Music Under the City

School of Visual ArtsUS


Concept / Student


Guri Venstad, Sana Rao, Minnie Choi


Everyday thousands of people commute via the underground subway in New York city. The commute for the most part is a solitary experience, once which is a necessity more than an enjoyment. We set out to find ways to create this experience more bearable and enjoyable. In the process we found subway musicians as being a crowd puller, but often than not finding and listening to a musician in the subway is unpredictable and sporadic. The challenge was to bring that joy to commuters even beyond the limits of the musician’s physical presence. The meaning to commuters and the musicians is threefold:

  1. For the commuters: discovering new musician beyond the realm of popular music and being able to listen to them even when they are not around
  2. For musicians: An identity and a profile through which people can connect to them and follow their performances
  3. The ability for commuters to rate and donate to the musicians through the app The biggest opportunity here was the database the NYC transport dept already has which keeps track of the musicians playing in the subway system, this information is currently lost in the dept website which no easy access to the people


We started very wide by exploring the different touch-points the New York subway system has and how we could create a better experience under ground for the commuters. We mapped out the different stages of the journey and looked closely at the opportunities within the different areas. Through shadowing and observation we found the experience of the commute was transformed when there was a busker around. We sent surveys to people with different kinds and lengths of commutes to gather insights on what they considered to be highlights of their commutes. After which we body-stormed a typical commute experience and running into a busker which waiting for a train.

We also spoke to a few subway musicians to find out their wants and needs. All these research methods combined gave us insights into both the commuter and the musician’s experiences and needs to connect with the other. The product is made for the everyday commuter, while waiting for the train to arrive. It would be used when the commuter comes across musicians (to record) or wants to listen to the musicians who have played at the station before without the musicians being present.


Since it is was a school project, we did not really implement it. But from the feedback we received and continue to receive even now after more than a year of we believe that the project has delivered on its intended impact of the possibility of making the everyday commute of the audience more enjoyable.

We have received emails and asks from people who saw the video online, who wanted to know if the app is available to download. We recently also received an ask from the Govt of Sydney, Australia asking for expertise as they plan to create a busker policy and an app for the city’s residents. All these only add to the belief that the concept is desirable not just by the intended audience but also by commuters globally.


In our first prototype the commuters could record musicians or listen to the recordings that have been made by other commuters at the same location. The recordings get added to the musician database from Music Under New York Initiative by the MTA and GPS data ensures the location tags.

We then went through several iterations for providing a reward and motivation mechanism to tie in strongly to the cause of promoting upcoming musicians in the city. Each artist was their own page and audience can both rate their performances, read their story and follow them to see where they are playing next and listen to their previous recordings.

As we developed this service further, we added elements like the ability to, use augmented reality to discover musicians that have played in the location before and be able to listen to them. As you click on the thumbnails for each musician, the silhouette would come alive and play a sample of music.

We chose to make a mobile and tablet app as it they are most common devices used by commuters to distract from the boredom of a daily commute, and are the most accessible to record or listen to music.


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