My name is Phil and I used to be a NYC subway performer. Used to mainly because I did that for 2 years after college (it was right after the recession and things were not looking too good job-wise for a Music Major). Now that I am married with a kid, I don’t think my wife would be too ecstatic of me going back to my old days! Although I do miss it a lot! I am currently an iOS developer at an up & coming startup – self taught myself how to code but we are not here for that! Today, I will talk about my former life as a Subway singer.
To give you some background, I played in the NYC subway with my partner – he was the singer and I was on the guitar and did the occasional singing. We played only between the time slots of 11 – 4 to avoid the rush hour crowd. What we soon realized was that people do not like to be bothered or are interested in tipping when heading to or coming from work. Also, we preferred cars with empty aisles and full seats because that brings all attention on us! If there was already a performer in a car, we would wait for them to be done and only after they exited the car did we perform (it’s a silent code that all subway car singers honor!). Also, if there was ever a non-performer i.e. homeless folk in the car, we would wait till they left the car or switch to a different car – to avoid them from crashing and cashing in on our performance (I know it sounds pretty bad as I write this, but we were right out of college with no job prospects during one of the biggest recessions – it was honestly survival of the fittest at that point!) Our main route of performance was in the 7 train. Why the 7? Because it’s something about a train being over ground that makes people happy. We avoided the A, C & E because that belonged to the Mariachi bands. No train heading to Brooklyn because people tended to be furious/sadder which equaled no tips. Also, contrary to popular belief, summers would be the worst time to make money – In the summer, people like to walk more and every other performer would be out & about in almost every car, making it a very competitive environment. Lastly, unlike pop songs or brand new songs, we always sang soothing oldies because our target market – old white folks & old Asian ladies, loved those songs which equaled great tips! 99% of our tips were from this crowd with people in suits being the most miserly and tourists, having a good time, but never tipping! Okay, now that you have some background on what a Subway performer does & experiences, the following is my ‘Day in the Life Of’ when I used to be a Subway Performer! Hope you enjoy:
8 AM: Wake up, freshen up, have breakfast (only the fanciest Cereal & Milk :p)
9 AM: Do some vocal exercises and string the guitar to get in the zone
10 AM: Take the train from Bushwick (that’s where I lived back then), get off at Times Square and wait for my partner ( he is almost, ALWAYS late!) Grab a coffee from a street cart and enjoy the hustle & bustle of NYC
11 AM: Board the 7 train from Times Square. Despite a train having 10 cars, we generally avoided the first and last because not a lot of people would board those cars. Our focus was always on the middle 8 and would begin our day by boarding the middle of the train and make our ways to either left or right (depending on our moods that day). The ride from Times Square to Main Street in Queens was ~40 minutes and since we spent ~10 minutes/car (3 mins of singing, 3 mins of collecting tips and 3 mins of changing cars) we would cover half of a train in one ride. On some days, towards the end, we would get a passenger to give us their phone numbers/ business cards to perform at their child or grand-child’s birthday party. This was another perk of our gig – our performances would almost always get us a gig/month.
4 PM: Final stretch of the performance and by this time my fingers are sore and I can see my partner losing energy as well. We get off at Times Square and make way for the rush hour to begin
5 PM: Head home and take a nap! (It was honestly tiring playing the guitar for 5 straight hours)
6 PM: Wake up and learn how to code. I soon realized my music major wouldn’t take me far and so I started learning how to code since I could see a huge demand in tech jobs.
9 PM: Meet up a few friends and/or practice with my partner for an upcoming gig. We would also make music on the side to sell as CDs but on a much low-key basis
11 PM: Cook up something to eat, watch a couple of shows and start getting ready for bed!