Every year New York City’s Metro Transit Authority holds tryouts at Grand Central Station in Midtown Manhattan to fill the 350 coveted spots in its Music Under New York program. Musicians fill the station, waiting for their five-minute audition in front of a panel of industry experts and MTA employees. The public can come too. After all, they’ll constantly hear whichever musicians the city selects to perform at 30 of the busiest stations in New York.
It’s a high honor. The subway is all connected, echoing tunnels and long hallways. Being a street musician isn’t always glamorous, but playing the New York City subway is sort of like playing the world’s biggest concert hall every day, for a potential audience of 4.5 million people. They know each other well, often sharing trade secrets (for instance, you have a captive audience for 39 blocks if you play the 5 train between 86th and 125th Street). But though they touch almost every New Yorker’s life, their own lives are largely anonymous to the riders they entertain.