Then I wrote an email clarifying a few things, and Hypebot published that. A lot of the email is about streaming blah blah blah…
…the big money is to be made at the top of the tail…and therein lies the promise of commercial music streaming services. It will be financially valuable to those who make hits and those who aggregate legions of artists. For a single artist like me commercial streaming will never be more than promo. I accept that. But I will keep talking about it until streaming companies do more to make that promo more useful…
All my music will always be available for free in the places where I decide it works best. Right now that is Pandora, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. If I determine the promo from a certain service isn’t useful, and/or if I don’t like how they do business or how commercial and ad-plastered the experience is, I won’t give it to them. I would prefer casual listeners to stream from the service of my choice or just torrent it.
Don’t have much else to say on that topic except this…I have a lot of confidence about what I do (translation: bloody ego maniac!!) and I’ve never seen myself as competing with other artists. I believe there is a small class of people who will like my music and my music will eventually find them.
Aren’t I just an example of “The Long Tail” at work? I will not ever sell one million copies of my albums, but I do sell 10k a year…..year after year with no marketing…. because people keep discovering my music on the Internet.
…another of my motives for releasing data: with all the commentary that seems to say “get big or get out”, I want to say that small can be good and to encourage all those weirdos who make good art to keep at it.
I think a lot about the ripples that radiate out from everyone’s actions.
I write this because I feel a need to explain why I’ve been talking about the music ecosystem. Here it is.
By some combination of luck, charm and doggedness, I’m moderately successful. (I say “moderately” because I’m certainly not one of those millionaire musicians but I sit somewhere in the possibly-shrinking middle class.)
So things are ok for me but I have this conviction that every successful person has an obligation to help others get to the same place. Whatever ‘helping’ means to you, you should do. For some, it’s charitable donations, for some it’s volunteering, for some it’s mentoring. I do a fair amount of donating to charities and other artists’ projects, but I discovered that maybe, right now, I could make more of an impact by speaking or writing about things.
That is one of the reasons why I started talking about my streaming earnings. I thought I could use use my story to draw attention to how a niche artist operates and to demonstrate that being a successful niche artist might be a desirable career goal rather than just a fool’s errand.
There are more choices than “Struggling” or “Superstar”.
I wanted to inject a healthy does of skepticism into what I saw as a new and well-funded marketing strategy, accompanied by a parroting press, that proclaimed “never pay for music again” and “artists don’t need to sell music any more”. Streaming is not new (I’ve had my music available for streaming since, um, 2005?) but this story about it was. I’m not a saint by any means, but I thought I could make a difference here.
Spotify (the company who did all that marketing to coincide with their US launch) very cleverly packaged their business model as a quest to save the music industry. It’s genius. “Labels, we can get you money you are losing to piracy! New artists, selling is over but we can save you! Just focus your efforts on building critical mass on our new platform!”
Obviously that message is resonating with major labels. New artists go along because they are desperate and have to put there music wherever it can be stumbled upon. But I’m an established niche artist not suffering from ‘piracy’. I make what is, apparently, a shockingly large portion of my income selling music directly to a comparatively small set of listeners. I’m not the only one.
Spotify graciously reached out to me after my first chirpings on the topic and arranged for me to meet with DA Wallach. Over burritos, he patiently listened to my diatribe and pretty much admitted that my model might be outside Spotify’s scope and maybe artists like me shouldn’t put all our music on the service. (That’s what i do, by the way, have some of my music up there)
I’ve never met Daniel Ek, but I don’t blame him for his blind spot when it comes to the economics of niche artists, not because I don’t think he gets us - although maybe he doesn’t, I don’t know. Most mainstream music industry folks have always been totally mystified by me. It’s why I’m DIY - but because it’s business. It’s his job as the CEO of a corporation to pursue exponential growth. By definition niche artists are not going to generate exponential growth…unless there are a lot of us ;-)
I’m pretty sure Spotify has been miffed at bearing the brunt of artist criticism but honestly, they asked for it. They were not the first streaming company by far but they were the first to audaciously declare that their business model would save everyone.
Did I need saving? Do other niche artists need saving?
Now, that doesn’t mean I think things are hunky dory for all the musicians I know. Why? New recording artists are not being hurt by file-sharing/piracy/insert-preferred-term-here. They are are being snowed under by the avalanche of artistic expression created by the largest group of young people in history. There is so much artistic expression that the internet has facilitated the distribution of, that most artists’ future fans haven’t found them yet.
Meanwhile, companies have stepped in to profit off the free and semi-free work of the striving masses. A little critical thinking and you quickly realize that it’s in the interests of many to call the art that is the product of your angst-filled soul-searching, “content”, and to keep it semi-free. Those companies might not have any incentive to send their audience elsewhere in order to help an artist sell albums or concert tickets or tshirts.
That’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s just capitalism at work.
So now what? Casual listeners should not have to pay for music. Those days are over. Let them listen for free or pay for a subscription to the streaming service of their choice. Assuming services pay all rights holders the same rates, we’re good there.
Next, it should be easy for avid listeners to connect to the artists they love and they should be encouraged to do so - to purchase experiences like concert tickets, albums, vinyl packages, whatever. Streaming companies need to facilitate that, rather than doing everything they can to keep listeners inside their walled gardens.
And that’s what happened yesterday. I haven’t explored it in depth yet but I’m guardedly happy about it.
In an uncoordinated and grassroots fashion, other artists have expressed their opinions on the subject. Like me, many have been criticized for being vocal. But you know what? I think it’s made a difference. I doubt Spotify would have thrown this bone if artists hadn’t made some noise.
An interview with me on Virgin Disruptors: why I released my earnings data and what else I want from streaming services.
Tune into a live debate on these topics with me, will.iam, Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer, Scooter Braun, Songkick, Vevo and Spotify…on Oct 28th at 11am Pacific Time (1pm EST/7pm GST) at Virgin Disruptors.
I usually save my blog for music issues. This isn’t a music issue but everything is connected. That sense that the world is falling apart, that we can’t get our sh*t together…it affects me. So I’m going to self-indulgently vent…and then go write some angst-filled music.
Here’s the story.
On Oct 14, I got a letter from the USPS stating that our post office is again under study for permanent closure. I say “again” because the Camp Meeker post office was on a national closure list in 2011 but after a six month feasibility study and lots of public comment, the USPS spared us in 2012 and said it would remain open but with reduced hours.
My neighbors and I have been fighting closure of the post office because it has one feature that makes it very important to our lives: it is the only place you can get your mail.
Camp Meeker is an old town from the 1880‘s and it is dense, with 350 houses packed into less than a square mile. The USPS, for historical reasons unknown to me, won’t deliver mail to any of the houses. Instead, every resident is assigned a free PO Box and picks up mail in a dilapidated trailer. The trailer was installed as temporary structure 40 years ago, across the street from the semi-collapsed remains of the previous post office built in 1906.
There are no other businesses in town. There used to be hotels, a grocery store and even a bowling alley, but everything burned down or closed in the middle of the last century. So the dirty old postal shack is it.
It might be ugly, but it’s all we’ve got. It’s a place to run into your neighbors and there is a bulletin board to advertise free kittens and the local supper club. But mostly, it is where we get the mail. I wonder how many communities of the size and density of Camp Meeker not only have no post office but no mail delivery whatsoever?
I’m sure the the USPS thinks we don’t generate enough money to justify staying open. I’d argue (if they’d let me argue with them) that the primary purpose of our particular post office is that it is THE ONLY place to pickup mail, because they refuse to deliver it. But also, the USPS have only themselves to blame for their lack of revenue.
I run a small business. When I initially moved here I made a point of supporting the local post office. Every day I would mail all my CDs from the shack even though they had no digital system and clerks had to add up amounts on the back of an envelope, which meant there was no itemized receipt, mistakes were made and it took forever. I asked if maybe a digital system could be installed? No money for that, was the response.
Mailing things overnight is something I had to do pretty often, but because the pickup time here is late, you couldn’t actually use the USPS overnight service. The clerks wouldn’t even sell overnight delivery to me, because they knew the package wouldn’t actually get to it’s destination on time.
The post office never had any supplies to purchase like tape and was often out of priority mail boxes because the postmaster at the time had to use a computer to order them and he himself said he was afraid to use one. I’m not making this up. So, to buy tape, or a box or send something overnight I would drive 10 miles to the nearest UPS franchise.
Eventually I got fed up and outsourced all my mailing to my dear sister in Vermont. We still visited the post office every day though to pick up the mail.
I say “visited” because in June the post office closed without warning. We got home from Europe to find a handwritten note posted on the door.
"The post office is closed until further notice due to a sewage leak. This is a Haz Mak situation. All mail to be picked up at the Occidental post office until further notice"
(yes is it said “Haz Mak”)
In an attempt to find out what had happened, our neighbor and Camp Meeker Park and Recreation board member Tony Tominia called and spoke with various officials in several USPS departments.
Tony talked in early July to Ken Boyd, a USPS manager in San Diego. Mr Boyd said the Occidental postmaster reported that the creek had backed up into the septic tank and then overflowed onto the postal trailer floor. The postmaster told Mr Boyd that human feces were on the floor of the trailer. Hearing this, Mr Boyd made the decision to close the post office.
There is a wee flaw in this story: it’s summer in California and the creek is, literally, a trickle. Even in the wettest part of winter though, for the entire history of Camp Meeker, the creek has never come anywhere near the building. And, the postal shack doesn’t have a septic tank. It has a camp toilet.
Again, I’m not making this up.
The USPS hired an outside company to investigate the overflow, and also to test some mold on the outside of the trailer that the postmaster said was causing respiratory problems in everyone who worked there (like I said, this place is classy) . The forensics company determined that the liquid on the floor was water from a nearby sink and that the mold on the outside of the trailer was omnipresent in Camp Meeker and not harmful.
Mr Boyd told Tony that as soon as he received the paperwork to finalize the findings, which he expected in a few days, the Camp Meeker post office would be immediately reopened.
A couple days later, Tony met with the postmaster who had reported the sewage, Jeannie Ramirez. She said that her real reasons for instigating the closure of the post office was not sewage but because her employees were complaining of respiratory issues from the mold and refused to work in the trailer. In other words, she lied.
What is curious about this is that I talked to one of her former employees, who was actually laid off along with another employee. She said that neither she, nor anyone else complained about respiratory problems or mold. So did Ms Ramirez lie about that too?
You’d think if the postmaster was so concerned about her employees exposure to mold that she might try get rid of the mold? But rather than take 1hr to scrub the mold off the outside of the trailer, or hire someone to do it, she preferred to inconvenience an entire community by closing their post office for more than four months.
I couldn’t figure out anyone’s motives until I looked online at the USPS regulations. Closing a post office takes months of procedure and public input, unless there is a safety issue with the postal facility. If there is a safety issue the USPS can close a post office immediately. Interesting.
Anyway, the post office remained closed. Weeks later Tony wrote to postmaster Ramirez, USPS managers Tony Carvelli and Eddie Masangcay, and Diana Alverado of USPS property management requesting an updated plan and timeline, along with an update to the sign on the post office door so that the public wasnt misled.
No one responded to the questions although the “Haz Mak” sign on the door of the post office was taken down and he got a call from Tony Carvelli
“Tony Carvelli called me. He expressed his displeasure with me sending emails to his superiors stating he had no plan or timeline. I asked him what his plan was. He replied he could not form a plan till he figures out what is wrong with the trailer. I asked him his plan for determining what is wrong with the trailer. He said he was trying to figure that out as well. I told him based on that, I would continue to report that there is no plan and no timeline.”
A couple weeks later, on the suggestion of a local boy scout, Sebastopol’s Wolf Pack 128, Den 2 Cub Scouts retired the flag at Camp Meeker’s post office since it had remained flying outside all this time.
That was in August. Fast forward to 3 days ago when we got a letter from the postal service notifying us that another feasibility study is being conducted to see if permanent closure is possible. The letter stated that if residents wish to make comments they should attend a meeting next week on Oct 23 at the Occidental Post Office, at the rather inconvenient time of 5pm.
Jim Wigdel, s USPS public relations official, told our neighbor Tony that business had dropped off, so the status of the Camp Meeker post office is again up for review.
Um, yeah. It is hard to do any business when you’re CLOSED.
Since the post office closed, I’ve made sure to have all packages delivered directly to my house via UPS or FexEx. I’ve done this not just because I’m crazy and like to have mail delivered to my HOUSE, but because I don’t have the greatest confidence in the sorting abilities of the Occidental post office. Two packages addressed to me since the closure never arrived. They had tracking on them, and the USPS tracking says they arrived at the Occidental post office and were “delivered”. Delivered to whom? I’ve also received several letters in my mail pile that were addressed to someone else and had more than a few letters addressed to me returned to sender because they were addressed to my street address rather than PO Box.
I try to let everyone know about my PO Box, but occasionally a client will send something to my street address. In the past, clerks at the Camp Meeker office had a master list on the wall to match up names and street addresses with PO Boxes. If someone addressed a letter to my street I would still get it. However, now we get our mail in Occidental and postmaster Ramirez says that regulations require her to return such mail to sender. As a result I’ve tried to change all my bills and deposits to electronic. I can’t help but wonder how much of the drop off in business is due to other people doing the same? How much of the revenue drop is due to the USPS driving away their customers?
Apparently our expectations of anything Federal are so low that we no longer expect mail to be delivered, and the only employment opportunity in town - a single part-time job at $10 an hour with no benefits - is too extravagant an expense .
Last night I went to a World Economic Forum meeting in San Francisco. Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman, was soliciting topics for the annual meeting in Davos. He’s an inspiring and clearly beloved figure and listened with eagerness and curiosity to everything everyone had to say. Present were local Economic Forum members (academics and executives from the key companies in Silicon Valley), Young Global Leaders (that’s the under-40 group I’m in) and a younger group called the Global Shapers.
The conversations were about the world economy as a whole but I couldn’t help applying what was said directly to the music industry.
“If you don’t know what’s going on, you develop a negative attitude about it" said Professor Schwab, and an executive from Salesforce commented that when people don’t have faith in the future, they act on fear. I thought both statements rather neatly explained the stance of the RIAA over the last decade.
Later, Professor Schwab said “a business should not only be accountable to its shareholders, but also to its employees & society" and also when Mitchell Baker from Mozilla said that resilient economies need to keep risks and rewards tied (actually I can’t remember if she said economies, companies or systems…but they all work). These statements led me to thinking about flaws in the digital music economy.
In years past, records were costly to produce and the artistic risk of each artist was linked directly to the financial risk of their record label. For all the problems of that industry, both parties needed needed each other and with success reaped their respective rewards.
Today, marvelous as they are as a discovery platform, it’s true that there is no risk at all to digital music services if an artist’s music is not wildly popular. In the case of YouTube, they reap their reward by selling advertising against the art of thousands and thousands of artists. A niche artist’s inability to attract bizillions of eyeballs will not affect these companies one bit. Modest success reaps little financial reward for individuals in this ecosystem. Yet no individual artist has the leverage to negotiate for a higher percentage of advertising revenue or has a say in what kind of ads are slapped on their art. Google is not accountable to us. I’m doing fine, but I might be an anomaly because so many of my peers are not, and that bugs me. What can I do about it? What’s next?
Anyway, it was an interesting evening and I thrive on this stuff. I haven’t attended many WEF events but would like to go to more.
The first year I was nominated into the Young Global Leaders I was a new mom and funds were tight. Attending a meeting of YGLs in China with my nursing son seemed outrageous and totally out of the question. I don’t have to bring him with me anymore but meetings still happen in mostly far-flung (to me) locales like India. Of course, I do travel for tours all the time but I have concerts there to pay for it. And truthfully, as interested and engaged as I like to be regarding world events… it’s not clear most of the time what the heck my role as an artist is at the WEF.
I’m used to being a fish out of water, and reveling in it, but I’ve yet to figure out how to be myself in the context of the WEF. That bugs me too.
Yes, there are music economy issues that I would love to discuss with the incredible braintrust of larger minds in the WEF community. But at the same time, I’m an artist first and minor thinker and commentator second. Artists are inherent outsiders. My value to a group like the WEF is to hold on to that otherness, and not to try too hard to fit in.
(Idea: The “World Artists Forum”, an annual meeting of artists where we invite business leaders to play music, dance and paint with us.)
I always go when the meetings are local, like last night. No one has ever asked me to perform, but I’ve offered. Playing music is my most effective way to contribute. I’ve performed at enough brainy ideas gatherings to see how necessary a musical “break” is. We need time to allow our brains to digest what we’ve heard and give ourselves some space to come up with new ideas. A musical break is perfect for this (Andrew Zolli nails this every year in his curation of the Pop!Tech conference, well worth attending). There is nothing like the lightening bolt of art to make you think outside the box, and boy could the world use some out of the box thinking.
A polar explorer, who’s name I didn’t catch, made a comment I took to heart, “Leadership is a mindset. How can we get every person to think like a leader?”. Although people often look to me to be a leader, I’m not a natural one and I certainly don’t think like one. I’m a maverick maybe, but not a leader. So I challenge myself to lead my way out of this conundrum before my 5 year term as a YGL is up.
Now I’m home and struck again by the juxtapositions in my life. Last night in a 5 star hotel banquet room I dined on sushi with venture capitalists, executives and academics. Back home, my “town” isn’t officially a town but is an unincorporated cluster of 300 houses packed into a single square mile in the woods. The only business is a post office, in a delapidated trailer installed to be temporary in the 1970’s and that has been closed for 6 months because of a leaking toilet. My husband just loaded all our monthly garbage into the car to take it to the dump and tonight there is a town meeting about how on earth to rustle up the 20k needed to build the only playground for miles around. We are better off than most of the world but it certainly doesn’t feel like the bubble of privilege people kept referencing last night.
“For a life full of learning, be like a child. Be curious. Always let new things pique your interest. ” - Klaus Schwab
Shout out to Drue Kataoka, a visual artist and fellow YGL. She spoke about Silicon Valley’s strength coming from intersection of arts and technology, the unacknowledged role arts education has played in many careers and the need to add arts back into STEM (turn STEM into STEAM, she said). Yes. That. She was an inspiration to talk to and I felt more at home being there because she was there too. Thank you Drue.
By the way, last week I played cello with Thomas Dolby, Dan Hicks, Narada Walton and Don Was. It was a blast. Go see Mr Dolby’s live scored performance of his film The Invisible Lighthouse this next month if you can.
If you’ve been following me for a while you know my “studio” isn’t really a studio. It’s a spare bedroom in the house. This room is somewhat less than ideal at about 11ft by 10ft, with a 7ft ceiling and a beam at 6’6” that I keep whacking things on (like the scroll of my cello). Low frequency buildup anyone?
Our house is an upside-down house, perched on stilts on the slope of a hill, with the kitchen, bathroom and living room upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs. Built 100 years ago as a summer cabin, the house was uninsulated with all the rooms covered in thick redwood paneling: floors, ceiling and walls. Until last year, when we insulated the downstairs walls and finished them in sheetrock, my studio would be cold and damp. I had an electric panel heater on 24/7, not to make it warm but to keep the humidity below 100%. WIthout the heat, paper would curl and my cello bridge would warp.
It’s my own space and it’s in MY house, which I still find amazing, but it has been more than a little challenging to record music in. It got even harder when my son was born and now that his play area is over my head.
Meanwhile, I’ve been saving up to build a freestanding studio. I knew I’d get there, just like I saved to buy my lovely new cello in 2007. Every new commercial licensing project gets me several steps closer. The downstairs insulation job was paid for thanks to a Jeep ad, a pair of IBM spots paid for the new roof and my new studio will be constructed thanks to Chrysler SRT.
I don’t solicit these things, they seem to fall out of the sky, and I don’t know if ad agency music supervisors have any idea what a difference they make in my life. Thank you! Thank you for making the house warm and for making the construction of a recording studio a reality rather than a pipe dream.
I’ve found someone to build it and now I’m reading everything I can about acoustics and gathering input from people who know about these things. So if you know anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area who might have good advice on how best to construct a room to record cello in, will you send them my way? Thank you!!
I love hearing about how people listen to my music.
I really, really, really love to hear when someone listens while working on their own project…books, papers, screenplays, cartoons, paintings, games, science projects. So many things. Art making more art. It makes me feel like this is all worthwhile.
So Josiah Zaynor just made my day today. He says my music was the inspiration for how his Chromochord works. What’s a Chromochord? A musical instrument that plays the sound of plant proteins of course!
If proteins could talk, what would they say? Josiah Zayner still doesn’t know — but he does have a sense of what they’d want to sing. That’s because Zayner has developed a new musical instrument…
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the day I quit my software job. There was nothing wrong with my job; it was rewarding and I liked it, but “information architect” was not my calling. I didn’t want to sit at a computer all day. I wanted to make music.
I have a private gig in Cincinnati in late October. Rather than fly straight home, I would like to play a few concerts. So…where should I go? Since you’re the ones I want to play for, I’m going to ask you!
Here is a list of cities in the region that I’ve either never or rarely visited. Some of them are North-ish and some of them are South-ish. If you would really come to see me perform in any of these cities, vote and then we’ll crowdsource a week long October tour.
This is still a work-in-progress so thank you for doing this experiment with me. I hope to play near you sooner rather than later.
P.S. If you have a reasonable suggestion for a city not on this list, please enter it. By reasonable, I mean a place no more than 500 miles from Cincinnati ;-) We’ll do something like this again for the rest of North America.
P.P.S. If you haven’t already, you might want to make sure you’re on my mailing list so that you’ll know when I have a concert in your ‘hood.
I meant to just post the link but, as usual, there are always more things to say.
I think I was 8 when I first realized that girls are often treated differently than boys. We had just moved to England and at my new school I wasn’t allowed to play soccer, I had to wear a skirt and on Friday afternoons had to learn embroidery with the other girls. Minor stuff in comparison to what girls in the developing world have to endure but it was a bitter pill for a tomboy and I raged against it.
I’ve experienced my share of harassment: flashed by disgusting old men and groped on crowded buses. I always found the most effective way to protect myself was to laugh loudly at them and walk away. Now I’m older and no longer as interesting to lecherous old geezers but I find I still have to come up with creative solutions to overcome the entrenched attitudes and biases of sexism in my professional life.
In college we had classes on self-defence and how to carry ourselves in the streets of New York, but nothing prepared me for the daily negotiation of being a woman in a man’s world. Do you protest and illuminate every slight? Do you let things go? What’s the best way to both change the status quo and enable your own personal success?
Another anecdote: I spent my 18th summer, between freshman and sophomore year, working at the car parts factory in my hometown. On my first day the hiring manager was extremely surprised to discover I was female. I’d come recommended by a friend who worked there but the manager had misread my name on the application as “Joe”.
I got the distinct impression the first week that they were trying to make me quit but I was damned if I was going to show any weakness. They put me in charge of 2 massive lathe machines. I had to hoist a heavy, rough-cut Ford Mustang steel wheel spindle into the lathe, lock it in place, heave the door shut and press the start button. There was no time to rest because in the minute it took for the lathe to grind down the spindle, I had to get another one into the identical machine on the other side of me. I did this for 8 hours a day, from 3pm until 11pm. As a non-union worker I couldn’t refuse overtime and often would have to work until 1 or 2 am if there was an extra pallet of spindles to work through, which there usually was.
There were 7 women in the entire factory of several hundred and as far as I could tell, I was the only one with a physically demanding job. The rest stood at a conveyor, wearing lead aprons and looking for cracks in the steel parts on xray machines, which in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t have to do. Men would come by my work station and stand there staring at and making comments about my derriere as I bent over to pick up spindles off the pallet. After a few days on the job the foreman came over and presented me with a baggy worksuit to put on because they claimed my jeans were too distracting to the other workers. In the break room I learned there was a betting pool on how long I would last.
I didn’t mind the job though. I preferred it to waitressing, the pay was good and I somewhat enjoyed the mindless physical repetition, knowing that it would be only three months before I could return to my collegiate paradise outside NYC. I took great pride in finishing my work, in pretending not to notice when the men whistled and in being the nicest, coolest college student anyone had ever met. Eventually people started treating me normally, or at least normal for a factory environment….they treated me like one of the guys.
Going forward, this became my modus operandi for being female in the tech and music industries: to be one of the guys. To do this and be considered equal, I have to work twice as hard, I have to be thorough, I have to carefully craft my position on issues to be unassailable, I have to be cool enough to drink beer with. In short, I have to be perfect.
I had a conversation once with a major label radio marketing guy once that really stuck with me. He was frustrated that he couldn’t get a particular female artist on the radio because, he said, there was already another female artist with a new album out. He claimed radio stations didn’t want to have more than 2 female singers in a 20 minute period because young men might change the channel. He then went on to say that this artist needed to get a radio hit before her 30th birthday, or it would be nigh impossible to break her. Was he making that up? Is all that…crap…really true? I don’t know, but the fact that he even thought so was shocking to me.
I didn’t want to be any part of an industry that forces women to use sex to sell their music, pits them against each other and then throws them away after their 30th birthday. But even when you’re DIY these attitudes can seem unavoidable. Over the last few years, during the time I’ve been considered “successful” I’ve had a publicist, a booking agent and a management firm all, separately, decline to work with me because they claimed they already worked with a solo female cellist or violinist and couldn’t possibly have more than one.
Also I have to say, the recent insistence that musicians focus on making a living touring rather than selling music has, to me, a tiny whiff of sexism. I can’t speak to what touring is like for young men, but whether I leave the family at home or bring them with me, touring as a mother is very, very hard. I choose to focus on making and selling music, thank you very much. Choice.
I’ve used little strategies to get around the tiny biases. For example, I can get more favorable licensing terms by having a client negotiate via email with my pseudonymous male manager “Marc”. Or, on the occasion I’ve been made to sound like a viola onstage, I smile and subtly demonstrate that I understand acoustics by cheerfully mentioning to the soundman how quirky the cello is, that its lowest note is 65hz and that the notch for my resonant frequency should be very narrow because rolling off everything below 160hz will make a cello sound like a viola. Or, prevented by drinking laws from bringing my still-nursing 6 month old into my dressing room (where I needed to nurse him to sleep before going onstage), I just snuck him into the venue under my coat.
But in the end, I don’t tend to dwell on sexism in the music industry. Yes, it exists. It sucks. But things don’t change overnight and I think we’re getting there. Attitudes about what women can and can’t do improve because women are here, doing their thing alongside the men. Lately my husband has experienced the flip-side of sexism as a stay-at-home-dad and has nutty stories to match mine. I’ll wager that as more men experience this, things will change even faster ;-) So yeah, occasionally I will rage and fume against a perceived injustice but in the end I just smile, carry on and find another way around. We’ll get there.
Every piece of music starts with some strong feeling that I get swept up in (I’m sure it’s the same for most artists). To put this feeling into music I have to lock myself in the studio, immerse myself in that feeling and go explore the bleeding edges of it. It’s messy: I cry, laugh, dance, go a little crazy. When I appear every now and then to go to the bathroom or make tea (I tend not to eat when I’m in this state) I probably look a little wild eyed and disturbed. This state is precious and fleeting, so I try to avoid email or talking to anyone so as not to break my bubble and lose it.
Before our son was born it was relatively easy. I could turn off email without my world falling apart too much and my husband would leave me alone, knowing that I’d be fun again in a couple days. But nowadays emails increasingly demand to be answered and how can I ignore my son when he sees me, yells “Mama!” and runs into my arms?! So I have to do my best to efficiently work through whatever I’m experiencing in order to be normal again in time for the family dinner.
Anyway, on Wednesday I had the feeling and I acted on it. This one is vaguely about standing on the top of a mountain and being irresistibly drawn towards the edge. What if I leap? Will I fly? Will I fall? Will someone catch me?
It’s not done, but I want to share it anyway. I don’t normally like to play music for people before it’s finished because to me those tiny endless details that take weeks to polish are what take a piece of music from ordinary to special. That said, there is always something compelling about my rough first pass, when I’m just feeling it and not worrying about technique or sound mix or how it will be perceived. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love performing so much, because I get to feel each piece of music anew every night. So before I flesh this one out, polish it, turn it into something album-worthy and give it a proper title, here is the last 48 hrs in musical form.
Back then, I didn’t have a solo project yet. I was playing in a cello-rock band called Rasputina and working as an information architect at the Research Libraries Group. I had an iPod though. I listened to it on tour, lying in the back seat of the van as we hurtled across America.
iTunes opened it’s doors to unaffiliated artists in 2004 and as soon as I had a recording of my own layered cello thing ready in 2005, I put it up there through CDBaby. It was not an auspicious beginning. My music didn’t actually appear in the iTunes store until several months later in early 2006. Multiple emails went nowhere, but a trip to the CDBaby headquarters in Portland eventually revealed that my iTunes submission was getting rejected every day: spit out of a daily upload process because of an illegal character…..the dotted “e” in my first name.
It’s hard to remember what an amazing thing iTunes was at the time. My music…. recorded in my house, on my laptop with a single microphone….could appear in the same store alongside albums from major label artists.
Later that year I got some press coverage, sales spiked, iTunes made me a banner and my album went to #1 on Classical (a few times). That year, my husband and I bought a house. I’ve been paying my mortgage with that monthly iTunes check ever since.
iTunes has been more than just money though, it’s helped expand my horizons. In 2008 I was invited to perform my music with the Ballet de la Generalitat in Valencia, Spain. How did they find me? The choreographer had searched for “cello” in iTunes, fell in love with my music and created a ballet called “Llebeig”. I’ve met so many interesting people this way.
I’ve been incredibly lucky and honestly never expected this to last so long. I still believe it will all end tomorrow and now a lot of people think the same. That monthly check from iTunes will eventually dry up, either because everyone has moved to streaming or because my run is over ;-) But it’s ok, I’ll roll with it. The people who love music will always be out there, I’ll just have to reach them differently. And when my run really is over, I’ll get a real job.
Happy Birthday iTunes and thank YOU listeners for buying all those downloads.
I know, you’re thinking….why is Zoë posting a recording of the Star Spangled Banner???
Let me explain. It’s a long story. Sorry.
Two years ago I got a call from Chris Wiltsee of Bandpage. He was on the board of the SF Chapter of the Recording Academy (you know, the GRAMMY folks) and said, “Hey, there’s an opening on the board in the next election. You should apply!”. I never paid much attention to the GRAMMYs honestly except for the years that Imogen Heap was nominated (I was on tour with her in Europe when she got the news in 2007, and onstage with her again when she got the news for 2010), but my post-production friend Count was already on the board. So was Minna Choi from the Magik Magik Orchestra and some other music folks I vaguely knew. I live far from the city in the forest and often my only interaction with other artists is through the interwebs. I said yes.
Since then, separately from the Academy, I’ve unwittingly become involved in larger ongoing discussions on topics like statutory royalties, streaming payouts, DIY careers, etc. I don’t think my position on issues, when I have one (usually I’m just figuring things out for myself), lines up with that of any organization, as far as I can tell. It’s hard to say what I am: an advocate for the little guy? a gadfly? a naif? It is certainly true that it is easy for me to be a ‘renegade’ when I’m not dependent on anyone (other than my fans) and very few people are dependent on me. But I like it that way.
Anyway, I am curious about how sausages are made, and of course I have opinions, so when the opportunity came up to go to Congress for the Academy’s annual Grammys on the Hill event, I signed up. Yeah, I want to meet my elected representatives! I planned to blend in with the rest of the SF Chapter and get a glimpse of what lobbying looks like. I don’t blend in very well apparently, because shortly after I signed up to go, Daryl Friedman, the Academy’s advocacy chief in DC, asked me if I would play the national anthem at the awards ceremony the day before.
I think I’ve talked about this before, but fancy galas and I are not a good fit. Put me in a meeting room or a beanbag lounge where we can talk big ideas, but to stand awkwardly in a party with a cocktail in my hand making polite smalltalk? Let’s just say that I’ve been known to hide in the bathroom. Luckily, I have this thing I do with the cello and I totally use it as a crutch. Playing the cello at an event is like getting magic fairy dust sprinkled on my head. Suddenly, I have confidence! I can go and talk to anyone! I said yes.
But now I had to learn the national anthem. I have a difficult relationship with patriotic songs. Maybe it started when my family moved to America when I was 10 and I didn’t want to go, but in high school I stubbornly refused to sing the anthem and opted out of the Pledge of Allegiance. So first, I tried playing it straight, in a variety of key signatures. This was unsatisfying. The music just didn’t mean anything to me and I couldn’t muster up the necessary amount of cheese and bombast to pull it off. It’s that kind of piece: major key, essentially a hymn. Maybe I wasn’t patriotic enough to play this thing? Then there are the words. Boy, did I pore over those words. How to match the music with the meaning of the words? Eventually I tired of playing the melody (everyone in the house was tired of it too) and I started improvising. But when I focused on rendering those words into notes, I ended up with horror movie music. I decided to give it a rest for a week and work on my own damn music, which arguably is what I should be doing anyway.
Over the weekend I thought maybe I should educate myself in how other people had rendered this vexing song. I fired up Youtube and watched Jimmy Hendrix, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, Nirvana (theirs was my favorite actually…a staggering Kurt Cobain plays the anthem while the rest of the band trashes all their gear). Watching the endless variations I came to the realization that the most patriotic way to play the Star Spangled Banner is to make up your own damn version. Only in America can you remake the national anthem to fit YOU. That was the permission I needed. I spent a day (the horrible day after the horrible Boston Marathon) working out a looped and layered version of the Star Spangled Banner.
The result is rough around the edges, has moments of hopeful exuberance, doubt and a little bit cheese in the middle. Just like me. Just like America.
We have our issues, but this is a great place to be.
(p.s. this is essentially a live recording and isn’t mastered or anything proper like that, so listen at your own risk.)
I am coming to Europe this summer to visit my old school in Italy (I spent my junior year abroad in Florence). While I’m all the way over there on that side of the pond I would like to play a concert or two.
Where should I play? I usually travel to a distant place because a venue or organization has invited me, often for a private event, and the fee is enough to cover my travel. This is wonderful and I love it…but I rarely manage to arrange other concerts in the area. Sometimes I feel like a ping pong ball, ricocheting around the world with no plan. Plus, there are a lot of places where I know I have listeners, that get left out.
Digging through my accumulated data (Nielsen Soundscan, zip codes from iTunes and Bandcamp, my mailing list, Facebook insights, Google analytics, etc) I’ve discovered that my listeners are spread all over the globe….but I’m not in direct contact with the vast majority of you. And because I operate outside the standard music industry, even when my research tells me there are many of you in a particular city, it’s not always easy to for me to convince concert promoters I will have an audience.
Songkick is trying to help artists solve these problems with their new service, Detour. You might have heard of Detour. They got some press recently when Andrew Bird and his fans used it to bring him to play in Latin America.
Songkick and I have discovered that I have more than a few listeners in London so we’ve decided to try a little experiment and use Detour to crowdfund a concert in London.
Here is how it works…..you pledge to buy a ticket to my hypothetical London show (and you set the price). Once enough people have signed up, Detour works with concert promoters to make the concert happen.
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, join me at SF Music Tech on Feb 19 to discuss the path towards creating a public database for music credits, rights, and licensing.
The panel is with David King, formerly Head of Content ID and Licensing at YouTube, Rob Kaye from MusicBrainz, Kevin Lewandowski from Discogs and moderated by Brian Behlendorf, the primary developer of Apache and a champion of open-source software.
You don’t have to be there in person. The entire conference will be live streamed and I believe you can ask questions and contribute to the discussion. Tune in at SFMusictech.com.
Our panel “Towards a Credits, Rights and Terms of Licensing Database” is at 3:30pm PST and there cool things happening all day, like “How We Will
Experience Music in the Future?” and “DIY Musical Devices
Using Arduino and Other Prototyping Platforms”.
I wasn’t paying attention to the internets over the weekend. While I was doing laundry and enjoying a low-key birthday, one of my favorite bands quietly released a new album. My Bloody Valentine put out their first recording in 22 bloody years….which of course makes me feel bloody old both because so much time has gone by and because I wasn’t the first to know ;-)
I love that they put it out without fanfare, just like Godspeed You! Black Emperor did in October and David Bowie did in January. When it’s ready, send an email. That’s what I’ve always done, against the advice of nearly everyone I know in the music industry. It feels real, natural, and uncontrived. If people like what you’ve made, they will tell others.
I suppose cynics will say that this is now an accepted marketing strategy and we’ll see more albums released this way. But I think you’ll always be able to tell when an artist has something real that they want to share with you.
I’ll repost part of his article here, but you should follow the link to read the whole thing:
The future of the arts has been here for a while, but I suspect it required the return of an old hand at the occult mechanics of marketing like David Bowie to drive it home for a lot of people. Imagine if he’d presented the piece like a record of old, or like the way movies are marketed now. The long build-up, the teasers, the chatter. Some people miss that slow process of creating anticipation, and, yes, that was a thrill that is largely gone today. But also lost, with the end of that method, is a really poisonous strain of disappointment, a thing that gave a lethal bite to artists on, for example, their third album or their second book. What we have now, with all its inherent difficulties and issues, is, I would argue, a far more life-enhancing, generous, and magical thing.
What Bowie did—what artists all over the world do now—is create a gift. Turning on the net first thing in the morning can be a real grind. Everyone knows that feeling: time to open the door to the Shit Room to find out what went wrong while you were asleep.
People forget—or perhaps didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago—that the internet is also the greatest delivery system for new art ever created. And now we live in an age where we switch on and find we’ve been given a new favorite song for the day.
Talk about the music you love. Support and embrace the musicians you know or follow, big or (especially) small. Because in these early years of global network culture, they make the world a lovelier place to live in than it has ever in history been.
Many people wrote to me after the NYTimes article with advice. Most of you had some great ideas and I do thank you for taking the time to think about me and write. Several people advised me to consider touring as a revenue stream since "that is where artists make most of their money".
I do keep hearing that statement and reading it in the press. Is it really true?
“So, do musicians make all of their money from touring? According to our qualitative and quantitative data, income from live performance/touring is a significant revenue stream for musicians who perform, accounting for 28% of the aggregate gross income of survey respondents. But, it is rarely their only source of music-related income. Indeed, less than 13% of respondents rely exclusively on income from live performance and/or salaried work.”
As for me, I have to finish my taxes before my next tour so today I tallied all my revenue for 2012. In the interest of providing data on how “under the radar” artists make a living, I posted it below. You’ll notice that touring was 26.38% last year. Pretty close to the Future of Music Coalition survey average. While that is significant, I haven’t finished tallying the hefty expenses yet. Live performance is usually my revenue stream with the highest expense ratio: flights, hotel rooms, commissions, crew, advertising, etc…
45.55% Music sales
26.38% Live Performance
23.90% Sync/Master Licensing
0.89% Soundexchange (i.e. Pandora)
0.21% Google Adsense
Anyway, I know I put myself into this position by highlighting my own numbers but I feel like I’m harping on about the economics of music too much….especially given how little I am motivated by money and how swimingly everything has been going the last few years. Of course I care about making a living, but just so I can live and make MORE MUSIC. Please tell me if I sound like I’m whining (Again, I appreciate them and I have a thick skin, but those were the advice emails that stung), because I certainly don’t mean to. I’m trying to present an alternate path for artists …the kind you make for yourself through the forest with a machete.
I’m really, really looking forward to being on Jonathan Coulton’s cruise next week and I’d like to leave you with this hilarious animated video made by one of his fans. It’s quick but keep an eye out for my cello spaceship ;-)
From: Zoe Keating
Subject: Re: New York Times On Streaming
I’m totally asking for it by replying, but how can I resist? Plus my toddler is throwing up every hour, so there is no sleep tonight.
As the artist featured in this NYTimes article, I feel horribly misrepresented and I have to straighten out a few things.
I got into the commenting-on-Spotify business last year when it seemed that no one was questioning all their marvelous marketing materials. I felt like it was my civic duty to point out that:
1) the streaming payouts are stacked against unlabeled artists (ie. majors have a stake and get a share of the ad revenue)
2) Psy-style uber-popularity is not the only model out there. The millions and millions of streams needed to makeup for sales are not ever going to be a reality for non-mainstream music, but that does not mean anyone should throw in the towel.
I decided to go the unlabeled route when my brand of cello music didn’t spark much excitement in the people I appealed to (unless I added vocals to it, said one exec). The first year or so without my tech-job-cushion was rocky, but I’ve found the economics of no-middlemen to be good. I’m not mega direct-to-fan like my friend Amanda Palmer but I’m not struggling by any definition. It takes a lot of work but I can support my family on music, take them with me on tour and don’t worry much about money. I don’t feel a need to be any larger. Actually, I don’t see how I can be much larger…. when I’m not sleeping or being with my son, every second is spent on making and performing music or doing music biz. But I’m truthfully, extremely happy and thankful, exactly where I am right now. (The MUSIC I’m never satisfied with that though….always iterating, tweaking, expanding, iterating, iterating, iterating).
I don’t want to be an anomaly. I want others to get into this place too. If you’re fringe, do it yourself! I started posting my earnings online not to whine but because I realized that few people, even artists themselves, seem to have any facts about how the money actually works.
Without the internet my unlabeled career would not be possible and I’m very bullish on the future. I’m not against streaming by any means. I’ve put my music wherever someone might hear it….including onto filesharing sites (gasp). That said, companies do not have our (artists) best interests built into their business plans. Perhaps not maliciously…. they just might not know what our interests are. I feel it my responsibility to educate these companies as to what we need…in order to make the music industry work for everyone, high, mid and low.
If we don’t like the world we live in, it’s up to us to either change it… or change our perception of it. Beyond contributing music, I feel like can’t do much about pointless wars, or climate change, or mass shootings, or all the other huge issues in the news every day, but I feel like I might be able to do something about this tiny little streaming thing. I’ve been engaging with these issues with the goal of encouraging digital music services to incorporate the needs of artists, not just record labels. What are those needs? Linking of avid listeners with artists for concert tickets, merch, music purchases, etc; crowdsourcing tours; providing listener stats and location data, maybe even emails; your idea here, etc, etc. Lift all the little boats. If this quixotic strategy doesn’t work, then I guess I’ll have to change my perception instead.
I was disappointed in the NYTimes article….like I’m often disappointed in the press. A 30 minute interview full of nuance squashed down to one sentence taken out of context and used to prove some other point. I know, I know, I’m naive. I’ll keep trying.
Another incredible year has gone by! Thank you for buying my albums, coming to my concerts, putting my music in your projects, reading my blog, writing me emails and letters, sending me gifts, and being encouraging and generally just the very best audience I could have ever asked for.
Here are photos of some of the places we visited in 2012…America, England, Scotland, Holland, Germany, Ecuador, Australia.
(Click on the image below and a Flickr set will launch)
During the SF MusicTech conference in October I found a quiet corner in which to talk with Mat Earp from Create DIgital Music.
She shocked the music business by revealing she wasn’t making money on Spotify – then shocked them again by revealing she was making money on our own. Now, CDM’s Matt Earp talks to cellist Zoe Keating about surviving as a creative musician, and keeping the music coming. Hint: “exposure” is not necessarily the key to survival. -Ed.
In between tours and mothering, I’ve been working on a new album. Sorry I don’t have anything to play for you yet but that’s just the nature of how I work. I tend to compose, record and refine all the songs/pieces/doodads on an album simultaneously. For a depressingly long period it’s a mess while all those hundreds of cello snippets gradually coalesce into a larger whole. Then at some point, the shape of things starts to emerge and I continue hacking and polishing until the album is revealed. But not until the end is any of it ready to be heard, and I’m not at the end yet.
I do have something else to share with you though, a 2-song collaboration I recorded with my friend Jane Woodman.
Jane and I first met in 1996 when I answered a listing in the San Francisco Bay Guardian for “moody, darkwave band seeking strings”.
A few months before, my dreams of a music career (I wanted to be an orchestral cellist) had been crushed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. After a couple post-college years playing cello at weddings and struggling to make ends meet in foodservice jobs, I had decided it was time to go to grad school. I put in an application to the conservatory, spent several months practicing and hauled my cello on the bus over to the audition. But when I sat down to play, my old nemesis, Mr Performance Anxiety, appeared. I seized up, like the proverbial deer frozen in the headlights. I could barely play any notes and the few I squeaked out sounded like the inexperienced scratchings of a beginner.
I know this happened, but I hardly remember it. All I remember is waiting for the bus afterwards, in the freezing cold San Francisco fog, and at that moment vowing never to play classical music again.
So that was that. I got an entry-level job at a software startup and thought maybe I could handle playing in a rock band. I started looking for other musicians who shared my love of the Cocteau Twins and English shoegaze. That’s how I found myself playing the cello through an amplifier in the living room of an Italian ballet dancer-turned-bassist named Gianfranco Pescetti and his friend, guitarist Jane Woodman, who was already well known as the founder of a hard-hitting, two-guitar, all-girl rock band called “Van Gogh’s Daughter”.
We hit it off. I roped in my college friend Tony Cross to play violin and Jane brought in Kat Zumbach to play drums. After calling ourselves a variety of (possibly) pretentious names, we landed on “Alfred”…for very important reasons that I can’t remember.
We quickly zeroed in on our sound, which consisted of long and intricate arrangements of dark, distorted guitars, dramatic strings, and harmonized vocals between Jane and I. We were invited to perform our very first show in 1997 at a warehouse/art space at 964 Natoma. Things seemed to be going well but with four songwriters in the band, the inevitable happened and just as we were gaining momentum, we broke up.
"Alfred" didn’t last, but my relationship with 964 Natoma did. I fell in love with the guy who invited us to play in his warehome (which apparently was his plan all along), moved in with him, married him, built a studio there, developed my sound and recorded my first album. We’re still together, and now we have Alex, a.k.a. #cellotoddler.
Anyway, fast forward into this millenium. Jane and I have meant to collaborate again for ages, but you know how life gets in the way. Over the summer she asked if I’d like to play on a cover of Sister Europe. We did that and in addition, decided to complete an unfinished song from our Alfred days called “Tango”.
It was fun to take a break from my solo project and do something different…to sing, and to make little bleepy electronic beats on my headphones while #cellotoddler took his nap. Here it is, on Bandcamp or iTunes, or just listen below:
I probably deserve any flaming for putting forward a vague nascent idea but I do want to respond to the Slashdot commentators, because I think they misunderstood me (not that they will read my blog). It could be interpreted that I’m demanding everyone’s email addresses… but I’m not. I have as many privacy concerns as the next person.
Of course I would *like* your email address. I can tell you I would be ethical about it (those of you on my mailing list know that I only write about once every 2 or 3 months) but you’d have to take my word for it and I know others might not be so scrupulous.
I would love it for services to allow listeners to opt in and pass on their email address to me (Bandcamp does this nicely I think), but I’m not even asking for that. In the case of a service like Pandora, when someone has taken the time to create a station around my music or given my songs a “thumbs up”… I’d rather know where in the world those particular listeners are than be paid the $0.0011 per play that is currently required by law. That was my point.
To ask for listener stats in lieu of statutory royalties doesn’t seem that extreme but I understand that in some circles it is considered too much for artists to ask for anything other than they be listened to….and even that might be too much. However, I do believe my music is worth something, if only because I’ve been supporting my family with music sales for 6 years. I never take that for granted and I’m lucky and profoundly grateful that convincing listeners to buy my music has not been hard. What has been hard is finding out where those purchasers are.
The majority of my music sales are on iTunes. Until August 2010, when I managed to get a direct label account with them, the only info I received from my distributor was what songs were purchased and in what country. Now that I have a label account, for every iTunes purchase since August 2010 I’ve been able to correlate each transaction with a customer ID# and a postal code (I’ve since heard that CDBaby now offers some version of this). It’s not a total picture of my audience, since I know not everyone purchases music, but it does help me plan tours more efficiently (i.e. so the tours don’t lose money).
Again, my blog was in reference to compulsory licensing, where in exchange for playing my music without a direct agreement with me, certain types of services pay me per-play at a rate determined by law. I’m saying that listener data is more valuable to me than those tiny royalties. What kinds of data? A bunch, but let’s start with the same kind of listener data I get from iTunes: randomized customer IDs attached to postal codes for avid listeners (i.e. ones who choose to listen more than a certain number of times). I’d also like this for on-demand services like Spotify, which is not internet radio, but the financial result for my purposes is roughly the same.
Here’s what I’m concerned about: as we move into a world where music consumers will supposedly not own any music and will stream it rather than purchase it, musicians will supposedly be making a living by touring. How can we help them figure out where to perform? Google analytics can only help you when a listener comes to find you on your website, and every service does everything it can to make sure listeners never leave their playground.
(Dear developers, it seems like there is a big wide-open opportunity at the intersection of streaming and crowdsourced touring?)
Royalties from all these music services (internet radio and on-demand streaming) are never going to amount to much for a non-mainstream artist like me. So rather than get hung up on the payments, lets figure out what would make them work for all of us in the music ecosystem. I was encouraged at the Billboard FutureSound conference last week that in this discussion there might be some agreement between artists, labels, music services and listeners. That was a nice change of pace.
Ever since SFMusicTech on Oct 9, I’ve been meaning to blog about the whole internet radio fairness act thingummybob. Almost every day someone has asked me: “What do you think about the proposed Internet Royalty Fairness Act?” and I haven’t had a proper answer. I’ve thought all kinds of things about it in the dead of the night, but those thoughts are often conflicting.
I had a vague understanding of the current system as it pertains to me, but didn’t feel that I had enough authority to write on the subject. So, I decided to do what I usually do: read up. I would absorb the fascinating history of internet performance royalties: what laws were made, when, what was the historical context, who was involved and who had the power. Then, I’d learn how the current laws are applied and what are the proposed changes.
This took a long time.
In between being a mom, being on tour, filing my 2011 taxes, recording a new song and scoring a TV commercial….I’ve been reading everything I can find and talking to people who know about it. The subject of internet performance royalties is not only mind-numbing and very hard to focus on, especially when you have a toddler attached to your leg, but it is also joyless. It’s not rocket science, but I think rocket science would be more fun.
After reading all this exciting literature, I had hoped my own opinion about IRFA would become crystal clear. It did not. Reading snippets of the histrionic-filled debates that led to the penning of the current laws (the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, the Webcaster Settlement act of 2008 and 2009) just left me with a vaguely nauseous feeling (oh, so THAT’S how the sausage is made…eewww). Reading contemporary commentary for and against the new proposed law made me feel more nauseous still.
Ok. Now what?
It helps me when framing these issues to look at my own situation. So to that end, I gathered up all the info I could find on my own internet radio royalties from the last year and dumped them into another Google spreadsheet. Thanks again Google for making such excellent tools. They make me feel like I have some modicum of control over the world.
Every quarter I get two statements from ASCAP, one for me as composer, one for me as publisher. Last year a new category showed up: “Internet”. There is never any more information about it, just the word “Internet” and a dollar figure.
(UPDATE: 21 Dec 2012 -I got a call from ASCAP to let me know that what I said about internet royalties isn’t correct and they do tell me where these royalties come from. Sure enough, there is an additional ASCAP statement, a spreadsheet version, that lists the source of the internet royalties. I’ve always followed the link that says “view statement” and then downloads a PDF, not realizing that the button that says “download” is a actually a link to an entirely different document with more granularity. Anyway, I still can’t find out actual numbers of plays, but all my internet royalties apparently come from www.netflix.com for downloads of films and tv shows that have my music in them…like Teen Wolf! Anyway, thanks for letting me know ASCAP and sorry about the mistake.)
Every quarter I get two, very nicely laid-out statements from SoundExchange, one for me as performer, one for me as the sound recording copyright owner. While these statements are slightly more illuminating than those from ASCAP, they still don’t tell me how many performances I’ve had, but they do list the name of each service and a dollar amount.
I had forgotten about LastFM and remembered that years ago I claimed my artist profile. After I managed to log in, I could see a quarterly accounting that includes the number of plays (not scrobbled plays though) and a dollar figure. I’ve never actually collected any money from LastFM and when I went through the process to collect it a few days ago I read that I’m not supposed to be eligible (because I’m a member of SoundExchange and ASCAP). They haven’t replied to my inquiry, so I’m not sure what happens next. Will they send the money I’ve accumulated to SoundExchange? I’ll let you know.
When I look at this spreadsheet two things jump out at me:
Over 90% of my internet radio royalties are from Pandora.
There is hardly any data. None of the laws require any entity to tell me how many performances I had, and so no one does. It’s nice to know how much money I made, but where did it come from? How can I grow my business on this information?
Ok Zoë, nice numbers. Whatever. Are you for IRFA or against IRFA?
Neither. If I were able to lobby on behalf all artists everywhere I would ask for this:
I want my data and in 2012 I see absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t own it. It seems like everyone has it, and exploits it…everyone but the creators providing the content that services are built on. I wish I could make this demand: stream my music, but in exchange give me my listener data. But the law doesn’t give me that power. The law only demands I be paid in money, which at this point in my career is not as valuable as information. I’d rather be paid in data.
For the first 6 months of 2012, I calculate I had more than 1.5 million listens on Pandora, for which I received $1652.74. That seems great on the surface and I’m grateful for the extra money, but I want to know: Do these listeners also own my music? How many of these listens are on Zoë Keating stations? What other user stations do I pop up in, and sandwiched between what other artists? How many listeners gave me a “thumbs up”? How do I reach them? Do they know I’m performing nearby next month? How can I tell them I have a new album coming out?
The new model says that in the future I’m not supposed to sell music: I’m supposed to sell concert tickets and tshirts. Ok fine, so put me in touch with the people who will buy concert tickets and tshirts (p.s. I’d like the same from on-demand services like Spotify too).
In short, I think I’m solving my obscurity problem, so now what?
2) Don’t replicate the past
Please do not model internet royalties after the broken terrestrial performance rights system (i.e. the PROS: ASCAP, BMI, etc). Those of you who deal with this know what I’m talking about: random sampling and surveys to determine what songs have been played when, opaque organizations without accountability. Let’s take advantage of this wonderful digitized world and do 100% census reporting, all the time…..and figure out how we can make it easy for services to do this.
Slightly related to this, why do I pay 5% of my performer royalties to the AFM? And what do they do with it? I’m not a member of the AFM and there are no non-featured performers on my solo-recordings.
3) What are we measuring?
I hope the parties at the table are thinking more broadly about what unit we are measuring and what is the appropriate compensation, financial or otherwise, for the exploitation of that unit.
Are we measuring:
Performances - a single performance of a musical work?
Listens - a single listen by a pair of ears?
Dollars - a percentage of each dollar of revenue earned, essentially a music tax?
I’d argue we should be measuring Listens…and that we should make royalties equitable and fair for every kind of service: internet radio, satellite, commercial terrestrial radio. On the internet we can determine how many people are listening. I admit I don’t understand how satellite radio works, but given that I can see the song titles go by on SiriusXM and that box in my car sure knows when I haven’t renewed by subscription, I would think they know I’m listening or not. As for commercial terrestrial radio….make them pay using the same listener stats that they give to their advertisers.
In essence, let there be One Royalty Rate To Rule Them All and get rid of the percentage-of-revenue system (unless a broadcaster is non-profit, or maybe even during a well-defined start-up period). And now, for my next trick, I will make all sides really mad at me! I think this means internet royalty rates will need to come down (although not as much as proposed), and satellite and terrestrial will come up. I’m bracing myself for the public flogging…
Reading Senator Wyden’s comments at the Future of Music Summit yesterday I was struck by this:
"It is the job of policymakers to ensure that the law and public policy doesn’t favor one business model over another, and particularly, that it doesn’t favor incumbents over insurgents,"
I actually think that I am the insurgent here but the law doesn’t even acknowledge that I exist.
Talking with other artists like myself, I’ve begun to think that we need a lobby, a coalition, an advocacy organization…..something. A group that represents the interests of new-model artists.
What are new-model artists? It’s a clunky term for 21st century recording artists who are for the most part self-published, self-represented and own 100% of their music. We rely on the internet and on technology and digital music companies to distribute our music, to find and communicate with our audiences, to sell stuff and, increasingly, to book tours.
There are associations for record labels, for media companies, for streaming and internet radio companies. There are societies that administer different categories of royalties (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Soundexchange, AFM-AFTRA royalty fund). There is the musician’s union and the Future of Music Coalition. There is NARAS, who runs the Grammys. But, as far as I know, there is no group representing the interests of new model artists specifically.
We can’t just hope that the interests of music and technology companies will always magically align with ours. We have to participate in the process. Otherwise, we just have to accept that anachronistic legislation, policies and deals will continue to be written without our input. We need public policy that reflects us. We need fair royalty schemes. We need companies to build our interests into their business models.
Just like artists can’t pin their hopes on being “discovered”, no one can help us but ourselves. I’m an optimist and I’ve always believed that we can make the world we want to live in….but there’s the rub, we have to make it.
Is this a manifesto?
I really, really want to hear your ideas and your feedback, so….questions for you.
#1 What do you think? Is a group needed? Does one already exist? Is this crazy?
#2 What issues do you think need our attention and input?
#3 Write to me at email@example.com if you want to be involved, or want to join such a group
Tomorrow is the SF Music Tech conference AND I just finished my 2011 taxes (hooray for extensions!). Since a lot of people will probably be talking about music and money….here is the incredibly exciting breakdown of my income streams for 2011:
wow took me an hour to hook up so i could ask a question :-)must be i am old and inflexible LOLOL didn't really want to ask anything just wanted to thank you for your work. i found you yesterday and am very impressed. 6 years of violin lessons (twice for 3 yrs each) over my 57 years gives me a good insight into how wonderful your music and sound is. i believe i will drag the old fiddle out and try again because of you! mike
well thanks for making the effort and the feedback ;-) and thank you for listening of course. celloly yours, z
Today the Internet Archive launched their TV news search. You can search the closed captioned text of TV news for the last 3 years. From Fox News, to every minute of CNN, to “60 Minutes” and “The Daily Show”, to all the eyewitness news on local television stations. As Brewster Kahle was quoted in the New York Times, “Let a thousand Jon Stewarts bloom”. This is, literally, huge.