This is what I’m doing right now, at all hours of the day and night.
Jeff Russo and Zoe Keating are composing the music for the upcoming A&E original series The Returned starring Mark Pellegrino, Tandi Wright, India Ennenga, Sophie Lowe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jeremy Sisto, Kevin Alejandro, Agnes Bruckner and Sandrine Holt. The show is based on the International Emmy Award-winning French series Les Revenants and focuses on a small town that is turned upside down when several local people, who have been long presumed dead suddenly reappear, bringing with them both positive and detrimental consequences. Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) has written the pilot episode and is writing and executive producing the series with Raelle Tucker (True Blood). Thom Beers, Craig Cegielski and Stefanie Berk are also executive producing the A+E Studios and FremantleMedia North America production. The Returned is set to premiere in 2015 on A&E.
Happy (um) 6 month cancerversary! It was the 15th of May that the horror was revealed in its entirety. Here’s a pic from less than 2 months before my husband’s diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. Still as unbelievable now as it was then.
I am trying to have my blog not be All Cancer, All The Time. Sorry, but here’s another one.
There is an article on NPR today about insurance and large employers putting limits on procedure costs. The story leaves out the experience of those in the individual insurance market so of course I had to write briefly about it.
In our case, the oncologist will order a test or procedure, we wait for Anthem Blue Cross to approve it, we go to the network facility or doctor (there might only be one in our county), yet months later a bill arrives for the amount that the insurance would not pay. I know now to monitor our Anthem account so I can get a heads up before the bills arrive.
This is one of the ways that even though we got Jeff a new “platinum” plan purchased through Covered California, the amount we ultimately have to pay is so much more than the $6k annual misleadingly-labeled “out of pocket maximum” (the other way is surprise bills from doctors at the network facilities who were, unbeknownst to us, out-of-network).
(I think here I am supposed to say something here about being grateful that he can buy coverage at all since according to Anthem, the total for his cancer care so far is over $600k, and they have paid it. So yes, I suppose I am, but that is such a f’d up amount of money and some of it is for things like $5 ibuprofen in the hospital)
That said, it is inconsistent. Sometimes Anthem just covers the whole thing and when they don’t I can call them relentlessly until I find an agent who will make the bill go away. When that doesn’t work I then haggle with the medical facility to get them to reduce the bill.
In the article:
"The health law sets limits on how much consumers have to pay out of pocket annually for in-network care before insurance picks up the whole tab …But if consumers choose providers whose prices are higher than a plan’s reference price, those amounts don’t count toward the out-of-pocket maximum, the administration guidance said."
Here’s a problem, patients don’t have any choice or any negotiating power. In our case, there might be only one in-network facility or specialist within 70 miles and they won’t let us know the cost in advance.
Given that in our system the patient is ultimately responsible for the costs, if an insurance company has to approve a procedure, really the approval letter should also say what their “maximum” payment will be to the facility. I would then present this letter to the medical facility and the medical facility should be required to tell me if they will charge me more than that. As it is now, I have no way of knowing what Anthem’s maximum will be until after the fact and I can’t get the facility to tell me what they will charge.
If you’re going through this, don’t give up. File every appeal. Call your insurance company every day until you find an agent who will work with you. Be polite, firm and unrelenting. Record your conversations so you can make sense of them later. When you can’t go any farther with the insurance company, call the medical facility and talk the bills down. It is stressful and I think interferes with the healing process so if you can, have someone who loves you take it on.
I’m glad these issues are making it into the press. For us, health care in America is better than it was before Obama, but it is not fixed yet.
UPDATE: So…. this billing practice is illegal according to a few posts on Facebook. If true you should ignore everything I said above, and do what Amy did. She writes: “Years ago I was admitted to the hospital & later received bills from the ambulance company & every Dr that saw me in the hospital for balance of the payments my insurance didn’t pay. Since all the parties had agreed contracted payment amounts w/the insurance company I returned every bill with the enclosed note:
Insurance payment of x dollars for y service was paid per your contracted agreement with the insurance company. Should you wish to dispute your contract with the insurance company, please contact your insurance representative
(This is what my insurance company told me to do)
Next bill I received from every one “zero dollars due”. They accepted the insurance payments.
Back in July, ODC Dance had a Summer Sampler performance featuring my music. The Magik Magik performed, the Pacific Boy Choir sang, the dancers danced and I played Optimist. They generously gave all the proceeds of the event towards my husband’s medical expenses…. $11,000 (!!!!!!)…..I was and still am totally amazed.
So….2ndLine is going to rebroadcast that show on the Interwebs at
You’ll be able to watch the show online. You can comment and ask questions during the broadcast. Brenda Way (the founder and director of ODC Dance) and I will be there online to answer.
It’s a neat concept and I’m excited to try it out. This might be a way for me to perform concerts from my studio during this period that I need to stay close to home and can’t tour. There is a suggested donation for the broadcast (it’s 1/2 the ticket price of the original show), but it is just a suggestion, you can enter whatever number you want.
All proceeds of this rebroadcast will go towards my husband’s uncovered medical expenses*
THANK YOU to 2ndLine, THANK YOU to Brenda Way, everyone who works at ODC Dance and the wonderful dancers, THANK YOU to the Pacific Boy Choir, THANK YOU to the Magik Magik, THANK YOU everyone who bought tickets for the concert and everyone who comes to this one!! **
* So….why do we have medical expenses if we have health insurance? Yup, we do have health insurance but the mechanics of how it works needs its own blog post (someday). You’d think that your insurance policy’s “maximum annual out of pocket” is the most one would have to pay in a year, but that isn’t actually the case. If the insurance company decides a procedure is not covered or if the facility charges more than the health insurance company allows, the uncovered balance gets billed to the patient and doesn’t go towards your “deductible” or “maximum out of pocket”. One of many examples we have: Jeff’s leg surgery. He had a complete fracture of his femur and needed pins to stop it from separating (which, if it had happened during chemo, would have been a major life-threatening event). Our local rural hospital was in-network but, unknown to us, the surgeon was not and so the surgery was NOT covered. Still fighting that one. It’s one of many. I never knew any of this stuff before. We’ve covered in the individual “marketplace”. Is the system so burdensome and bureaucracy-filled for those of you with insurance through your employer?
**I thought by now I’d be used to all this, but I’m not. While I’m incredibly thankful, I’m still abashed, embarrassed, and teary everytime someone helps us. Love you
It’s certainly been a rough summer but things are looking up.
Jeff is doing so much better than any doctor predicted. He has had 6 rounds of chemo and his tumors have either majorly shrunk (by 80% as of the last scan) or disappeared, even the ones in his brain, which isn’t supposed to happen on chemo. He started out with more than 25 brain tumors but when he went in for gamma knife surgery a few days ago, they could find only 3 that were big enough to zap. The director of neurological surgery at UCSF said that was not something he’d ever seen before.
Jeff has one more PET scan in a couple weeks at the end of this chemo cycle and then we move into another phase. Everything is always uncertain in life, I know, and this phase seems to be about living with longterm uncertainty. Advanced lung cancer isn’t a disease you treat for a few months and then walk away from unless you are very, very special. We believe that Jeff is in that special group, but just to make sure, there is radiation for various body parts, low-dose chemotherapy and various alternative treatments to keep the cancer at bay. Then if it were to progress, hopefully by that time a drug for his specific mutation (PIK3CA) will be out of trials.
On the one hand, the cancer was and is a terrible blow but on the other hand, I think we are lucky in a lot of ways… Jeff is doing so well and we have YOU, for example. We’ve been blown away by the outpouring of love and support and donations. Thanks to your financial support, I stopped worrying about things insurance wouldn’t pay for and I also stopped worrying about stepping way from my music career for the first time in a decade (those of you who’ve been with me for a while might remember that I only took 2 weeks off when Alex was born). I had a worry that if I walked away for several months, or more, I might not have a career when I got back. Other musicians know what I’m talking about, that feeling like you have to constantly hustle or you’ll have to start over. The stakes feel even higher this time.
So I do have to do a little bit of hustling right now…and I’m out of practice. There are some concerts coming up, scheduled before life turned upside down, and I don’t want to play to an empty house ;-)
Sept 30 - with Jad Abumrad at Benaroya Hall, Seattle WA
October 3 -Aladdin Theater, Portland OR
Jan 11, 12, 13 - Subculture, New York NY
That will be it for performances this year, both because I don’t want to be far from home and because I’m spending the next 3 months composing for a TV show called The Returned, which will air on A&E in January.
Our little guy is staying in upstate NY with his Granny so Jeff and I have had some rare alone time this last week (thank you Mum!!!). Jeff is very tired and needs to sleep a lot but we have made it out to the MOVIES and even went to a grownup party at NIGHTTIME. Those of you who are also parents of young children know exactly what I’m talking about. We also spent a couple of nights in a perfect, bay front cabin on stilts at Nick’s Cove on Tomales Bay. It’s only 30 minutes from us but it was like visiting a far away land (maybe because there are no giant trees blocking the view?)
We’re a week into Jeff’s 3rd round of chemo. It’s going well. The Thing has already shrunk, a lot. The current plan is to do 6 rounds followed by radiation and gamma knife on various bits of him. He has surgery soon to put a pin in his hip (he has a complete fracture of his femur). As you can imagine, he hates having to use a walker and a wheelchair and we’re hoping the surgery will give him back his mobility.
We are realizing that this is a long road. Speaking for myself I’m gradually adjusting from emergency mode to some kind of acceptance of our new life. Not always though. Occasionally I have to get in the car, drive down the hill and have a good scream.
We’ve been floored by the generosity of friends and neighbors who have helped so much: picking up Alex from preschool, having him for playdates and sleepovers, bringing us meals, etc, etc. Thank you.
And then (this is the part that is hard for me to write and where I keep getting stalled)….. and then there is you and your generosity. Our portion of the bills* have finally started to roll in from the hospital and the labs and the imaging center and the oncologist and the second opinions at UC Davis and UCSF….and ….YOUR DONATIONS ARE COVERING IT!!!!
(*What we will be totally responsible for is always shifting and hard to get a handle on. I seem to spend hours on the phone with medical billing departments and Anthem BlueCross, mostly correcting “coding” mistakes. I don’t understand how patients can deal with this unless they have a family member who can quit their jobs to stay on top of it.)
I can’t tell you what a weight off my mind it is not to have to worry about that on top of everything else. I don’t know what to say other than…..thank you. Really. Thank you. I can’t do it right now, but as soon as time stops being so compressed, I will be sending each and every one of you at least a thank you card. I can’t believe that you all care about what happens to us. Ok I believe it now but you’ve kind of blown my mind. Can’t. Write. How. I. Feel. In. Words. Ack.
Ok. Onwards. One day at time.
My friends at ODC Dance are throwing us a benefit concert on July 31. They will be dancing and the Magik Magik orchestra and the Pacific Boys Choir will be performing the music (if it’s not weird to play at your own benefit concert and if I can get down to SF that night and do so without dissolving into a puddle I will be there to play “Optimist”, but I can’t promise).
Yup, a lot of horrible stuff has happened the last three weeks but I am still having a concert at SF Jazz on June 20.
My husband is going to be there. Did you know I wrote my first layered cello-piece for him in 1999? It was a proto-version of Exurgency called “Because I Miss You”. His encouragement spurred me to keep developing it. June 20th is going to be my best goddamn concert ever…for him.
On May 13 an MRI found 20 tumors in my husbands brain. On May 15 he could barely breathe and was in a lot of pain. A CT scan that day revealed he had a softball-sized tumor in his lung, tumors in his other lung, his liver and possibly his bones. On our way home from the imaging center our primary care doc called and told us to turn around and get to the hospital right away. My husband was admitted and they promptly removed more than a pint of fluid from his lungs, which helped him breathe better. We were there for 6 days while they performed a bronchoscopy, did more scans, gave him drugs to stop his brain from swelling and administered emergency chemo.
Today I got a letter from Anthem Blue Cross regarding his hospital stay:
"Coverage for the requested service is denied because the service does not meet the criteria for “medical necessity” under your description of benefits. To assist our Medical Director in making this decision, we have put a process in place to send all information about the service to a clinical reviewer with appropriate credentials. Based on their opinion, we have determined that coverage for the requested service is denied. Our Medical Reviewer Layma Jarjour MD has determined we cannot approve your hospital stay for cancer. We do not have enough facts to show that it was medically necessary. "
Anthem is owned by WellPoint. Did you know Wellpoint CEO Joseph Swedish earned almost $17 million during his first year on the job? Now you know how they can afford to pay him.
Update, Thursday May 29:
Yesterday the local CBS station KPIX came out to report on our story.
I also got a call from a women named Patricia at Anthem, who told me not to worry, my husbands hospital stay would be covered. I spoke to Patricia at length today. It’s a little hard for me to explain the reason they denied my husband’s hospital stay, because frankly, I still don’t understand it. But luckily I have an excellent memory and can type fast, so you can just read my transcription below.
Hopefully our situation is resolved and I can go back to focusing on my husband and son. I post this in the hope that it will help other people (people who do not have 1 million twitter followers or who’s stories don’t get covered in the the press) get their denied health insurance claims reversed. What should you do? Keep meticulous notes. Be persistent. Make noise. Do not take no for an answer. Tell everyone. Why this all has to be so convoluted, I do not understand. It makes me livid to think of how many families suffer needlessly because of corporate bureaucracy and greed.
Thank you so much for your help and words of encouragement.
much love, Zoe
Patricia: let me tell you what my research has found out so far. one of the things that happens is that when someone goes to the hospital, the hospital sends an electronic notification to the insurance company and then the insurance company calls the hospital and says ok, give us the information like we understand you’ve got a patient going in, what’s the information, give us the medical records. and apparently in this case there were 3 calls made and we didn’t get any answers back. and so what we were trying to say is that we need this information from the hospital and when we get it we can further handle this case but in the meantime they have a timeframe requirement to make a determination that is under the regulatory requirements that you have to have made a determination by a certain time and if they don’t have the information at the time they have it them um, that’s, that’s, ah, all they can go on and then when more information comes in then we can um of course overturn that. so what we’re gonna do is pull the information to us and get that handled quickly because it’s clearly a covered service and we’re going to work on how we can better word the letter when it goes out to say and let you know we’ve contacted the facility, we’ve asked for these records, once they come in we can consider this, but at this time and at this particular moment we don’t have a claim and we don’t have the information.
Patricia: so it’s one of those things where they notify us and they’re supposed to send that corresponding data and for some reason that didn’t come in and we have made three attempts to get it. so um this is something that we’re going to work on, making us do better
Patricia: and uh, in the meantime i wanted to let you know that we got you a good care manager, i don’t know if she’s reached out to you
Me: yes, yes, she has, thank you. ok, i hear what you’re saying . i think probably from the patient’s perspective of somebody who’s not a health care expert, i just see a letter that says “denied”. so yes, i think you’re correct that if you can do a little bit better to explain the process to your customers, to let them know how this is supposed to work and what they’re supposed to do and this is not a bankruptcy sentence, in addition to a death sentence that would be, um, kind of important. (start laughing). sorry i’m laughing, i’m going through a lot and i don’t know what else to do except laugh because every time i read this letter it seems more and more alarming. so i think that of course, if you don’t have the information that you need in order to approve a claim then yes, that makes sense, but i would think that the letter would say….
Patricia: the letter does say that you can file an appeal
Me: yes, that is at the end. there is a separate page here that talks about how I start a grievance procedure. but the letter says very clearly from the beginning, “we cannot approve your hospital stay for cancer”. so it’s not obvious from this that you just don’t have enough information to make the claim, it just says “we can’t approve it”. so that’s very misleading because the letter, it says, it’s not being approved and that i have to file a grievance when actually the situation is that you just don’t have enough information. so that’s a clear difference in understanding between what you guys think you’re telling me and what i think the letter says and I think you could do a lot better with that because that’s a really alarming letter to get when your husband has a serious illness that you just learned about in the previous week.
Me: i appreciate your calling me with this and talking about it and I’m going to sleep a lot better tonight knowing that we’re not about to go bankrupt.
Patricia: what is is, uh. it’s a very important. um. i mean, we’re very highly regulated in order to do the right things for everyone. i mean especially in california you know, they want to make sure we acknowledge the receipt of your issue when you file an appeal so you get something within five days and it says we’re working on this. and there are things that we can do expeditedly for you when it needs to happen quickly, you can say I need this to be rushed through in an expedited case, we can do that in 72 hours and there’s a lot of good people here that want to make sure the right things happen for your family.
Me: ok, thank you. so going forward. say something happens to my son and I have to go to the hospital with my son. how can i stop this from happening the next time? because you can imagine when you have a catastrophic illness happen to your family, it’s not like you have a heck of a lot of time to be on the phone with the insurance company all day and to be filing more paperwork and all this stuff and, i actually don’t feel like i should have to be doing that. so is this going to happen again the next time we go to the hospital?
Patricia: well, we would hope not. uh. but I’m hoping that i can provide a little more insight for you to understand how everything works and give you resources to contact so that we can work with you if anything doesn’t go the way it should. what usually happens is that the hospital notifies us that someone’s gone inpatient and we reach out to them and then there’s a response right away and they can go and say, oh, we see what’s going on and everything goes through. for some reason, in this case, the response didn’t come even after three attempts and we’re looking into why, into what was the obstacle in getting the information to us in the time period of those calls we made to them. so we’re dealing with the facility to see how can we do that better because we don’t want you to go through that.
Patricia: and so in normal circumstances we ask for the information and they send it and for some reason it didn’t get sent and we’re going to try and find out why and do better on that. and then we can also say in the letter a little more clearly, um, there wasn’t enough information at the time and then maybe give some explanation as to what, uh, would, you know, something along the sense that says when this information comes in, we can reconsider this. and that would put you at ease.
Me: uh, oh, ok. thanks. so, um, what do I need to do today?
Patricia: you don’t need to do anything today because what I will do is, um, we’re gonna pull that information from the hospital and say, let us have those medical records and we’ll get the claim, because we don’t even have the claim yet, they’re preparing that for us. and when it comes in, it will go through processing and then if you have any questions once you see how that was all paid, um, you can always call me. you also have an appeal process and we can put this through the appeal process and we can do what we need to do to make sure everything gets handled the way be within the plan structure.
Me: ok. that makes sense
Patricia: and I think you can get a lot of questions answered through your nurse care manager. I’ve told her to keep you copied so i can make sure you’re getting your questions answered quickly and you’re getting to the care that you need on time and all of that.
Me: ok, I think I understand it now. Thank you for calling to help.
"The @zoecello order processing center. We’ve done over 200 orders in 2 days. GG packs the orders, I print and attach the labels. We’re a good team. If you like good music and are at all interested in helping my sister fund her husband’s cancer treatment, you should go to http://music.zoekeating.com and buy some stuff. Your order will be packaged with love by us.”
My husband Jeff has been sick with a mysterious illness for several months. It’s not so mysterious any more. My man, my best friend, my soul mate, my partner-in-crime for 16 years has cancer. All. Fucking. Over. Lungs, brain, liver, bones.
We’re at the hospital. He is a warrior. We are fighting it.
I have to be strong and present for Jeff and for our son and I might be away from music and social media for a while.
Please, don’t send any condolences. Send strength and love and positive energy, healing vibes, prayers, chants, interpretive dances…all of it.
And since my new album will remain unfinished for a while longer, if you want to help us in ways other than good vibes, you could buy some of my music. Listen to it, give it to a friend and think of us.
I suppose you could say I’m looking for a “manager” but the patronizing implication of the term annoys me. What I’m looking for is someone to help me grow my business. You might be an artist manager in the traditional sense but I’d prefer to think of you as a vice president of business development, of marketing, of sales, of operations, etc.
In the music business they say you don’t find a manager, that one comes to you when you’re ready. I think I’ve been ready for a long time but for whatever reason, the right person has not presented themselves and I’m such an outsider that I don’t know where to look.
Part of it might be that I’m known as a DIY poster child and often “DIY” tends to equal “amateur” and “struggling”. It’s true that I don’t have the metrics of most “normal” artists: I’m not young, I don’t sing, I don’t have any videos with millions of views. I’ve never even made a video. But there are 8,000+ user generated videos with my music on Youtube that get watched about 225,000 times every month. I’ve sold, last time I checked, more than 70,000 albums without publicity or marketing. My commercial licensing is regular and solid (car commercials, network TV, major films, ballets) and I can fill a concert hall in pretty much every city in North America, in Australia, and in a few European cities. All that to say, I might be DIY but this is not an amateur operation. There is enough money here to make it worth your while.
After a decade of running my music business alone, I think I have acquired some useful knowledge on how to do things. But as they say, you don’t know what you don’t know and I certainly don’t know everything. I have blind spots and increasingly less time (I’m a mom, ‘nuff said). I’ve let more than a few opportunities slide.
I have decisions to make: I have a new album, how should I release it? I have multiple commissions in the pipeline, which should I choose? I hate sports metaphors but I want you on my team. Let’s combine our knowledge to grow this thing.
In addition to relevant experience, there are some other basic requirements for the job. My previous career in information technology left me with certain standards about business communication and organization. You should have those standards too. You are fluid with technology and don’t see it as a separate “thing”, it’s an evolving part of life. You are curious about culture, about trends, about the world. You have moral and ethical standards and being a good person matters to you. You practice random acts of kindness.
If this sounds appealing to you, please write to me at info (at) zoekeating.com with an outline of your vision and tell me about your experience.
I feel like I’m never going to get around to summarizing my week at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
It was amazing on multiple levels.
I flew my mum out to look after #cellokid for the week so that Jeff could come. We joked during the week that while women might be rare at Davos, he was the rarest creature of all….a Davos Househusband.
I went to sessions and talked with people I knew and didn’t know and spoke on a couple panels and talked some more and played the cello and then there were parties into the wee hours. There was little sleep.
I took random notes.
Still inspired by Al Gore
Shinzo Abe name checked Hilary Clinton and Arrianna Huffington and then said ‘Japan must become a place where women shine’
Jetlag. Sponge brain. I feel like I’m having an out of body experience
Over a lifetime, people who majored in humanities actually make more than those with engineering degrees
60% of Wall Street CEOs were humanities majors
Reverse polarity octagonal lattice
The Quantum Dots would make an excellent band name
Tell Jad and Robert - I noticed only two Davos attendees who parted their hair on the right: Shinzo Abe and Marissa Mayer
3rd time passing Kofi Annan in the hall. He looked at me, then up at my hair and then flashed me a broad smile
Most of all, I enjoyed all the conversations. All I had to do was plunk myself in one of the onsite cafes and flow from conversation to conversation. I was pleasantly surprised to find people I knew but as an artist it seemed I could talk to anyone. I thrived on it and didn’t want it to end.
It wasn’t just the rich and powerful at Davos. There were other artists and journalists and people from academia and the non-profit sector and young bright-eyed founders of start-ups. I enjoyed talking to all of them. We’re all the same. We have hopes and dreams and are fighting our respective demons. For the most part we all want to make the the world a better place, whatever that means to us.
Here is the song I wrote to perform at the closing ceremony with the accompanying video by Robert Hodgin
And here is a synopsis video the WEF just put out
I didn’t get an invite to the coveted Google party but that’s ok because instead I ended up doing a spontaneous improvisation with Peter Gabriel at the Piano Bar.
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.
In October I wrote about my local post office closing. Happy to report that I got back from tour just in time to attend the reopening of our post office yesterday. Congressman Jared Huffman made a speech and #cellokid helped cut the ribbon. Yay!
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.
By popular request, tshirts are available for sale on my website. Now you can have a cello-action-figure silhouette of me emblazoned on your chest with which to, um, impress your friends and family with both your sublime style and taste in music. The shirt was designed by yours truly, made and printed in the US of A and will be personally mailed to you by my sister. You can find these shirts (and posters too!) at http://music.zoekeating.com.
More tours are being plotted for next year. So far we’ve got the Midwest in February and then Virginia, southern California, the Northwest and Ecuador in April/May (those places are all near each other, right?). I’ll also be an artist ambassador at the Direct2Fan camp in MIDEM in Cannes in January if you’d like to come and hang with me on the French Riviera in the middle of winter. Tickets for all these dates (and more are coming) at http://bit.ly/zoetour.
In other exciting news, I’ll be performing live with San Francisco’s legendary ODC Dance at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in March. More about that one as it draws closer. Have I missed anything? Well, I can definitively say that I am WORKING ON A NEW ALBUM. I might even release it next year…. but I am the parent of a toddler so I don’t like to promise too much.
I guess that’s it. I hope you enjoy the long, dark days if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere…the long, light days if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere…and the equally light and dark days if you’re near the Equator.
Thank you for listening and for your continued support!
best wishes to you and yours,
Feb 11 Evanston, IL: SPACE
Feb 13 Iowa City, IA: Englert Civic Theater
Feb 14 Omaha, NE: Waiting Room
Feb 17 Scottsbluff, NE: Midwest Theater
Feb 18 Denver, CO: Soiled Dove
Mar 15, 17, 21, 23 San Francisco, CA: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Apr 12 Minneapolis, MN: Cedar Cultural Center
Apr 14 Reston, VA: Reston Community Center
Apr 26 Los Angeles, CA: Largo at the Coronet
Apr 27 UC Riverside, CA: Culver Center of the Arts
I've been having a very productive and enjoyable month of composing. It really is such a joy to be writing new music and its been just spilling out. I'm trying to capture it as quickly as possible before it evaporates (I don't know if it WOULD evaporate, but better safe than sorry).
A little interruption though to announce some things....
In case any of you are NPR listeners, I'm on All Things Considered today. Tune into your local radio station, or you can hear it on the NPR site.
I have short Northeast tour planned for November. There are more dates coming, but here are the three confirmed so far:
Nov 5 - Boston, MA Nov 6 - Burlington, VT Nov 18 - New York, NY
- A speaking engagement on Sept 12 at the SF Music Tech Summit - A short performance on Oct 3 at the Fillmore in SF to kick of the SF Mayoral Candidates Forum. - The November 3 premier of the Kepler Project at the SF California Academy of Science Morrison Planetarium. I'm currently composing the score and it's an inspiring subject to write music for: snowflakes, harmony of the spheres, paradigm shift. Plus it will happen in a DOME. - A Midwest tour in Feb 2012 - A new work for the Low End String Quartet that will premier in April 2012.
Tickets and details for all these events can be found HERE.
A couple of weeks before I left to go on tour, a crew came north to the forest to shoot a short documentary about me. Most interviews have tended to focus on either the technology I use, the business of my career or my use of social media. So it was refreshing, and anomalous, to be asked about music for once. The video crew wanted to know about my artistic life and inspiration and point of view. But what makes the video even more unusual is that this wasn't made by an indy documentarian or a media outlet....but by Intel as part of their Visual Life campaign.
If you know me, you already know that I don't do endorsements (well, to be honest, no one has ever asked) and that I choose my licensing clients very carefully (you'll never hear my music in a Coca Cola ad for example). So for the record, I was not paid to do this video. So far everyone I've met at Intel has been genuinely interested in and supportive of the arts. So if they want to highlight that support with their campaign, I think its a rare example of corporate intent and artistic purpose dovetailing. I'm ok with it.
Its beautifully done and I think they captured me and my artistic life extremely well (although I find it hard to watch myself on video without putting my fingers in my ears and diving off my chair to hide under the table every 30 seconds). Thank you Intel.
Hooray, an "Into The Trees" tour is finally coming into focus!
I've said it before, booking seems to be the last hurdle for a DIY artist. My previous efforts at lining up concerts in a logical geographical order haven't always been a success ;-) These new headlining concerts are thanks to my new booking agent.....(thank you Mark Lourie of Skyline for helping me get to my fans)
I'm going to visit the continent in stages. This first round I have concerts on both coasts, and a few dates in Europe. We'll visit more of the continent in May and June. I say "we" since for the foreseeable future I tour with Cellofamily in tow (i.e. #cellobaby and #cellobabydaddy to those of you who follow me on Twitter...or Alex and Jeff to everyone else!). No doubt this experience of touring with a baby will lead to a fair amount of mommy-blogging....I apologize in advance.
In March I'm pleased to announce that I'm joining the creators of my very favorite radio show, Radiolab, as they hit the road on a three-city tour...
"Jad and Robert will be performing an upcoming episode on symmetry, and how it shapes our very existence—from the origin of the universe, to what we see when we look in the mirror. We'll search for love in ancient Greece, head to modern-day Princeton for a look inside our brains, and revisit an unlikely headline from the Oval Office circa 1979. And one of our favorite musicians, the amazing Zoe Keating, will be on stage to provide live cello scoring!"
We're performing the show in NYC, LA and Seattle. Tickets for these very special dates can be purchased here
Kaki King shows...
AND last but certainly not least.... I have four concerts on the West coast supporting Kaki King! Kaki is amazing and I love her music (did you hear the score to "Into The Wild"?). I can't tell you how pleased I am to be opening up for her. We have plans to do a little special something together too...
Baby Alex (aka Cellobaby) has shown himself to be a happy sailor. He seems to enjoy new places, people and singing along during my concerts. So while the going is good, I have a plethora of performances in the approaching months. If you don't see your fair port in this list please do not be alarmed! In the coming year I do really intend to visit as many locales as possible, but I must do it in small chunks. Stay tuned for more concerts as I book them.
One huge way you can help....tell me where you are! While we might occasionally frequent the same cafes in the astral plane (you know that one with the red sofas?)...I only know the terrestrial location of a small fraction of you. To tell me where you are, just sign up on my email list (I won't write you too often, don't worry).
Lastly, I wanted to mention that (cough) my cd "Into The Trees" could be the perfect gift...say for a certain someone you'd like to impress with your sublime musical taste...or maybe as a peace offering to an estranged relative...or maybe to the person who seems to have everything and you never know what to give them. My sister Laura has been doing an amazing job sending cds off to every corner of the earth, and if you need them sent speedily or to be gift wrapped, she can do it (just say so in the order). They are available at the usual place: http://music.zoekeating.com
Here are those shows in 2011...
Jan 19: SAN FRANCISCO The Independent 628 Divisidero Street San Francisco, CA 94117
I've had a stroke of media luck this last week. I was interviewed by Laura Sydell for NPR's All Things Considered. Then, over the weekend BBC played me on "Introducing with Tom Robinson" and NBC used one of my songs (without telling me, ahem) in a Dateline special about Hurricane Katrina. Not a bad week!
Right now I'm working on three things. First, my composition for the 01SJ Biennial with digital artist Robert Hodgin. We'll be premiering a BRAND NEW WORK in San Jose on Sept 18th. Here's where you can find out more details about both this incredible art festival and the concert.
And second, I'm recording some more cello loops for Mark Isham for his score to a film called "Warrior" (can't remember if I mentioned it, but less than 1 day before baby Alex was born, I recorded parts for another of his scores...a Robert Redford film called "The Conspirator"). Then, I leave in less than 2 weeks for Switzerland, where I'm performing in the tiny town of Ilanz and in Berne. Thank goodness baby Alex seems to enjoy traveling...so far ;-)
My concert with Apex Dance at Boulder Chautauqua was heaps of fun. Thank you to Apex Dance, Dan Gesmer of Seismic Skate and the Colorado Music Festival for hosting Jeff, Alex and I and for making my first major concert as a mother logistically possible. And thank you to everyone in Colorado who came to see us!
My next goal is to do a national tour to play for as many of you as possible. I'll need your help in figuring out which cities to visit...but more about that in my next post.
Anyway, I hope you've had a wonderful summer, nutty weather and all.
Last year, egged on by the ubiquitous "We've Got Money for Artists!" advertising campaign... I signed up for Soundexchange (Soundexchange, in case you don't know them, are the entity entrusted by Congress to administer performance royalties for artists for internet airplay).
I've been a Pandora fan since they began. I remember seeing a job posting for the Music Genome Project back in maybe 2000 and considering applying. I have a subscription and listen almost every day. I had a vague sense of my internet plays from other people. From what i hear, I think a lot of people listen to and discover me there. So to GET PAID indirectly by Pandora, in addition to being a fan, seemed, well, awesome.
It took over six months to process the Soundexchange paperwork and I waited with cautious optimism to receive a check. I got it last week. The amounts were, from 2006 to the present:
$158 as copyright owner (i.e. label payment since I'm my own label) $135 as performer
Honestly, that seemed kind of low. So, I wrote to Pandora to ask my total plays. They, bless them, wrote back that collectively all my songs have had about 423,000 spins
That number isn't up there with Lady Gaga, but it seemed like a lot of plays to me. Not having followed the outcome of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I naively thought that 423,000 plays should surely amount to more than $293. I wrote to SoundExchange asking for details about how the math works.
Their response I did not understand....
...Digital service providers are only required to reported 2 weeks worth of performances a quarter. Moreover, those 2 weeks do not have to be on consecutive days, they can report any 14 days worth of performances within a 3 month period. If your performances do not occur within that period, then there are no reported performances to be compensated for...I believe that while you had 423,000 performances from Pandora, not all of them were during a reported period.
I was confused, and spawned a discussion on the Tunecore mailing list. However, a few hours later, after writing it all up for this blog, I got a message from Soundexchange which explains the math once and for all.
To address your concerns about the amount, the number you cited ($290 or so) is just about correct for 423,000 performances by a service operating under the pureplay rates (as Pandora does). The nonsubscription “per performance” rates for services that elect the pureplay rates start at $.0008 in 2006 and rise to $.00097 “per performance” in 2010. Remember that by law 5% of your earned royalties are paid into a fund which supports backup musicians and session players, and around 8% is SoundExchange’s administrative rate, to pay our staff and keep the lights on.
So there you have it. There is no mystery or shadowy accounting going on. The numbers are just very, very low. Lower than I realized, which I suppose is the tradeoff to keeping internet broadcasters in business.
End of story. Now I'm off to put baby Alex to bed with his favorite Ulrich Schnauss Pandora station.
My first gig as a new mum was last Tuesday: a short performance at an Intel conference in San Jose. The days leading up to the gig, I managed to practice in little chunks in between Alex's feedings. Then on Tuesday morning, I tanked him up for the 2 and a half hour drive, gave him a quick feed when we got there, sent baby Alex off with his Dad, rearranged my outfit and played the concert. On the way back home we got stuck in traffic in San Francisco and since it was a nice day, decided to wait it out at the Java Beach Cafe on Ocean Beach.
While we were there, soaking up the beachy atmosphere, I got an email from someone at Billboard inquiring about details for "Into the Trees" for the charts. Oooh! I took Alex back to the van for another feed and called the number.
"What is the record label and catalog number for this album?" the man on the phone asked.
"Er...none", I said, "I released it myself."
"Ok, and what is the retail price?"
"Well, I'm selling physical copies for $14 and deluxe editions for $20, but I sell them from my website so they aren't reported. I guess I'm charting from digital downloads on Bandcamp, which are pay-what-you-want with a minimum of $8".
"Bandcamp?" he asked.
At that moment Alex started crying.
"Hang on a minute! My baby fell off the nipple, I have to adjust him".
I got Alex latched back on and picked up the cell phone again.
"You have a new baby?"
"Yes, he's seven weeks old. I'm nursing him in the car on the way home from a corporate gig".
"Ah...well that's all I need to know. Congrats on the new baby and on making the charts".
The following day, sure enough, there I was on the Billboard classical chart at #7. I was very pleased. However, I kicked myself for not doing all my sales through Bandcamp because none of my pre-orders were counted through Soundscan. Until last week, I was still selling the physical CDs from my site, which means they don't "count". So on the one hand, I was happy to chart 100% from digital downloads and no advertising or PR other than a couple tweets and emails.... but on the other hand, two thirds of my sales weren't reported. 24 hours previously I hadn't cared about reporting sales at all. Now I cared about it.
You see how this goes - its the musical equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. Before, I was alone in my forest and happy as a clam to be selling any music at all but now I'm comparing myself to others and left unsatisfied (Semi OT: this is one of the things I like about living where I do. There aren't very many people around to remind me that my car is old and I've been wearing the same grubby outfit all week).
I had been revamping my website prior to the album release in a piecemeal fashion (i.e. doing bits of HTML with one hand while breastfeeding) and hadn't gotten around to changing the ordering page. So the day after charting on Billboard, you can be sure I moved all my physical sales to Bandcamp as well (much to the relief of my sister, who handles the mailing of my CDs, and was exasperated with both me and Paypal. Bandcamp has a much friendlier order fulfillment interface).
AND NOW WE COME TO THE MEAT OF THIS RAMBLING BLOG POST where I talk about how many sales figures it takes to chart on the Billboard classical charts.
"The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies."
As delighted as I am to be able to add the tagline to my resume, I was actually surprised to make the Billboard charts because I didn't think I'd sold very many. How many did I sell that week to make the #7 spot? I sold 640 full album downloads (I'm assuming Soundscan doesn't count single song downloads). This last week I sold 709 copies, which put me at #12.
What doesn't get reported though is what I call "purchase enthusiasm". In other words, how many of you opted to pay $20, $30, $50, even $100 for a download of my new album. I've been floored by your generosity (thank you!).
Other bits of data for you to interpret as you wish: on Bandcamp, as of today I've had 71,115 plays (57,789 complete plays, 13,317 partial plays)...1700 Bandcamp album sales and 1988 album pre-orders. Someone also pointed out that my album is on numerous filesharing sites, and one site logs 27,000 downloads of it. This listen-to-buy ratio doesn't seem all that great to me, but then, I have nothing to compare it to.
I'm in this for the long run (the Natoma album has keep me housed and fed for four years) and happy with how things are going, especially given that I've done zero promo. So I won't dwell any more on the numbers but will get back to the more important task of making music. I have a performance with a ballet to get ready for on August 3rd.
It felt rather epic getting the album out. There were an astonishing number of snags that had nothing to do with me having a baby. Maybe I'll tell you the story later when its aged enough to be funny...
For those of you who pre-ordered....thank you again. My wonderful sister is mailing your CDs as I write this. To tide you over until your copy arrives in the post.... the album is temporarily streaming at music.zoekeating.com
For those of you who would still like a physical copy...the album comes in 2 flavors: a regular edition with 11 tracks in a cardboard digipak; and a deluxe edition with 16 tracks, album notes and photo-booklet in a cardboard digipak. Both can be obtained on my website www.zoekeating.com
I don't know when "Into The Trees" will appear on iTunes, hopefully soon, but digital copies (including 320k mp3 and FLAC) can also be downloaded at music.zoekeating.com.
THANK YOU for your patience and I hope the music is worth the wait. I've already started on Album #4. I've found motherhood so inspiring and my head has been filled with music since I gave birth six weeks ago.
Yes, I know, I know...I missed my album release date (I'm gonna fire myself for sure this time!). I really thought I could get it to you by March 1st, but I was sorely mistaken. There's no problem other than I'm just a slowpoke and doing too far many things at once.
Also, for the reason I announced here (i.e. I'm having a baby in May!!) for the last 6 months I haven't been able to work late into the night as is my custom...because I keep falling asleep! I've been doing little bits here and there, in between all my other projects, but not the solid music immersion sessions that I like to do.
However, I am at last happy with how everything sounds. Now I need to finish up the mixing/mastering process with my trusty post-production friend Count and then Jeff and I will package it up...and hopefully some of you will still want it!
In the meantime, I've got some performances coming up that I'm really looking forward to.
The first is my SXSW showcase, next week on March 17 at 8pm at Central Presbyterian Church. I'll also be speaking on a panel, Effective Online Marketing Platforms, on March 19 at 2pm, along with Lou Plaia from ReverbNation, Corey Denis of Not Shocking, Jason Lekberg from Epic Records and Josh Wittman of Redeye Distribution.
Then, after SXSW, I'll be heading to LA to play a very special show with Curt Smith from Tears For Fears on March 23, at Largo at the Coronet. As Mashable wrote recently, we collaborated via Twitter on his new song "All is Love". I'm rather happy with how the cello arrangement came out (you can download it on Amazon and iTunes.).
On March 23rd, I'll play my own set, with songs from my new album, and then I'll sit in with Curt and his band on "All is Love" and maybe even "Mad World", if I can hash out a good cello version. More info at the Largo website and tickets are available in advance by calling (310) 855-0350.
Jeff and I went down to see Robert Hodgin & Aaron Toblin's exhibit at GAFFTA a couple weeks ago. They are both such awesome artists. I'm really excited to be collaborating with Robert for the 2010 01SJ Biennial in September. We're going to put on a joint performance. The spiel:
"Composition for the ears meets composition for the eyes in an organic, evolving world of sight and sound. Zoë Keating will create a lush soundscape of live, layered cello, which Robert Hodgin will translate into light. "
While we were there, I finally saw the SFMOMA posters in the MUNI station that everyone's been talking about. I really wanted to steal one, but I refrained.
However, I doubt you will find the poster the most interesting thing about this photo ....
Yes, its true! We're expecting a baby in MAY! So, if you see me over the next couple months, please don't think my latest hippo-look is just because I've gone all crazy with the chocolate ice cream (although I admit I have felt compelled to eat a fair amount of it over the last few months).
A very happy New Year to you!! 2010 feels like a very futuristic number. Are we in the future yet?
I have so many things to tell you that I'm going to have to break it up over several posts.
But to start....
***MY NEW ALBUM*** is called "Into the Trees" I've selected March 1st as the release date. Much more about that next week!!! Please stay tuned...
- "In C Remixed", which is an album of remixes of Terry Riley's "In C" as performed by the GVSU New Music Ensemble (with pieces by me, Jad Abumrad, David Lang, Mason Bates, DJ Spooky...many others) was named one of the top 10 classical albums of the year by the Washington Post. Here's where to get a copy.
- I did some cello arrangements for a new song by Curt Smith (who you might know from Tears For Fears). Its called "All Is Love" and will be released on Jan 24th.
- I recorded cello on this lovely little song by a new band called Pomplamoose
- For the 75th anniversary of the SFMOMA, I wrote some music to go with 2 works in their permanent collection (Rothko "No, 14, 1960" and Ellsworth Kelly "Stele 1"). The music will be included in the museum's launch of a multimedia tour of the collection, be available on your own handheld devices, such as cell phones and MP3 players, and as an application for iPhones. The app will launch on their anniversary weekend, Jan 16.
And speaking of January 16.....
- FREE concert at the SFMOMA with Loop!Station and Matmos.
I'm looking forward to performing for you, then listening to some music, maybe having a sip of wine while walking around the museum...and its all free. I'm playing first, so make sure you come early, or you might miss me!
Saturday, January 16, SFMOMA, Haas Atrium 6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. Zoë Keating at 7:00 p.m. Loop!Station at 8:00 p.m. Matmos at 9:30 p.m.
Thank you so much for listening. In preparation for my next release, I did a detailed tally of albums sold and its almost 30,000 (breaks down to 64% digtial and 36% physical) !!! Not bad for no record label, marketing or publicity...and especially considering my 100% lack of "strategy" other than "be myself". I know that many of you have bought CDs multiple times just to support me. I keep thinking that I'll have to eventually go back to working my tech job, and each year, I'm amazed that this music thing is working out. Really, I can't thank you enough!
I went down to San Jose last week to do an interview and performance on the NBC Bay Area show Press:Here. The host, Scott McGrew was awesome for making the whole thing happen. The piece aired on TV this morning (its also available on the web here) and one of the interviewers also wrote about it for TechCrunch.
The interview went by so fast, and there was such much I wanted to say that I didn't get in because I was so flustered. Thankfully, that's what blogs are for: a chance to elaborate. Here are some of the questions I was asked, and how I would have liked to answer them if I had had my wits about me and an hour instead of a few minutes.
Thank you Scott McGrew and everyone at Press: Here TV and thank you Sarah Lacy for the follow up story. These things really help, they really do.
---- Do you feel like you've sold out in licensing your music?
Nope. Basically I think "selling out" is when you compromise your creative ideals in exchange for money. I have never done that, so I don't think I'm selling out.
I've been lucky that the companies who've wanted to use my music are selling things that I approve of, like Apple, Specialized Bikes, and Herman Miller. Second, in every single case, I didn't solicit them. The people making the commercials found me and asked if they could use my already existing music, or if I could tweak something to fit. Thankfully I haven't had a situation yet where I've had moral problems with the company (i.e. Exxon).
The film work I've done has been custom in that I've had to write to the movie. But I don't feel like I'm selling out there either. Directors ask me to write for their films because they want a certain style that I presumably have. I would never compose anything out of character. Its all MY music and I think its recognizable as such. If someone approached me wanting me to write a score of salsa music, well, I'd turn them down...because I don't write salsa music.
How did you get 1 million followers on Twitter?
I've been very upfront about this. I've written about it, the SF Chronicle and Billboard magazine have written about it: I am on the Twitter Suggested User List! I don't know how I got there, or how (or if) I deserve it...but of course its incredible and I'm grateful and I should probably give Twitter a cut of my income if it makes me a lot more money than normal (I don't know yet if that is the case).
I will say however that I don't think this all this is a big deal. I honestly don't believe that 1 million people are listening to everything I say. I use Twitter to talk to whatever subset of that million is my friends, fans and potential fans.
What is great about Twitter is that, like I said in the interview, it allows me to be myself to as many people as possible. Me and my music are the same thing and I've always had this stubborn, egotistical belief that if I just had a chance to get the real me across....people would be interested. The belief that what I'm doing is worthwhile, even if no one hears it, has sustained me through a lot of rejections and hard times.
I doubt my current career would be possible without the internet. Thanks to social networks I can have what feels like a direct relationship with an increasingly vast audience. There is no middleman.
If a label approached you with a huge record contract, would you take it?
No. There are so many reasons....
I can't help noticing that most of the signed musicians I've known are broke or struggling. Those on small labels keep their day jobs. Mid-level bands, they run through their advance quickly and then they make a living by touring constantly so that they can sell t-shirts. It will be several millennia before the amount they owe the record label is recouped out of the band's royalty, and they don't own the recordings. New music/modern classical artists seem to sustain themselves with teaching and maybe performing as they get more well known.
Then there are the bands I know who've been dropped as soon as their sales dip. I know bands who've been majorly screwed by this: they recorded followup albums that never saw the light of day, or had nervous breakdowns. A basic financial decision to a company can feel like a matter of life or death to an artist.
So I've just watched all this and since I'm realistic that my brand of instrumental cello music is never going to go platinum anyway, I might as well save myself some suffering, release it myself and keep all the money.
I didn't always think this way. I used to feel like landing a recording contract was like a "stamp of approval" and I wanted that approval. Back when I was starting out my solo career, Myspace didn't exist yet. The standard wisdom was that the way to success was to build a local following and strive to get the attention of a record label. I spent some time and energy sending my music unsolicited to record labels, agents and managers that I thought would be a good fit for me. Of course I didn't hear back from most of them. I did hear back from two labels that were kind enough to reply. They both said that I didn't fit with the other artists on their roster.
Since then, I've had industry executives tell me very respectfully the following things: my music is interesting but not marketable; my music can't be sold because it doesn't have words & it lacks a single, simple melody for people to latch onto; and I am not young/not sexy enough/too nerdy. I've had classical industry people tell me that my music is too pop. I've had pop industry people tell me my music is too classical. And by the way, what category am I in and can I name any similar artists? The music industry seems entirely focused on releasing albums that are similar to albums that have sold before.
Very quickly, it became clear that I would never fit on any label without serious compromise....so I stopped trying. I didn't bother to hire someone to craft a "story" that would fit me into a neat little bucket. I just focused on playing music and selling my CDs at shows and on my website, and on Amazon, CDBaby, iTunes, Rhapsody, etc.
I'm not trashing record labels. They perform a useful service for many artists. But I don't think the model works for me. I think of recording contracts as very, very expensive bank loans. In the future, if I need extra money to make an album, I'm more likely to try and raise it by appealing to my fans.
Because there aren't very many mouths to feed, I don't feel any pressure to continually be selling more, more, more. I have never done an ounce of official marketing or publicity. I make enough to pay the mortgage, the bills, go out to dinner and a movie every now and then, go on vacation and save money for the future. I'm not rich, my car is old, but I have enough to live well and not be continually worried about money. That's really all I want. I want to exist and keep making more music. I'm in this for the long haul. Slow and steady is fine by me.
How do you make a living?
I realized that I should probably know the exact percentage breakdown of my finances before I answer questions on television. I just went and looked up all my tax returns, looking from Dec 2005 when I released my Natoma album until today. Averaged over that almost 4 year period, roughly speaking, digital sales have totaled 40% my income. Of the remaining 60%, maybe a quarter of that is physical sales and the other 3/4 is licensing, commissions, performance fees, grants, and royalties. That's all 4 years together. This year physical sales and performance fees are much less because I've spent most of the year in the studio and not performing (that's the deal... if you're out there performing, you sell music, but then you can't write music). But digital sales and licensing has been much higher and made up for it. This year has been my best year ever, I'm guessing because of my internet presence.
I'm optimistic about the future. However, the entire situation is constantly changing and I know I can't keep all my eggs in one basket. So if by this time next year everyone has migrated to subscription music services, I'd better find a substitute for the digital chunk of my income. I don't want to start selling T-shirts, which I've resisted to date. I do know it helps when people know that by purchasing my music they are supporting me directly, that each CD sold is a vote for me to continue as an artist.
Phew! That's it!
I'd love to hear your comments about all of the above!
The press gods have been smiling on me recently. I'm sure it won't last, so if you are near a magazine shop this week, pick up a copy of Billboard Magazine and you will find in there a picture of me with a wee story.
(one detail about the story I feel the need to correct: my so-called "sales" figures. As you know, I don't have a record label and sell the majority of my CDs through my own website and at shows. Because individuals have to jump through such hoops to report sales to Soundscan, I don't. I never saw any point. Anyway, the sales figures they mention in the article can only be be digital....unless Soundscan is omnipresent and knows what people buy directly from me on Paypal. The article failed to mention that detail.)
Thank you again for coming to see me in April and selling out the Old First Church. I never believe there will be more than two people in the audience, so you really surprised me.
Since I forgot to say anything about it at the April show (doh!) just a reminder that I'll be doing it all again (sans Charles Rus, alas) at the Great American Music Hall on Thursday, June 4th. I'm opening for Amy X Neuberg and her cello chiXtet. Its an early night, the doors are at 7:30 and I play at 8pm.
Amy X Neuberg & the Cello ChiXtet Zoe Keating
"Amy X Neuburg & The Cello ChiXtet celebrate the CD release of "The Secret Language of Subways" -- an 'avant-cabaret' song cycle for voice and 3 cellos, with live electronic percussion, looping and processing. Opening the show will be the incomparable Zoë Keating performing her one-woman orchestra of solo works for layered cello. "
Thursday, June 4th Great American Music Hall 859 Ofarrell St San Francisco, CA 94109
The cello and I have a few things we'd like to tell you about....
A few weeks ago Dylan Tweney, the Wired "Gadget Lab" editor, and a video crew, made the windy trek up to my forest studio north of San Francisco. We talked about composition and information architecture and I played a few songs. The result was captured in these THREE videos now up on the Wired website.
You've heard me talk about Scott Crocker's film "Ghost Bird" that I wrote music for last year. Well, the official world premier is happening this week at the Toronto Hot Docs Festival. "Ghost Bird" will be screening Wed May 6th and Friday May 8th. I realize most of you are not in Toronto, so, for your listening pleasure, here is some of the never-before-released music that I made for the film
And lastly, tickets are onsale for my performance on June 4th at the Great American Music Hall. I'll be sharing a bill with Amy X Neuberg and her cello chiXtet for her CD release party. So yes, a cello extravaganza!
Australia was amazing. I've been back for two weeks now and already I'm wondering if that really happened. Did I really go sunbathing on a perfect white beach and then swim in the Indian ocean, on the same day as a show? Did I really play four nights at the Sydney Opera House? I loved the people I met, the coffee, the light, the food. Fantastic.
Touring is wonderful, its one of my favorite things about my job, but it can be maddening when you are a "slow" traveller like myself. I like to explore every nook and cranny of a place, preferably over a period of weeks. I like to buy fish and vegetables in the local markets. I like to sit in cafes and learn bits of history or language from locals who will humor me. But on tour, especially one where I'm in a different city every day, I might have only a couple hours, if that, to absorb as much atmosphere as possible. I spend those precious hours alone, getting drunk on scenery, gorging myself on whatever local delicacies I can find. Sometimes I think I'm invisible, am I really here? Then, I race back to the venue to setup my equipment, soundcheck, and start the evening's work. All these delicious glimpses of a place make me fantasize about the adventures I will have when I come back. That list of places is now impossibly long. I've written about this before, but I really felt it keenly in Australia.
Anyway, back to the present. I have some nice bits of news to report.
First, Scott Crocker's documentary "Ghost Bird" was accepted into the Toronto HotDocs festival. I composed and recorded the soundtrack and I am very happy with the music. I would like to come out for the screening, and so I'm trying to arrange a performance in Toronto around that time. More details soon I hope. Until then, here is info about when the film will be screening:
Next, I have a couple of performances coming up in San Francisco!
April 24th with organist Charles Rus. This is a very special concert. Charles is an old friend, he's an uber talented organist and all-round amazing human being who lives and breathes music. He recently moved to Seattle, but prior to that he played organ with the San Francisco Symphony. We'll be doing a joint performance that will include my solo layered cello music, some modern and classical works for solo pipe organ (i.e. Phillip Glass and Bach), some duets and some cello plus pipe organ ambient improvisation.
Friday, April 24th 8:00 pm Zoe Keating & Charles Rus
Old First Church 1751 Sacramento St. (at Van Ness Ave) San Francisco, CA
June 4 with Amy X Neuberg Amy is another amazing musician I've known for a while. She is celebrating the release of a new CD with a performance with her Cello ChiXtet at the Great American Music Hall. I will be opening the show and playing the 1st half of the evening. So an all-cello, all-the-time, evening at my favorite local venue.
Thursday, June 4th doors 7:30 show 8:00pm
Great American Music Hall 859 O'Farrell Street San Francisco, CA 94109
...Jeff Rusch and I were awarded a performing arts grant by the Creative Capital Foundation! The initial grant is for $10,000 and we are eligible for up to $50,000 over the course of the project. In addition to funding for our project, which I'll tell you about in a minute, we also get to participate in Creative Capital’s Artist Services Program. The program "offers artists assistance in areas like as fundraising, networking, marketing, and strategic planning, with the goal of advancing both their projects and their careers".
Um, WOW. The application process spanned several months last year and it seemed like such a long shot that I tried not to get my hopes up too much. In fact, I had put the grant out of my mind entirely and assumed we would do our project this year without funding. So when I got the phone call, I happened to be at a restaurant at the time, and I promptly lay down on the floor in shock.
What is the project? It is to create a live synaesthetic presentation of my music. Jeff and I will be taking one step further the work we have done together in the past with our layered cello-plus-video performances in San Francisco, in Italy, and in France. The goal is to create an ideal live performance environment in which you, the audience, can experience a version of what I see in my mind's eye as I play.
I'm very grateful. The first meetings with Creative Capital are this week. The work begins!
Obviously, I'll keep you posted on all this as it develops. If all goes well we should be ready to perform in November.
2008 went out with a bang. I had a great time on tour with Amanda Palmer and the Danger Ensemble. I really love performing, and also I love to travel. Its already a blur of warm fuzzy memories. A special treat this time around was that I got to tour with my sister Laura and her pregnant belly (she is Amanda's as merch girl extraordinaire).
Now I'm also very eager to be back in my studio because being in my studio means I can WORK ON MY ALBUM, which I haven't been here to do since August. I've been tinkering away on it the last 2 weeks, hopefully productively!
Thanks very much for listening. I know these are tough times for a lot of people, but watching the inauguration today gave me so much hope.
It is 6am and I am wide awake here in my temporary apartment on a quiet medieval street in Valencia, Spain. It is so beautiful! Its like a stone stage set. I am still having difficulty believing I am here.
How it happened....the choreographer Asun Noales discovered my music on iTunes. She choreographed a ballet to "Updraught", "Legions (War)" and "Frozen Angels". Then she was invited to put on the ballet at the Teatro Principal here in Valencia so the music director of the theater contacted me to see if I could produce sheet music for orchestra. However, because I didn't have time to do that (because I was leaving the following day to play at MIT and then join Amanda Palmer's European tour) they asked me to come do it live.
Hmmm...let me think hard about that one...a two week trip to Valencia, Spain to perform with a ballet company in a grand theater that is a copy of La Scala in Milan...how about....FUCK YES?!
So here I am. I've stayed up nearly every night the last 4 days making the music perfect. I'm finally ready, which is good because the premier is today.
Here are the details if any of you happen to be in Spain over the next week (come on, the weather is lovely and the food here is fantastic!).
danced by the Ballet de Teatres de la Generalitat choreography by Asun Noales
Here are two videos from my performance in Paris last week at La Boule Noire. Thank you Fanch Oriant and Alexandra Opillard for taking video! Also, these two songs are still untitled...if you have any suggestions, write to me!
I'm writing this from Paris, where I just spent a lovely day wandering with my sister. Because we're here on tour we had no plans, which is kind of nice. We headed off in the most appealing direction and went from pastry shop to pastry shop until we found ourselves at the Louvre. Then we strolled along the Seine to Notre Dame and wound up the day in the Latin quarter. I have to say, it is days like today when I LOVE MY JOB. I think we stopped for crepes at least three times.
The concert is tomorrow at La Boule Noire in Montmartre and that's my last performance on this leg of the Who Killed Amanda Palmer Tour. Amanda and the Danger Ensemble will continue on to Belgium and the Netherlands, but I must get myself to Chicago for another live installment of Radio Lab on Oct 26 and 27. You might remember last year I performed with Radio Lab in St. Paul Minnesota for their deconstruction of War of The Worlds. They are reprising the show, for two nights, at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago and I am providing live music. Details below!
Then, in November I'll be in Spain working on live music for a ballet. It will run from Nov 20 to Nov 28 at the Teatro Principal in Valencia. And immediately following that, I rejoin Amanda Palmer in Toronto on Nov 30 for the rest of her North American tour which ends on Dec 16 at the Henry Fonda Theater in LA.
That's the scoop! All the dates are below...and will be on my website as soon as I have internet for more than 30 minutes!
Thank you to everyone in Europe who came to see us. I've had an amazing time. Its all still a bit of a blur, but there were so many amazing moments, and audiences. I will certainly be back.
celloly yours, Zoe
-------------------- Oct 26, Oct 27 RadioLab Live! Chicago: Victory Gardens Theater
Victory Gardens Theater Fresh Squeezed and WNYC's Radio Lab will present Martian Invasion! Decoding the War of the Worlds, on the eve of the War of the Worlds 70th anniversary, at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, October 26 and 27. Radio Lab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich will deconstruct the original broadcast of War of the Worlds and describe what was happening-sociologically and psychologically-at each step. The program will be accompanied by cellist Zoe Keating.
more info: http://blogs.wnyc.org/radiolab/2008/10/08/get-yer-tickets-war-of-the-worlds-live-in-chicago/
-------------------- Nov 20 to Nov 28 performing live with the Ballet de Teatres de la Generalitat Teatro Principal, Valencia, Spain
Who Killed Amanda Palmer - North American Tour (supporting and accompanying Amanda Palmer on all dates)
Nov 30, Toronto, Ontario: Mod Club Theatre Dec 2, Ferndale, Michigan: Magic Bag: Dec 3, Chicago, Illinois: Cabaret Metro Dec 5, Minneapolis, Minnesota: First Avenue Nightclub Dec 6, Denver, Colorado: Bluebird Theatre Dec 7, Apsen, Colorado: Belly Up Dec 8, Murray, Utah: Murray Theatre Dec 10, Vancouver, BC: Richard’s On Richards Cabaret Dec 11, Seattle, Washington: Showbox Theatre Dec 12, Portland, Oregon: Wonder Ballroom Dec 13, Sacramento, California: Harlow’s Dec 15, San Francisco, California: Bimbo’s 365 Club Dec 16, Los Angeles, California: Henry Fonda Theatre