Hundreds, if not thousands walk by it every day. Some may notice it, others not.
But the reality is that Katie Ferrara is certainly no stranger to Burbank, even though she doesn’t live in town nor did she grow up in Burbank.
Ferrara is an independent pop singer who grew up nearby in Eagle Rock who began her street performing singing career at the corner of San Fernando Road and Palm and now is depicted on three sides of a utility box adjacent to the Gap clothing store.
Last month Ferrara captured the Musicash Grand Finale at The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. For her efforts, Ferrara won the $40,000 grand prize over a number of talented competitors from around the world.
“It was a mixture of votes from the live audience, from online voting and a panel of judges who judged the performances. I came into a tie with the girl who got second in the end (Zinnia Moon). The judges over rid everything in the end and said ‘We want you.’ I was shocked when I got it. I thought maybe I had a shot at third place or something,” Ferrara said. “One of the girls (Katrina Stuart) has like 400,000 followers on her Instagram. I cannot compete with that. I have a decent size, almost 12,000.”
Ferrara is very humble about herself. She still even occasionally works as a substitute teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and doesn’t tell any of her students what she does outside of the classroom.
“In 2015 I started out here,” Ferrara said while sitting at the Starbucks on San Fernando and Palm. “I won this competition from Toyota, it was called “Feeling the Street”. My video was filmed right where the box is. So for me that’s a very important place because that kind of was how I launched my career.”
It was also at the spot that Ferrara met a local artist, who was displaying his art in the same location. She then became the subject of his next art project.
Ferrara, who is a graduate of Claremont Pitzer College, has earned her success through hard work and patience.
“I think they bring a sense of community to Burbank. Different performers come in and out. It is nice to be able to play your music and not have to go through a venue where someone is taking a cut of whatever you make,” Ferrara said of street performing in Burbank. “If you want to be an artist in Los Angeles and play on the Sunset Strip or play shows, the draw that you have to bring is ridiculous.”
In addition to work on her music, Ferrara has also learned how important social media can be.
“In the age that we live in, it is hard to make connections with people. I find the internet is a good tool,” Ferrara said. “A lot of bands that I have met have live streaming performances online or posting online ‘I’m going to be at this place, do you guys want to come out?’”
Before winning the Musicash title, Ferrara’s talents have helped her earn the right to compete across Europe as well as New Zealand.
“I played at this big festival with a band in Queenstown and I played in front of 10,000 people. I got to work with a world renowned producer and artist named Jason Kerrison. He music directed the band and helped produce the tracks and Toyota sponsored the whole thing,” Ferrara said. “That was all started from a video shot of me performing where the utility box is.”
Ferrara, whose main instrument is the guitar, also plays the yukulele and harmonica and knows a thing or two about playing the keyboard.
She said making a living off a street performing is certainly not easy and one has to learn all of the costs associated with it.
“As a musician, you don’t make a lot of money after taxes. For example, this year I did 220 gigs. Subtract mileage, gas, wear and tear on your car and tax from a $150-$200 gig and you make a lot less than expected. It’s a full-time job driving an hour sometimes two or three to get to a gig. Add the time it takes to get back home plus the actual event which can be anywhere between two to four hours of singing. The total hours spent gigging amount to the same as a 9-5 job. Don’t forget all the time it takes investing in practicing new songs and writing new material,” Ferrara said.
“Tips and donations are extremely helpful to an indie artist because it goes towards all the essential things you need to play live, travel and record. The reason why buskers get a bad reputation for making money from tips on the street is because people think we don’t pay taxes. My friends who do it full time do pay tax from what they make, whether that’s on the street on in a bar, pub, or restaurant. Tips are very important because people don’t buy music anymore. They listen to everything online on Spotify. The only way artists can stay afloat these days is to build good relationships with fans who will continue to support their projects throughout the course of their career. You can no longer run a business trying to sell a physical product because that product has no value anymore. What is valuable to fans is being a part of your journey and feeling like they had a hand in getting you where you need to go.”
The toughest days are haven’t abandoned Katie Ferrara yet. But if things continue to go her way, she might be more than just another face people walk past at one of Burbank’s most frequently visited intersections.