Pitt Street trial

In response to consistent and substantiated noise complaints about busking in Pitt Street Mall, the City began work on a trial to improve the way in which the needs of buskers, residents and businesses were balanced in that area.

To provide a baseline of evidence from which to measure the success of the pilot, the City engaged Woolcott Research and Engagement to survey residents, visitors and businesses about busking in Pitt Street Mall. The majority of survey participants (76%) were generally supportive of busking and street performances. They were also in favour of busking and street performances within the Pitt Street Mall area (72%). Of all respondents, visitors and shoppers were the most supportive about busking in Pitt Street Mall. Residents were the least positive regarding all areas of feedback.

The Pitt St Mall survey showed that noise, amplification, repetitive content and crowding are the most significant issues relating to busking in Pitt Street Mall. More than half of the resident respondents (51%) are dissatisfied with current noise conditions.

Respondents generally reported that they were satisfied with the quality of entertainment and that they believed busking contributes to a positive environment within Pitt Street Mall (81%).

Busker development and promotion

Our support for busking generally focuses on the licensing and management of busking. Currently, it does little to actively promote busking, and is seeking feedback from buskers and the broader public about strategies for doing so.

The most typical strategy for government encouragement of cultural activity is funding. The City’s grants and sponsorships program has directed financial support to busking related projects previously and organisations are able to apply for funding, however other types of policy support can include non-monetary resourcing, such as working on promotional strategies or reducing ‘red-tape’ barriers.

Cross jurisdictional projects

Separate to the question of developing a cross-jurisdiction permit is the opportunity for different government or regulatory agencies to work together to promote busking across the Sydney metropolitan area.

An international example of this is the ‘Busk in London’ program launched in 2015 as a more streamlined approach to improving street performances and their reception around the Greater London region. The program is a unification of London’s 32 boroughs in an attempt to create a more supportive and efficient approach to busking while simultaneously supporting the needs of each local authority district. 

Busking events

Busking festivals are commonplace internationally and many buskers spend a proportion of their year travelling between such festivals. There are a number of busking or street arts festivals in Australian cities such as Cairns, Coffs Harbour, Cooma, Fremantle, Belgrave and Canberra.

As the largest city in Australia, the development of a flagship Australian busking festival that fits into the international calendar of festivals could help lift the profile of both Sydney’s buskers and busking in Sydney generally. The process of developing such a festival could include working with existing events to incorporate a formal busking stream (already occurring with events such as Vivid and New Year’s Eve), establishing a busking stream within the City’s own events program, developing a monthly ‘Speakers Corner’ style program or providing funding to a suitably qualified organisation to establish an independent festival.

Busking Skills Development

Section four of the City of Sydney live music and performance action plan identifies the City’s role in assisting musicians and performers to develop their ability to refine their craft, connect with other practitioners, build audiences or identify more opportunities. While most of the commitments in the action plan focus on venue-based performance, it provides a logical basis for considering what could be done to support the professional development of musicians and performers in relation to busking. Such work could include working with music industry peak organisations to run workshops and seminars, produce factsheets or other information resources.

While these opportunities exist for buskers and busking broadly, there may also be unique opportunities to support the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Performers with targeted programs. As the world’s oldest living culture, the land on which the City of Sydney is located has particular significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The City’s recently released Eora Journey Economic Development Plan particularly identifies the City’s interest in supporting career development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander the community. Professional development opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians and performers would be a contribution to this aim.

Innovative Projects

In recent years the City has increased its focus on working as a facilitator and enabler of community or industry developed products that solve cultural challenges. Examples have included seed funding provided to Art Money – an interest loan scheme focused on developing the contemporary music market – and Digital Art Pass – a project to connect students and young people with unsold ticket stock on theatre venues.

The areas of discussion included in this paper represent a preliminary survey of these challenges and opportunities. However there are a range of other challenges to be solved and opportunities capitalised on. The City is open to innovative ideas and projects that will help support buskers and busking in Sydney.

Developing new pitches

Background research to inform the development of this paper suggests that there is significant opportunity for new pitches to be developed not just on City of Sydney managed land, but also across the metropolitan area.

While the development of new pitches would not necessarily reduce pressure on the highest value pitches in the city centre, growing the number and diversity of pitches across Sydney would provide more opportunity for buskers to develop their craft incrementally, similar to the progression that in-venue acts experience in increasing capacity venues as their audience grows.

While the perception of busking is such that it allows anyone to set up anywhere, in reality the creation of new pitches is not always straightforward. The process of ‘warming up’ new pitches – especially those to be used by career buskers or circle acts – requires time. It also requires an opportunity to test the logistics of how the pitch can be used and by what sorts of buskers. 

Value and contribution

This policy:

•  encourages activities that contribute to the colour and life of the city and provide opportunities for alternative voices to be heard through public performance.

•  provides an equitable system of use for popular busking sites in the city among the buskers earning a living through their art form.

•  identifies locations in the city suitable as busking sites.

•  promotes public safety and amenity, the protection of property and to help ensure the safety of buskers.

•  supports the rights of buskers to express themselves in an artistic manner.


The policy requires all buskers to hold a valid permit that is relevant to their category of performance. The three types of permits include a Standard Busking Permit, a Special Busking Permit and an ACAPTA Accredited Busking Permit.

Currently, busking permits are available for 3 months (quarterly) or for 12 months (yearly). The 3 month permit is $13. The 12 month permit is $47. The cost of the busking permit is intended to contribute to the overall costs of resourcing and regulating the busking program, as well as contribute to costs associated with covering buskers for public liability.

Applying for a permit

Currently applying for and receiving a busking permit must be done in person at either the City’s One Stop Shop at Town Hall House, or one of our Neighbourhood Service Centres. When applying, buskers have the opportunity to discuss which permit is suitable for them when they register with a customer service officer.

Busking locations

Our busking permit allows buskers to perform anywhere on City managed land, as long as they abide by the busking policy, which is discussed further in the next section. Buskers wishing to perform in the City-centre on non-City land must seek permission from the landowner. This can complicate the process of searching for a pitch, as different landowners have different rules in place. For example, in Circular Quay, if a busker wishes to perform on the southern side of the Cahill Expressway, they must do so with a valid City of Sydney busking permit. If they wish to busk on the northern side, along the Circular Quay promenade, they must do so with a valid permit issued by the NSW Government Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. These boundaries clarify responsibilities between government landowners, but are largely irrelevant to the average Sydneysider and significantly complicate busking in Sydney.

Policy and guidlines

Once a permit is obtained buskers must adhere to the policy, which includes information on restricted busking areas, busking hours, noise levels and non-acceptable acts. In the interest of maintaining positive public spaces, a busker may have their permit revoked if they refuse to follow the busking policy. The interim policy and guidelines covers issues such as insurance, the sale of CDs and DVDs, acceptable types of performance (animals are not allowed), hours of performance, and the places where acts can and cannot perform.

Program management

The City’s support for busking generally focuses on the management of busking through permits and compliance monitoring. These activities alone require significant resources, in the form of staff receiving and processing permits, working one on one with buskers when issues arise, ranger monitoring and compliance enforcement, acoustic investigations, responding to community queries about busking and more.

The City will continue to undertake this work, however preliminary feedback from the community suggests there is room for both an increased focus on day to day management of busking, as well as clearer communication with buskers and the broader community about how the City undertakes this work, who within the organisation can help with busking related questions, what the processes are for dealing with issues that arise and what repercussions are for continued breaches of the policy or guidelines.

Regulatory strategy

Regulation is the act of identifying a potentially problematic or risky activity and introducing conditions on the activity in order to reduce its actual or perceived harm.

When consulting broadly it is generally agreed that some regulation of busking is required. It helps balance the needs of buskers with the broader public, as well as providing a framework for buskers to ply their trade.

Code of conduct, Governance and Resourcing

Code of conduct – Convert the existing busking guidelines into a ‘Busking Code of Conduct’. Such codes are commonplace and could present a negotiated set of expected behaviours for both buskers (how they undertake their craft) and the City of Sydney (how regulatory decisions are made and applied). While performing many of the same functions as the current busking guidelines, compliance with which is a requirement of maintaining a busking permit, developing a Code of Conduct clearly identifies the document as a mutually agreed set of values and behaviours, as opposed to a purely ‘top down’ regulatory document.

Governance – providing a support framework to stakeholder-led working groups or reference committees focused on particular busking issues or locations.

Resourcing – increasing the City’s ability to develop strong and continuing relationships with buskers, businesses and residents.

Noise Management

While the management of busking covers a range of regulatory areas, such as the need to maintain paths of travel for pedestrians or controlling commercialisation of the public domain, noise remains the predominant regulatory issue that the City is compelled to address.

Noise is the primary source of complaints about buskers, and previous research identifies noise as the main community concern in relation to busking generally. In order to ensure busking’s long term place on the streets of Sydney, efforts to balance the needs of buskers, residents and businesses in respect to noise will be ongoing.

There are a range of options available to the City in managing noise. Examples of strategies employed in other cities include:

·  Inclusion of decibel limits or maximum levels of amplification (overall, or for specific locations) within a Code of Conduct or as a condition of permit (Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, London, New Orleans)

·  Full or partial limiting of amplification equipment either overall or in certain locations (Brisbane, New York Subway)

·  Limiting the use of certain instruments or certain types of instruments (Melbourne)

·  Providing incentives to buskers that choose to not amplify their performance through lower costs or longer permit periods (New York)

Access to high value pitches

There are a range of locations in the City of Sydney local government area that attract high volumes of people and as such are considered attractive and high value to buskers. These pitches, such as Pitt Street Mall and Martin Place, represent significant income and exposure opportunities for buskers.

These sites also bring a number of challenges such as management of foot traffic, sound and acoustic impacts and impacts on local businesses. It is also important that the City identifies systems that fairly manage access to these pitches.

Access to high value pitches

The current system for buskers wanting to use a high value pitch is a queue system - first come, first served. As there is no system beyond this for buskers to determine the order of performances, it generally requires them to stay at the pitch while they wait for their turn. While this seems to be acceptable to buskers using high value pitches, it removes their ability to travel to other locations in the city while they await their turn at the high value location, or requires to them find others to hold their place for them.

In other jurisdictions it is common practice for access to pitches to be managed through a busker-managed draw system for high-traffic pitches. These systems are developed either organically among the busking community, or negotiated between the local government agency and buskers. Generally these systems involve arriving at the pitch at a certain time each day, putting your name in a hat, then determining the order of performances by draw. 

Audtition and curation

Busking is inherently a egalitarian activity, indeed much of the cultural value and appeal of busking rests in its accessibility as a mode of artistic practice.

However, research undertaken in relation to Pitt Street Mall identified that 50% of respondents supported the idea of auditioning buskers for the mall, against 36% who disagreed with the idea. Respondents included visitors, businesses and residents.

There are a range of Australian and international examples of audition systems being introduced for highly contested or valued pitches. The City of Melbourne auditions performers wanting to use the popular Bourke Street Mall, and all busking permits issued for pitches regulated by the City of Brisbane are subject to audition, as are permits issued for busking in New York City’s subway system.