to shape it.
10 years ago yesterday, Steve Jobs launched the iTunes store with 200,000 songs at 99 cents each.
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 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.
Shall we try it?
If you’d come to my London show, go to this URL
Click where is says "I have an invitation"
and enter this invitation code: 75TQMRY8
(You’ll need to sign up with Songkick Detour if you haven’t already. You can use your Facebook login or sign up for a new Detour account.)
How to tour intelligently is a problem I’ve been trying to solve for a long time. Maybe technology can help?
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 ;-)
You can download it directly from them in 24bit 96K WAV files.
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.
Warren Ellis wrote about it on Vice, My Bloody Valentine, Bowie, and the URL of Things to Come
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?
The Future of Music coalition has been surveying artists revenue streams and came out with an article challenging the idea that artists make most of their income from touring.
“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
- 2.69% ASCAP
- 0.89% Soundexchange (i.e. Pandora)
- 0.38% Spotify
- 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 ;-)
My son is still very sick and I haven’t slept much, or I would write about this a bit more…but here is an email I wrote to Bob Lefsetz in reply to his post about a NYTimes story I was quoted in the other day.
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.
Thanks much, Zoe
There’s a picture of my cello cave in the NYTimes today. Now all the secrets of my elaborate recording process are revealed….two mics in a spare bedroom.
(photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
That’s not what the article is about of course, it’s about streaming and money again. Since many people are visiting my blog from that article, here are the google docs it refers to:
More later, but I’ve got to get back to work in the cello cave.
I have concerts all over the world in the next few months…Washington state, a cruise ship in the Bahamas, Australia and the Midwest.
Buy tickets here or just click on the links below (p.s. if you buy tickets early, there is more likelihood I can schedule more dates, hint hint….)
I will have more concerts this year, and I also have a new album in the works, but I have no idea when it will be ready ;-)
THANK YOU for listening,
Double cello trouble with the Portland Cello Project
Fri, Jan 25 Rialto Theater Tacoma, WA
Sat, Jan 26 Edmonds Center for the Arts Edmonds, WA
Cellos on a Boat!!
Feb 10 - 17 Bahamas JoCo Cruise Crazy
Thurs, Feb 28 The Bakery Perth, WA
Sat, Mar 2 Nannup Music Festival Nannup, WA
Sun, Mar 3 Nannup Music Festival Nannup, WA
Wed, Mar 6 Spiegeltent Melbourne, Vic
Thurs, Mar 7 The Palais Hepburn Springs, Vic
Sun, Mar 10 Womadelaide Adelaide, SA
Mon, Mar 11 Womadelaide Adelaide, SA
Wed, Mar 13 Lizottes Newcastle, NSW
Thurs, Mar 14 Lizottes Kincumber, NSW
Fri, Mar 15 Basement Sydney, NSW
Sat, Mar 16 Blue Mountains Folk Festival Katoomba, NSW
Sun, Mar 17 Blue Mountains Folk Festival Katoomba, NSW
Mon, Mar 18 Powerhouse Brisbane, Qld
Wed, Mar 20 Byron Bay Community Centre Byron Bay, Qld
Sat, May 04 Wisconsin Union Theater Madison, WI
Sun, May 05 Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL
Wed, May 08 Englert Theatre Iowa City, IA
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)
A belated Happy New Year to you and yours!
See you in 2013