If you’ve taken the Paris métro, you’ve no doubt heard some of the talented musicians in its tiled halls and alcoves. And if you’ve stopped to listen for a few minutes on your way to a museum or monument, you’ve noticed that they’re really good.
They should be. Thousands of musicians compete before a jury for the chance to secure one of just 300 spots as a métro minstrel. The jury, which assembles twice each year, is composed of two employees of the RATP (the group that operates the métro) and two passengers as well as the Artistic Director who has served for the 16 years that the auditions have taken place. They try to select music to appeal to a variety of tastes. Once selected, the accredited musicians may play their hearts out for six months before they must try out again. Only about half of the licenses are given to incumbents; the rest go to new blood.
Frankly, they don’t earn enough to make a living in this underground economy – only 10€ to 40€ during a typical ninety-minute session. What makes it worth their while is the hope of being discovered as others have been before, such as Californian Ben Harper, or Lââm, a Franco-Tunisian hip hop artist who shot to fame. After all, among the five million people who take the métro each day are talent scouts and producers looking for the next great thing. Take a close look the next time you are in the métro, as one of those success stories may be back testing some new music or you may hearing the next super star taking his or her first steps on the road to fame.
Today’s expression, aller plus vite que la musique (alay ploo veet kuh lah mewzeek), literally means “to go faster than the music,” but figuratively means “to get ahead of yourself” or “to put the cart before the horse.” I thought this was a good fit when talking about the confluence of music and subways. Let your spirit be transported by the music before or after your body is transported by the Paris métro. And, hey, drop a euro or two in the open guitar case when you pass.