Busking has been a feature of public spaces and cityscapes for centuries. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, street performance occupied an ambiguous status in many cities: highly visible, but vulnerable to the harsh enforcement of public order offences and associated police powers. The 21st century has seen the proliferation of a different approach to regulation: permit systems established by local governments. This approach ostensibly represents a significant break with past law enforcement approaches which treated busking as a ‘nuisance’ to be discouraged or even criminalised. However, by imposing strict conditions, including location, volume and duration limits, and threatening hefty fines for illegal busking, local council regimes risk perpetuating the marginal and vulnerable position which buskers have traditionally occupied. Drawing on the findings of field work undertaken in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney — including interviews with council officers, rangers and buskers — this article examines the impact of contemporary busking laws, including whether this risk materialises, or whether, instead, councils have achieved the challenging dual goals of simultaneously encouraging and controlling busking.