Music Under New York
Music Under New York (MUNY) is a program of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that schedules musical performances in the New York City Subway. MUNY does not grant permission to perform in the MTA, as the MTA rules grant any performer the legal right to perform.
However, MUNY gives particular visibility and promotion to over 350 groups and artists who choose to participate. MUNY locations include subway and commuter rail stations including the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metro North Railroad.
There is a long history of prohibition of musical performance in the New York subways, beginning with the opening of the first line in 1904. The ban continued under Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who also made it illegal to perform on New York City streets. Some musicians still sang and played instruments through the 1940s, 50s and 60s in an effort to reclaim public space. In 1985, the MTA lifted the ban on subway performance in response to a case against Roger Manning in which the ban on performance was found to be unconstitutional.
Also in 1985, the MTA created MUNY as a pilot program. The program became official in January 1987. MUNY had no impact on the legal status of subway performing, as MUNY performers are covered by the same rules governing the general public. However, affiliation with MUNY provides benefits to performers. These include priority scheduling in popular spots, access to commuter railroad terminals, and fewer problems with law enforcement. And, because the MUNY scheduling system guarantees its auditioned performers with access to high-traffic areas, it arguably results in a more uniform artistic product for MTA riders.
It is legal to perform music in the New York subway with or without a MUNY affiliation. MUNY members as well as freelance performers are subject to regulations of the NYPD and MTA. Section 1050.6 (c) of the New York City Transit Authority Rules of Conduct regulates the provision of entertainment on the subway:
- "The following nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules: public speaking; campaigning; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration; artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations; solicitation for religious or political causes."
Many of the musicians who perform in the subway under MUNY hold successful careers above ground as well. A number of MUNY performers have gone on to perform at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. These artists include Natalia Paruz (also known as the ‘Saw Lady’ for playing the musical saw), VongKu Pak (Korean drum), The Big Apple Boys (a cappella choir),and James Graseck, a violinist. Possibly the most well-known of them is Alice Tan Ridley, a gospel singer who was featured on season 5 of America's Got Talent. The current lineup has artists such as the Ebony Hillbillies, SisterMonk, Didjworks, Manze Dayila, Renaissance Street Singers, Heth and Jed, Kesha, and the Ukuladies. A full list of performers along with a list of locations can be found on MUNY’s website.
- Tanenbaum, Susie. Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Press, 1995
- “Industry Cannot Go On without the Production of Some Noise”: New York City's Street Music Ban and the Sound of Work in the New Deal Era
- A Guide for Street Performers
- Arts for Transit was created
- The Back of the Busk on YouTube
- Music Under New York
- Subway Music Blog
- Dancing with Lupita Documentary about MUNY
- MUNY Audition Information