Many people might think of a career in music, magic, or similar artistic endeavors as performing in a large stadium in front of a cheering audience like a Taylor Swift or Shila Amzah concert; but for many others, their concert venues may be a sidewalk on the streets of KL, performing to people going by their daily activities - called "busking".
Busking is the act of performing live, be it music, dance, mime, or magic show, on public streets. Music buskers call themselves street musicians, or in Malaysia, Pemuzik Jalanan. There are many reasons why a performer may venture into busking - because they enjoy it, to improve their skills, gain contacts, and for some it's even a legit full time job!
Even if your only audience are furry lil' kittens. Image from BoredPanda.
But sometimes, these artists get chased off the streets or even face arrest.
In general, the laws regarding live entertainment is under the jurisdiction of the state via the municipal authorities, but not all states have relevant laws or legal applications to obtain a busking permit.
Kuala Lumpur is one of the few exceptions so, using the Entertainment (Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur) Act 1992 as an example, provides
1) A definition of what live public entertainment is (Section 2) :
“entertainment” includes— (a) plays, operas, pantomimes, variety acts, performances of music, singing, dancing, gymnastics, martial art demonstrations, acrobatics and legerdemain, beauty contests, tableaux, demonstrations, displays and parades, in which living persons take part...
2) Clarifies that payment isn't necessary (Section 2) :
...in any place to which members of the public are admitted with or without payment of money or other consideration;
3) And, perhaps most importantly, requires a permit or license to be performed (Section 4) :
(1) No person shall provide entertainment in any place of entertainment unless the Commissioner has granted— (a) a licence in respect of such entertainment…
The popular Goldman, a familiar sight on Jalan Bukit Bintang. Image from Flickr via Hiveminer.
While it may not be as clear-cut in other states, Persatuan Karyawan Malaysia Rasmi (an NGO that supports local artistes) informed us that it's highly advisable for a performer to seek permission from the authorities, and/or from the owners of wherever commercial places you are busking at. Else, you might end up like Cikgu Man, a saxophonist from Sungai Petani who was arrested and had his equipment confiscated under Section 2 of the Destitute Persons Act 1977 for begging, defined as:
" "begging" means any conduct calculated to induce the giving of alms, whether or not there is any pretence of singing, playing, performing, offering anything for sale or otherwise..."
While Cikgu Man and his instrument was eventually released with a warning, it's probably not the kind of attention you'd want from your performance. If you're not in KL, you may want to check with your local municipal authorities first. We've got some listed here:
You may also need approval from business owners
While you will (with a permit) be allowed to perform anywhere that is considered a public area in KL, there have been cases reported where buskers are chased away by commercial business owners (i.e. malls or shops) even if they have permits. This is usually up to the mall’s decision as to when they deemed it not suitable to have buskers around. In most cases, it involves safety or disturbances to their patrons, especially on weekends or days with events going on.
DBKL has also started an initiative to request for permits from more commercial locations, to get approval for buskers to perform there. They have also suggested some "friendlier" venues for buskers to perform:
- Jalan Bukit Bintang
- Lanai Seni, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman
- Streets near SOGO
- Jalan Mahkamah Persekutuan (pathways along the river banks)
- Jalan Petaling
- Public park areas belonging to DBKL
There are also some business owners who are friendly to buskers, and some of them are listed here.
However, here's something you may not know about a busking permit from DBKL...
To get a permit from DBKL, you need to audition!
Getting a permit isn't as simple as filling up a form - You have to prove your talent before you can be granted a permit. In Kuala Lumpur specificially, this is done by DBKL via an audition or a workshop, which is held once at the end of every year. This year’s (2017) workshop will be held in December, and the application forms will only be made available at DBKL’S Jabatan Kebudayaan, Kesenian & Sukan’s department (Menara DBKL 3), October onwards.
The exact date, time and location of these workshops will be announced on various street musicians Facebook group, such as Persatuan Karyawan Malaysia Rasmi , MY Buskers Club (MYBC), Yayasan Artis 1Malaysia and on DBKL Facebook page itself.
The workshops also usually feature notable musicians to train music buskers to produce good music, like what they did in 2015 with Karyawan. This can be the determinant to whether or not you get the permit. Simply put, DBKL doesn’t want you performing if you suck.
DBKL busking permits also apply for other live performers such as magic shows or mimes. For starters, you can sign up with MYBC as they regularly hold busking festivals and keep their members updated about permits and new laws.
Can a non-Malaysian apply for a permit?
No, these permits are only available to Malaysians for now.
In our phone conversation with the department secretary of Jabatan Kebudayaan, Kesenian, dan Sukan DBKL, they believe it is already a difficult process for Malaysian themselves to earn from busking, so they have to limit the privilege for locals. On top of that, the procedures required in getting performance work visas for foreigners are complicated.
Conclusion: The world is NOT a stage!
Contrary to Shakespeare's popular (and misunderstood) quote, the world (or Malaysian streets in this case) is not an open stage.
If you are planning to perform on the streets of KL anytime soon, you will have to wait until December. The penalty may differ in different states, but generally if you are busking without permits or permissions you will get fined, arrested, and your instruments/ costumes/ props are likely to be confiscated.