitar case in a rare good mood, then realizes he dropped in a twenty. He goes to fish it out and gets into an altercation with the guy, who starts yell-singing about "fatso" taking his money. Then, to add insult to injury, McGuirk sees that the waitress is the guy's girlfriend.
  • An episode of Jem showed that the Stingers were performing on street corners for a while before getting their big break.
  • On the King of the Hill episode "The Bluegrass Is Always Greener", Connie and Bobby end up doing this because they can't pay bus fares. Kahn lampshades this fact:
    Kahn: She's playing in street for lousy tourists! She should be playing in Royal Albert Hall for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles!
  • According to their song "It's A Hard, Hard Life", The Stingers from Jem began as musicians living off the streets of Germany. They began slowly gaining popularity until they became a hit band that fills out stadiums and clubs.
  • Pearl: A short film about a father and a daughter, itinerant street musicians. When the little girl gets old enough to play a ukelele, the father puts her in the act.
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 128, while trying to raise money to buy himself a new video game, Stumpy plays music while Kaeloo and Quack Quack are on the subway. As one would expect, he's an absolutely Dreadful Musician. Since Kaeloo already gave him money on three separate occasions in that episode, she initially refuses to pay him, but he threatens to keep playing if she doesn't, so she reluctantly gives him more money.