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:
Since I blogged about the concept of artist data vs royalties last week the topic has been written about in a few places:
and then, I was Slashdotted:
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.
(P.S. I’m glad we’re talking about this!)
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.
Here it is: Zoë Keating’s Internet Royalties 2011/2012
What is in it?
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
#4 What should we be called?
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:
Ok, to bed.
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