Clare Means Talks Busking to Build a Career, Premieres Animated 'Danger' Video

Tawny Elise
Clare Means

Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Clare Means has a message about the perils of working with unsuitable labels or management -- and the independent artist is delivering it in the form of a stylish animated video for her song "Danger," which Billboard is premiering. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, the film was made by Zookeeper, whose work has previously been seen on Conan and elsewhere.

Means has skilfully and tirelessly built an online profile via her frequent street performances in L.A., and more formal gig bookings in North America and Europe. Since 2015, she has live streamed her busking appearances on Periscope, frequently appearing on the app's trending list and building her follower total to 103,000.

The artist's Periscope profile, and her live interaction during streams with admirers and passers-by, has helped towards healthy sales of her albums, including her most recent, 2018's appropriately-named Sidewalk Astronomy. On release, it debuted at No. 1 on iTunes' singer-songwriter chart, underlining that DIY can, with the right commitment, still be a way to build a career. 

"Having a team to help promote my music, to book shows, look over contracts, reach out to blogs and more would be incredibly helpful," says Means. "But this video for my song 'Danger' illustrates what can happen if you work with people who aren't right for you, or sign to a label or work with management that wants to change you to fit a mold that doesn't work for you."

Means sells not only albums but a range of merchandise via her website, and for all of the financial challenges, is upbeat about her own experience. "I know many grassroots musicians who make their living solely by doing music, including myself. The business has changed a lot over the last few years, and there are so many ways that an independent artist can pursue making a living in music.

"I've mostly concentrated on live streaming on Periscope," she goes on. "Lots of other musicians I know concentrate on other social media such as Instagram, YouTube or Facebook, or on getting on Spotify playlists, placements in film and TV, or corporate or college gigs, private parties or weddings that pay well."

Means' streaming success became part of Ari Herstand's 2017 book How To Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician. "It's a really good read for independent musicians," she says.

The singer-songwriter recently took part in the Bergen International Americana Festival in Norway, at which both British and American artists were flown in to join local Americana musicians for well-received club nights. "That was awesome," she enthuses. "They brought us out there and paid us well, the audience was great and appreciative and they bought merchandise too.

"Many gigs in L.A. don't pay at all. You can get paid if you play for a long time at a restaurant or a bar, or if you promote a club show well and sell enough tickets, but that's not always easy. That's part of the reason I started busking, and then later live streaming. People can interact with you in real time, and they can also tip and buy your merchandise."

Means confesses that she's not especially tech-savvy. "I mostly just know how to hit the 'go live' button and then I just sing my songs and try to reply to comments when I can," she says. "Live streaming isn't that difficult. But if you're making a lot of your own videos on YouTube, you have to know more about editing, and using a good mic and camera.

"If you're connecting with your audience more on Instagram, you probably need to invest in a great camera or photographer and you need to figure out what hashtags or captions will find your audience and so on," she concludes. "It's important to post on all of the main social media platforms on a regular basis, but I think it's ok to pick one to focus on."

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