Katie Ferrara -What It Means To Be A Street Performer : Inspiring Conversation With A Dream Catcher

8 million stories

Told and recalled in the streets

In the cold or the heat of the evening,

She usually sings a couple songs, in a public place where she belongs

With a smile as warm and bright as the last sunlight on Santa Monica Pier.

She meets strangers that are no more strangers to her,

She’s a joy to listen, she’s a success story to admire, she’s a Dream Catcher.

Her name is Katie Ferrara, folk-pop singer songwriter from Los Angeles,

With a sound as soothing as Norah Jones, Natalie Merchant, Meiko, Ingrid Michaelson and Joni Mitchell.

Longtime known for giving street performance.

After 2 EP’s already released, she’s making the way for her third project titled Dream Catcher, out this October 22nd.

Let us discover who is Katie Ferrara along with this following conversation,

Talking about previous release, new music, life changing events, music opportunities, what it truly means to be a street performer, or busker, and more…

 

INTERVIEW

1) Click Of The Clock, one of the best track from your EP back in 2011. The songwriting sounds organic and genius at the same time, the different tempos and movements.
What was your process to write it? How did you catch the ideas for the instrumental composition? How much time did it take to finish the song?

At the time I wrote Click of the Clock, I was experimenting detuning my guitar to Open D. I found some cool chord shapes in that tuning and then made a progression.

It was the rhythm of the guitar that inspired the melody and the experience of living in London that inspired the lyrics.

I made a voice memo on my phone of the instrumental guitar part and vocal melody, then played it over and over again while on the train to work at Starbucks. I thought about what was going on around me and the lyrics came to mind.

The song took me about a day to write.

2) A festival that carries your name? Ferrara Buskers Festival. Tell us about this experience, travelling there and performing.

This year while I was doing some research on my last name, I stumbled across the Ferrara Buskers Festival.

I thought it was such a unique coincidence that there is a busking festival that carries my name—especially since busking has become a large part of my identity as an artist.

Most musicians in LA know me as the girl who’s always street performing around the city and I’ve met many of my fans while playing at farmer’s markets and street fairs!

I seem to be the go to person when it comes to busking.

I applied to the Ferrara Buskers festival in April this year and learned that I got in at the end of June. I planned my other tour dates around the festival by booking a flight to England first.

I travelled to the UK with my acoustic guitar, my mic stand, cables, merch and a suitcase.  I also brought my Freeplay, which is portable PA system that I endorse for Mackie.

[…] I think if I brought any more things I wouldn’t have been able to travel!

When I arrived in London, I played at the Troubadour, which is a small French Wine bar in Earl’s Court.

I used to visit that bar a lot when I was living in London in 2012. I love how cozy and romantic the venue is. It’s the perfect spot for the folk artist or a singer-songwriter circle.

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I also tried busking on the Southbank along the Thames River. I had to research different spots that don’t require a permit, yet allow amplification. Some of the spots on the Southbank are great places to busk if you are passing through town because of all the tourists and foot traffic.

After staying in London for a week with different friends and family, I took a train to Gatwick Airport. From there, I took a plane to Bologna.

It was my first time going to Italy and flying by myself […]!

However, I found that being a solo female traveler is not as scary as it seems and I would definitely recommend more women to try it because when you travel alone, you meet so many people and truly experience your surroundings.

At the Bologna airport, I had to find a bus to Ferrara.

When I found the bus stop, there was a couple waiting in line who helped me load my stuff onto the shuttle.  When I introduced myself to them, they already knew who I was! The girl was from the Isle of White and apparently she recognized my face because her sister did my make-up for my first EP “When Love’s Not Around”.

She also told me that she remembered my name because she was living in the city of Ferrara with her husband.

It was a coincidence that I had bumped into her that day at the station. We chatted a lot on the bus and they even showed me to my hotel in the center of the city.

Playing at the festival was an amazing experience because I felt like people really appreciated my music and I was able to make personal connections with fans.

[…] I think that people appreciated my music because of the environment I was in.

I was able to be on the same level as the audience and could talk to them after a few songs as opposed to playing at a festival on a big stage and not really meeting the people watching me.

 

My favorite night was when I played on Via San Romano, which is a 900 year old street in the heart of the city center.

I had a crowd of about 50 people just standing in a circle and listening to my songs. They left tips, and bought my CD’s. I ended up selling all of them including my merch! I was able to pay for the tour in music sales.

What I really enjoyed about my performances was the level of exchange between myself and fans. I not only sold my music but was also given gifts such as CDs from local artists, flowers, pictures, jewelry, and food.  

It was fun to watch some of the other performers too. There were street artists making paintings on the ground, fortune tellers, food vendors, magicians and big bands.

Each night after the street festival, there was an after party called “Puedes” where the 20 “artisti invitati” played on a big stage and people danced in the audience.

The music at the festival was very unique. One of my favorite acts this year was Kallidad -they are a band from Australia.

They paint their faces as black and white skulls and play flamenco/goth style music.

I don’t really know how to describe their sound, other than it was something I never heard of before. They are really fun to watch. I also enjoyed seeing Pellegata who is a local to Milan. I loved her guitar playing-it reminded me of Kaki King and John Mayer.

I feel like the Buskers festival was something that really united the city.

[…] At about 6pm, people started coming out of hiding. Some were walking but most people were riding bicycles. They looked like little ants looking for food to eat. By the time it was 9pm, there were hundreds of people wandering around the city square.

3) The festival is based in Italy. Plus I see you can speak Italian if I’m not mistaking. How much do you feel connected to Italy?

[…] I can speak a little Italian from what I learned from my dad growing up and the Italian classes I took while at college.

I never really felt that connected to the country until I actually visited, started speaking the language and making friends with other Italians!

4) For every person who travels, each country you visit leaves you a special feeling, a unique memory. As far as Italy is concerned, what would be this unique memory, special feeling, for you?

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When I left Italy, I felt very welcomed and accepted by the people, especially in Ferrara.

They made me feel like I was a part of something greater than myself.

One thing I noticed was that the city had a very strong sense of community and that’s something that the festival enhanced through music.

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I just remember thinking how amazing it was that no one had their cell phones out.

People were very present and listened to the music around them. The only people taking pictures were photographers from the festival.

It was so interesting to see this in comparison to the way people behave in the US. People are constantly checking their phones here, especially when there’s nothing to do. To me, it sees as though the Italians feel content sitting and doing nothing in the middle of the afternoon, as long as they are in good company.

One of my favorite memories was on the last night of the festival. It was about 1am and everyone in the city was heading outside the castle walls to the after party at Puedes.

I headed over there with my friends Borja, Suzy and Lucas and we sat on the grass and listened to the bands play on the main stage.

One of the festival team members who had helped me find my performance spot in the city that night recognized me and invited us to hang out with her friends and drink wine.

I thought it was so cool that she did that because I didn’t really know anyone in the city and she was so open to being friends even though she didn’t really know me.

5) You’re known for street performing. Which street in Los Angeles has been your favorite to perform? In London? And why?

In Los Angeles, my favorite place to perform is on the Santa Monica Pier. I don’t go out there as often as I like because performances are based on a lottery system and I don’t always get a spot. I also don’t live local to that area.

However, when I do go out there and get a spot, it’s the most beautiful thing—especially if you get a there for the 7-11 performance slots.

I’m inspired by the sun setting into the ocean. The air is fresh and the water looks beautiful. There’s always a great crowd of people on the boardwalk

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In London, I really enjoyed playing by the Thames River because of the view of Big Ben and the Southbank Centre.

If I go back, I would love to try playing near Harrods in Knightsbridge!

I hear the tips are amazing and the lights are really pretty.

My favorite thing about busking in these locations is being able to see a perspective that most locals overlook. I think one appreciates how beautiful their surroundings are when playing or listening to music.

6) What was it like to participate to 2015 Feeling The Street Competition? Which song did you put out to win this competition?

The 2015 Toyota Sponsored Feeling the Street Competition was a very life changing experience for me. 

About one week before the end of the contest, I submitted a video of myself singing my song “Leaves” on the street in Burbank, CA.

I then asked all my friends on Facebook to vote for me and to my surprise, I made it to the final round and was selected to be part of a 6 piece band of street performers from countries all over the world including Colombia, Spain, Poland, Germany and the US.

Toyota flew all of us out to New Zealand to jam and create music together while taking a roadtrip from Auckland all the way down to Queenstown in the South Island.

We performed the songs we wrote at the annual winter festival in June last year and even got to record them at Round Head Studios in Auckland.

I felt like I had a lot of responsibilities as an artist to create impressive music when on the road trip.

[…] We were under pressure because of the time constraints and because all of us didn’t know each other before the trip.

I just remember I had taken an 11 hour flight to get over there and as soon as Andrew and I landed, we were just thrown into a room with 4 other random musicians and told to make music while a camera crew filmed us.

Somehow it all came together when the cameras and microphones were taken out of the equation and we just felt the music for what it was. We played because no one was watching.

There was something really important I discovered about the creative process—that you’ll never make anything meaningful if you are just trying to impress people.

I loved the collaborative side of the competition in that the music was something so much bigger than something I could write myself. I liked being part of a team.

I got to see a side of the world I’ve never been to and take some crazy risks along the way.

We not only made music but we went bungee jumping off a cliff in Queenstown, flew to the top of a snowy mountain in a helicopter, and went jet boating.

We drifted in racecars going over 100mph and jammed on a island with some of the best wine in New Zealand.

Every experience was an adrenaline rush. I just remember it being over and feeling so lucky that I had those experiences and made friends with people from all over the world along the way.

7) What kind of opportunities did this competition bring your way?

I think more than anything, this competition just gave myself and the other musicians involved a sense of recognition for our craft and respect from other musicians.

Being a street performer is hard at times because most people I meet have such skewed ideas to why we do it.

Some people think that if you are performing on the street, you must be a failure, homeless, or looking for that “big break”. I’ve also heard others say that street musicians are on the street because they simply aren’t good enough to get a proper gig.

After the competition, Andrew and I were asked to play at a wedding and we started playing more and more corporate events.

My favorite gig with him so far has been at LAX Tom Bradley Terminal.

I became sponsored by several companies including Mackie and TC Helicon and from my submission video, I’ve been asked to do several others by a production company in Los Angeles documenting street musicians.

8) You’re quite dynamic, which other competition would you like to win?

I think the next step for me would be to shoot for a songwriting competition. I’m looking at the International Songwriting Competition as well as Guitar Center Songwriter 6 or Unsigned Only.

9) I’ve been through your works since 2011 to 2013, three years passed and you’re promoting the launch of a new CD. How has your craft evolved for these past three years? How did you evolve as a musician?

In the past 3 years, I’ve taken songwriting courses at the Songwriting School in Burbank and have co-written with some of the students in my class.

I think the experience of writing with different people opened up my songwriting style and got me in the habit of writing more in general.

I also just think that having the support of a creative community has helped shape my craft.

[…]Because I’ve been busking and playing private events, I’m always learning new songs and developing my skills as a singer and guitarist.

I think more than anything with this new release, I have a more cohesive folk-pop brand of music.

I didn’t really know what genre to identify myself as in my previous releases.

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This release is also different than my previous ones in that I feel more business minded. 

[…] With this release, I really want to get to know my audience and understand what I can do for them through my songwriting.

10) You’re inspired by life changing events. What’s been your greatest life changing event?

This question is really difficult because I feel like I’ve had a lot of important moments in the past 10 years that have shaped me into the person I am today.

My greatest life changing event I would say is when I made the decision to come back to LA from London and literally start over with my life.

It was the hardest thing for me to do because I didn’t want to feel like a failure. All of my friends had moved to new cities after college and were establishing their careers within a few years of graduating. Here I was just “giving up” and going back home.

When I was living over there, I was struggling to make a living from my music and was constantly bouncing from job to job to support myself. I didn’t have time to write because I was constantly thinking about how I was going to pay rent.

However, coming back to LA and starting again was the best thing I could have done for myself. I started to feel more secure and able to be creative. I was inspired.  I feel like one can’t reach their highest creative potential unless they are grounded in something or have the security to draw upon to expand themselves.

When I came back to LA, I started busking regularly and booking private gigs which helped me support my music career. I was able to buy equipment I needed, and write more often.

I met a lot of influential people that helped take my music career to the next level. My producer Patrick Joseph is one of them as well as the many musicians who played on my EP and the songwriting groups I’ve joined in the past year.

11) Finally, as a Dream Catcher, what would be the most beautiful dream you wish to come true?

When I first thought about this question, I thought about myself,

But I think if I had one dream to come true, it would be on a much larger scale.

The most beautiful dream I wish to come true is for everyone in the world to have a place to call home. 🙂

Wow! Thank you Katie! This may have been the longest interview, yet by far one of the most inspiring, uplifting one. Thanks for this genuine conversation. 

Can’t wait anymore for your new album, Dream Catcher, out on October 22nd 2016.

 

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