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.
I just discovered a folder of old photos of Taximouse, a taxidermy cello-playing mouse an ex-boyfriend gave me for my 25th birthday. I brought Taximouse with me on tour when I was in Rasputina and took pictures of him during our breakneck travels across America….until his arm broke off.
An interview with me on Virgin Disruptors: why I released my earnings data and what else I want from streaming services.
Tune into a live debate on these topics with me, will.iam, Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer, Scooter Braun, Songkick, Vevo and Spotify…on Oct 28th at 11am Pacific Time (1pm EST/7pm GST) at Virgin Disruptors.
I usually save my blog for music issues. This isn’t a music issue but everything is connected. That sense that the world is falling apart, that we can’t get our sh*t together…it affects me. So I’m going to self-indulgently vent…and then go write some angst-filled music.
Here’s the story.
On Oct 14, I got a letter from the USPS stating that our post office is again under study for permanent closure. I say “again” because the Camp Meeker post office was on a national closure list in 2011 but after a six month feasibility study and lots of public comment, the USPS spared us in 2012 and said it would remain open but with reduced hours.
My neighbors and I have been fighting closure of the post office because it has one feature that makes it very important to our lives: it is the only place you can get your mail.
Camp Meeker is an old town from the 1880‘s and it is dense, with 350 houses packed into less than a square mile. The USPS, for historical reasons unknown to me, won’t deliver mail to any of the houses. Instead, every resident is assigned a free PO Box and picks up mail in a dilapidated trailer. The trailer was installed as temporary structure 40 years ago, across the street from the semi-collapsed remains of the previous post office built in 1906.
There are no other businesses in town. There used to be hotels, a grocery store and even a bowling alley, but everything burned down or closed in the middle of the last century. So the dirty old postal shack is it.
It might be ugly, but it’s all we’ve got. It’s a place to run into your neighbors and there is a bulletin board to advertise free kittens and the local supper club. But mostly, it is where we get the mail. I wonder how many communities of the size and density of Camp Meeker not only have no post office but no mail delivery whatsoever?
I’m sure the the USPS thinks we don’t generate enough money to justify staying open. I’d argue (if they’d let me argue with them) that the primary purpose of our particular post office is that it is THE ONLY place to pickup mail, because they refuse to deliver it. But also, the USPS have only themselves to blame for their lack of revenue.
I run a small business. When I initially moved here I made a point of supporting the local post office. Every day I would mail all my CDs from the shack even though they had no digital system and clerks had to add up amounts on the back of an envelope, which meant there was no itemized receipt, mistakes were made and it took forever. I asked if maybe a digital system could be installed? No money for that, was the response.
Mailing things overnight is something I had to do pretty often, but because the pickup time here is late, you couldn’t actually use the USPS overnight service. The clerks wouldn’t even sell overnight delivery to me, because they knew the package wouldn’t actually get to it’s destination on time.
The post office never had any supplies to purchase like tape and was often out of priority mail boxes because the postmaster at the time had to use a computer to order them and he himself said he was afraid to use one. I’m not making this up. So, to buy tape, or a box or send something overnight I would drive 10 miles to the nearest UPS franchise.
Eventually I got fed up and outsourced all my mailing to my dear sister in Vermont. We still visited the post office every day though to pick up the mail.
I say “visited” because in June the post office closed without warning. We got home from Europe to find a handwritten note posted on the door.
"The post office is closed until further notice due to a sewage leak. This is a Haz Mak situation. All mail to be picked up at the Occidental post office until further notice"
(yes is it said “Haz Mak”)
In an attempt to find out what had happened, our neighbor and Camp Meeker Park and Recreation board member Tony Tominia called and spoke with various officials in several USPS departments.
Tony talked in early July to Ken Boyd, a USPS manager in San Diego. Mr Boyd said the Occidental postmaster reported that the creek had backed up into the septic tank and then overflowed onto the postal trailer floor. The postmaster told Mr Boyd that human feces were on the floor of the trailer. Hearing this, Mr Boyd made the decision to close the post office.
There is a wee flaw in this story: it’s summer in California and the creek is, literally, a trickle. Even in the wettest part of winter though, for the entire history of Camp Meeker, the creek has never come anywhere near the building. And, the postal shack doesn’t have a septic tank. It has a camp toilet.
Again, I’m not making this up.
The USPS hired an outside company to investigate the overflow, and also to test some mold on the outside of the trailer that the postmaster said was causing respiratory problems in everyone who worked there (like I said, this place is classy) . The forensics company determined that the liquid on the floor was water from a nearby sink and that the mold on the outside of the trailer was omnipresent in Camp Meeker and not harmful.
Mr Boyd told Tony that as soon as he received the paperwork to finalize the findings, which he expected in a few days, the Camp Meeker post office would be immediately reopened.
A couple days later, Tony met with the postmaster who had reported the sewage, Jeannie Ramirez. She said that her real reasons for instigating the closure of the post office was not sewage but because her employees were complaining of respiratory issues from the mold and refused to work in the trailer. In other words, she lied.
What is curious about this is that I talked to one of her former employees, who was actually laid off along with another employee. She said that neither she, nor anyone else complained about respiratory problems or mold. So did Ms Ramirez lie about that too?
You’d think if the postmaster was so concerned about her employees exposure to mold that she might try get rid of the mold? But rather than take 1hr to scrub the mold off the outside of the trailer, or hire someone to do it, she preferred to inconvenience an entire community by closing their post office for more than four months.
I couldn’t figure out anyone’s motives until I looked online at the USPS regulations. Closing a post office takes months of procedure and public input, unless there is a safety issue with the postal facility. If there is a safety issue the USPS can close a post office immediately. Interesting.
Anyway, the post office remained closed. Weeks later Tony wrote to postmaster Ramirez, USPS managers Tony Carvelli and Eddie Masangcay, and Diana Alverado of USPS property management requesting an updated plan and timeline, along with an update to the sign on the post office door so that the public wasnt misled.
No one responded to the questions although the “Haz Mak” sign on the door of the post office was taken down and he got a call from Tony Carvelli
“Tony Carvelli called me. He expressed his displeasure with me sending emails to his superiors stating he had no plan or timeline. I asked him what his plan was. He replied he could not form a plan till he figures out what is wrong with the trailer. I asked him his plan for determining what is wrong with the trailer. He said he was trying to figure that out as well. I told him based on that, I would continue to report that there is no plan and no timeline.”
A couple weeks later, on the suggestion of a local boy scout, Sebastopol’s Wolf Pack 128, Den 2 Cub Scouts retired the flag at Camp Meeker’s post office since it had remained flying outside all this time.
That was in August. Fast forward to 3 days ago when we got a letter from the postal service notifying us that another feasibility study is being conducted to see if permanent closure is possible. The letter stated that if residents wish to make comments they should attend a meeting next week on Oct 23 at the Occidental Post Office, at the rather inconvenient time of 5pm.
Jim Wigdel, s USPS public relations official, told our neighbor Tony that business had dropped off, so the status of the Camp Meeker post office is again up for review.
Um, yeah. It is hard to do any business when you’re CLOSED.
Since the post office closed, I’ve made sure to have all packages delivered directly to my house via UPS or FexEx. I’ve done this not just because I’m crazy and like to have mail delivered to my HOUSE, but because I don’t have the greatest confidence in the sorting abilities of the Occidental post office. Two packages addressed to me since the closure never arrived. They had tracking on them, and the USPS tracking says they arrived at the Occidental post office and were “delivered”. Delivered to whom? I’ve also received several letters in my mail pile that were addressed to someone else and had more than a few letters addressed to me returned to sender because they were addressed to my street address rather than PO Box.
I try to let everyone know about my PO Box, but occasionally a client will send something to my street address. In the past, clerks at the Camp Meeker office had a master list on the wall to match up names and street addresses with PO Boxes. If someone addressed a letter to my street I would still get it. However, now we get our mail in Occidental and postmaster Ramirez says that regulations require her to return such mail to sender. As a result I’ve tried to change all my bills and deposits to electronic. I can’t help but wonder how much of the drop off in business is due to other people doing the same? How much of the revenue drop is due to the USPS driving away their customers?
Apparently our expectations of anything Federal are so low that we no longer expect mail to be delivered, and the only employment opportunity in town - a single part-time job at $10 an hour with no benefits - is too extravagant an expense .
Last night I went to a World Economic Forum meeting in San Francisco. Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman, was soliciting topics for the annual meeting in Davos. He’s an inspiring and clearly beloved figure and listened with eagerness and curiosity to everything everyone had to say. Present were local Economic Forum members (academics and executives from the key companies in Silicon Valley), Young Global Leaders (that’s the under-40 group I’m in) and a younger group called the Global Shapers.
The conversations were about the world economy as a whole but I couldn’t help applying what was said directly to the music industry.
“If you don’t know what’s going on, you develop a negative attitude about it" said Professor Schwab, and an executive from Salesforce commented that when people don’t have faith in the future, they act on fear. I thought both statements rather neatly explained the stance of the RIAA over the last decade.
Later, Professor Schwab said “a business should not only be accountable to its shareholders, but also to its employees & society" and also when Mitchell Baker from Mozilla said that resilient economies need to keep risks and rewards tied (actually I can’t remember if she said economies, companies or systems…but they all work). These statements led me to thinking about flaws in the digital music economy.
In years past, records were costly to produce and the artistic risk of each artist was linked directly to the financial risk of their record label. For all the problems of that industry, both parties needed needed each other and with success reaped their respective rewards.
Today, marvelous as they are as a discovery platform, it’s true that there is no risk at all to digital music services if an artist’s music is not wildly popular. In the case of YouTube, they reap their reward by selling advertising against the art of thousands and thousands of artists. A niche artist’s inability to attract bizillions of eyeballs will not affect these companies one bit. Modest success reaps little financial reward for individuals in this ecosystem. Yet no individual artist has the leverage to negotiate for a higher percentage of advertising revenue or has a say in what kind of ads are slapped on their art. Google is not accountable to us. I’m doing fine, but I might be an anomaly because so many of my peers are not, and that bugs me. What can I do about it? What’s next?
Anyway, it was an interesting evening and I thrive on this stuff. I haven’t attended many WEF events but would like to go to more.
The first year I was nominated into the Young Global Leaders I was a new mom and funds were tight. Attending a meeting of YGLs in China with my nursing son seemed outrageous and totally out of the question. I don’t have to bring him with me anymore but meetings still happen in mostly far-flung (to me) locales like India. Of course, I do travel for tours all the time but I have concerts there to pay for it. And truthfully, as interested and engaged as I like to be regarding world events… it’s not clear most of the time what the heck my role as an artist is at the WEF.
I’m used to being a fish out of water, and reveling in it, but I’ve yet to figure out how to be myself in the context of the WEF. That bugs me too.
Yes, there are music economy issues that I would love to discuss with the incredible braintrust of larger minds in the WEF community. But at the same time, I’m an artist first and minor thinker and commentator second. Artists are inherent outsiders. My value to a group like the WEF is to hold on to that otherness, and not to try too hard to fit in.
(Idea: The “World Artists Forum”, an annual meeting of artists where we invite business leaders to play music, dance and paint with us.)
I always go when the meetings are local, like last night. No one has ever asked me to perform, but I’ve offered. Playing music is my most effective way to contribute. I’ve performed at enough brainy ideas gatherings to see how necessary a musical “break” is. We need time to allow our brains to digest what we’ve heard and give ourselves some space to come up with new ideas. A musical break is perfect for this (Andrew Zolli nails this every year in his curation of the Pop!Tech conference, well worth attending). There is nothing like the lightening bolt of art to make you think outside the box, and boy could the world use some out of the box thinking.
A polar explorer, who’s name I didn’t catch, made a comment I took to heart, “Leadership is a mindset. How can we get every person to think like a leader?”. Although people often look to me to be a leader, I’m not a natural one and I certainly don’t think like one. I’m a maverick maybe, but not a leader. So I challenge myself to lead my way out of this conundrum before my 5 year term as a YGL is up.
Now I’m home and struck again by the juxtapositions in my life. Last night in a 5 star hotel banquet room I dined on sushi with venture capitalists, executives and academics. Back home, my “town” isn’t officially a town but is an unincorporated cluster of 300 houses packed into a single square mile in the woods. The only business is a post office, in a delapidated trailer installed to be temporary in the 1970’s and that has been closed for 6 months because of a leaking toilet. My husband just loaded all our monthly garbage into the car to take it to the dump and tonight there is a town meeting about how on earth to rustle up the 20k needed to build the only playground for miles around. We are better off than most of the world but it certainly doesn’t feel like the bubble of privilege people kept referencing last night.
“For a life full of learning, be like a child. Be curious. Always let new things pique your interest. ” - Klaus Schwab
Shout out to Drue Kataoka, a visual artist and fellow YGL. She spoke about Silicon Valley’s strength coming from intersection of arts and technology, the unacknowledged role arts education has played in many careers and the need to add arts back into STEM (turn STEM into STEAM, she said). Yes. That. She was an inspiration to talk to and I felt more at home being there because she was there too. Thank you Drue.
By the way, last week I played cello with Thomas Dolby, Dan Hicks, Narada Walton and Don Was. It was a blast. Go see Mr Dolby’s live scored performance of his film The Invisible Lighthouse this next month if you can.
If you’ve been following me for a while you know my “studio” isn’t really a studio. It’s a spare bedroom in the house. This room is somewhat less than ideal at about 11ft by 10ft, with a 7ft ceiling and a beam at 6’6” that I keep whacking things on (like the scroll of my cello). Low frequency buildup anyone?
Our house is an upside-down house, perched on stilts on the slope of a hill, with the kitchen, bathroom and living room upstairs and the bedrooms downstairs. Built 100 years ago as a summer cabin, the house was uninsulated with all the rooms covered in thick redwood paneling: floors, ceiling and walls. Until last year, when we insulated the downstairs walls and finished them in sheetrock, my studio would be cold and damp. I had an electric panel heater on 24/7, not to make it warm but to keep the humidity below 100%. WIthout the heat, paper would curl and my cello bridge would warp.
It’s my own space and it’s in MY house, which I still find amazing, but it has been more than a little challenging to record music in. It got even harder when my son was born and now that his play area is over my head.
Meanwhile, I’ve been saving up to build a freestanding studio. I knew I’d get there, just like I saved to buy my lovely new cello in 2007. Every new commercial licensing project gets me several steps closer. The downstairs insulation job was paid for thanks to a Jeep ad, a pair of IBM spots paid for the new roof and my new studio will be constructed thanks to Chrysler SRT.
I don’t solicit these things, they seem to fall out of the sky, and I don’t know if ad agency music supervisors have any idea what a difference they make in my life. Thank you! Thank you for making the house warm and for making the construction of a recording studio a reality rather than a pipe dream.
I’ve found someone to build it and now I’m reading everything I can about acoustics and gathering input from people who know about these things. So if you know anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area who might have good advice on how best to construct a room to record cello in, will you send them my way? Thank you!!
I love hearing about how people listen to my music.
I really, really, really love to hear when someone listens while working on their own project…books, papers, screenplays, cartoons, paintings, games, science projects. So many things. Art making more art. It makes me feel like this is all worthwhile.
So Josiah Zaynor just made my day today. He says my music was the inspiration for how his Chromochord works. What’s a Chromochord? A musical instrument that plays the sound of plant proteins of course!
If proteins could talk, what would they say? Josiah Zayner still doesn’t know — but he does have a sense of what they’d want to sing. That’s because Zayner has developed a new musical instrument…
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the day I quit my software job. There was nothing wrong with my job; it was rewarding and I liked it, but “information architect” was not my calling. I didn’t want to sit at a computer all day. I wanted to make music.
I have a private gig in Cincinnati in late October. Rather than fly straight home, I would like to play a few concerts. So…where should I go? Since you’re the ones I want to play for, I’m going to ask you!
Here is a list of cities in the region that I’ve either never or rarely visited. Some of them are North-ish and some of them are South-ish. If you would really come to see me perform in any of these cities, vote and then we’ll crowdsource a week long October tour.
This is still a work-in-progress so thank you for doing this experiment with me. I hope to play near you sooner rather than later.
P.S. If you have a reasonable suggestion for a city not on this list, please enter it. By reasonable, I mean a place no more than 500 miles from Cincinnati ;-) We’ll do something like this again for the rest of North America.
P.P.S. If you haven’t already, you might want to make sure you’re on my mailing list so that you’ll know when I have a concert in your ‘hood.
I meant to just post the link but, as usual, there are always more things to say.
I think I was 8 when I first realized that girls are often treated differently than boys. We had just moved to England and at my new school I wasn’t allowed to play soccer, I had to wear a skirt and on Friday afternoons had to learn embroidery with the other girls. Minor stuff in comparison to what girls in the developing world have to endure but it was a bitter pill for a tomboy and I raged against it.
I’ve experienced my share of harassment: flashed by disgusting old men and groped on crowded buses. I always found the most effective way to protect myself was to laugh loudly at them and walk away. Now I’m older and no longer as interesting to lecherous old geezers but I find I still have to come up with creative solutions to overcome the entrenched attitudes and biases of sexism in my professional life.
In college we had classes on self-defence and how to carry ourselves in the streets of New York, but nothing prepared me for the daily negotiation of being a woman in a man’s world. Do you protest and illuminate every slight? Do you let things go? What’s the best way to both change the status quo and enable your own personal success?
Another anecdote: I spent my 18th summer, between freshman and sophomore year, working at the car parts factory in my hometown. On my first day the hiring manager was extremely surprised to discover I was female. I’d come recommended by a friend who worked there but the manager had misread my name on the application as “Joe”.
I got the distinct impression the first week that they were trying to make me quit but I was damned if I was going to show any weakness. They put me in charge of 2 massive lathe machines. I had to hoist a heavy, rough-cut Ford Mustang steel wheel spindle into the lathe, lock it in place, heave the door shut and press the start button. There was no time to rest because in the minute it took for the lathe to grind down the spindle, I had to get another one into the identical machine on the other side of me. I did this for 8 hours a day, from 3pm until 11pm. As a non-union worker I couldn’t refuse overtime and often would have to work until 1 or 2 am if there was an extra pallet of spindles to work through, which there usually was.
There were 7 women in the entire factory of several hundred and as far as I could tell, I was the only one with a physically demanding job. The rest stood at a conveyor, wearing lead aprons and looking for cracks in the steel parts on xray machines, which in retrospect I’m glad I didn’t have to do. Men would come by my work station and stand there staring at and making comments about my derriere as I bent over to pick up spindles off the pallet. After a few days on the job the foreman came over and presented me with a baggy worksuit to put on because they claimed my jeans were too distracting to the other workers. In the break room I learned there was a betting pool on how long I would last.
I didn’t mind the job though. I preferred it to waitressing, the pay was good and I somewhat enjoyed the mindless physical repetition, knowing that it would be only three months before I could return to my collegiate paradise outside NYC. I took great pride in finishing my work, in pretending not to notice when the men whistled and in being the nicest, coolest college student anyone had ever met. Eventually people started treating me normally, or at least normal for a factory environment….they treated me like one of the guys.
Going forward, this became my modus operandi for being female in the tech and music industries: to be one of the guys. To do this and be considered equal, I have to work twice as hard, I have to be thorough, I have to carefully craft my position on issues to be unassailable, I have to be cool enough to drink beer with. In short, I have to be perfect.
I had a conversation once with a major label radio marketing guy once that really stuck with me. He was frustrated that he couldn’t get a particular female artist on the radio because, he said, there was already another female artist with a new album out. He claimed radio stations didn’t want to have more than 2 female singers in a 20 minute period because young men might change the channel. He then went on to say that this artist needed to get a radio hit before her 30th birthday, or it would be nigh impossible to break her. Was he making that up? Is all that…crap…really true? I don’t know, but the fact that he even thought so was shocking to me.
I didn’t want to be any part of an industry that forces women to use sex to sell their music, pits them against each other and then throws them away after their 30th birthday. But even when you’re DIY these attitudes can seem unavoidable. Over the last few years, during the time I’ve been considered “successful” I’ve had a publicist, a booking agent and a management firm all, separately, decline to work with me because they claimed they already worked with a solo female cellist or violinist and couldn’t possibly have more than one.
Also I have to say, the recent insistence that musicians focus on making a living touring rather than selling music has, to me, a tiny whiff of sexism. I can’t speak to what touring is like for young men, but whether I leave the family at home or bring them with me, touring as a mother is very, very hard. I choose to focus on making and selling music, thank you very much. Choice.
I’ve used little strategies to get around the tiny biases. For example, I can get more favorable licensing terms by having a client negotiate via email with my pseudonymous male manager “Marc”. Or, on the occasion I’ve been made to sound like a viola onstage, I smile and subtly demonstrate that I understand acoustics by cheerfully mentioning to the soundman how quirky the cello is, that its lowest note is 65hz and that the notch for my resonant frequency should be very narrow because rolling off everything below 160hz will make a cello sound like a viola. Or, prevented by drinking laws from bringing my still-nursing 6 month old into my dressing room (where I needed to nurse him to sleep before going onstage), I just snuck him into the venue under my coat.
But in the end, I don’t tend to dwell on sexism in the music industry. Yes, it exists. It sucks. But things don’t change overnight and I think we’re getting there. Attitudes about what women can and can’t do improve because women are here, doing their thing alongside the men. Lately my husband has experienced the flip-side of sexism as a stay-at-home-dad and has nutty stories to match mine. I’ll wager that as more men experience this, things will change even faster ;-) So yeah, occasionally I will rage and fume against a perceived injustice but in the end I just smile, carry on and find another way around. We’ll get there.
Every piece of music starts with some strong feeling that I get swept up in (I’m sure it’s the same for most artists). To put this feeling into music I have to lock myself in the studio, immerse myself in that feeling and go explore the bleeding edges of it. It’s messy: I cry, laugh, dance, go a little crazy. When I appear every now and then to go to the bathroom or make tea (I tend not to eat when I’m in this state) I probably look a little wild eyed and disturbed. This state is precious and fleeting, so I try to avoid email or talking to anyone so as not to break my bubble and lose it.
Before our son was born it was relatively easy. I could turn off email without my world falling apart too much and my husband would leave me alone, knowing that I’d be fun again in a couple days. But nowadays emails increasingly demand to be answered and how can I ignore my son when he sees me, yells “Mama!” and runs into my arms?! So I have to do my best to efficiently work through whatever I’m experiencing in order to be normal again in time for the family dinner.
Anyway, on Wednesday I had the feeling and I acted on it. This one is vaguely about standing on the top of a mountain and being irresistibly drawn towards the edge. What if I leap? Will I fly? Will I fall? Will someone catch me?
It’s not done, but I want to share it anyway. I don’t normally like to play music for people before it’s finished because to me those tiny endless details that take weeks to polish are what take a piece of music from ordinary to special. That said, there is always something compelling about my rough first pass, when I’m just feeling it and not worrying about technique or sound mix or how it will be perceived. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love performing so much, because I get to feel each piece of music anew every night. So before I flesh this one out, polish it, turn it into something album-worthy and give it a proper title, here is the last 48 hrs in musical form.
Back then, I didn’t have a solo project yet. I was playing in a cello-rock band called Rasputina and working as an information architect at the Research Libraries Group. I had an iPod though. I listened to it on tour, lying in the back seat of the van as we hurtled across America.
iTunes opened it’s doors to unaffiliated artists in 2004 and as soon as I had a recording of my own layered cello thing ready in 2005, I put it up there through CDBaby. It was not an auspicious beginning. My music didn’t actually appear in the iTunes store until several months later in early 2006. Multiple emails went nowhere, but a trip to the CDBaby headquarters in Portland eventually revealed that my iTunes submission was getting rejected every day: spit out of a daily upload process because of an illegal character…..the dotted “e” in my first name.
It’s hard to remember what an amazing thing iTunes was at the time. My music…. recorded in my house, on my laptop with a single microphone….could appear in the same store alongside albums from major label artists.
Later that year I got some press coverage, sales spiked, iTunes made me a banner and my album went to #1 on Classical (a few times). That year, my husband and I bought a house. I’ve been paying my mortgage with that monthly iTunes check ever since.
iTunes has been more than just money though, it’s helped expand my horizons. In 2008 I was invited to perform my music with the Ballet de la Generalitat in Valencia, Spain. How did they find me? The choreographer had searched for “cello” in iTunes, fell in love with my music and created a ballet called “Llebeig”. I’ve met so many interesting people this way.
I’ve been incredibly lucky and honestly never expected this to last so long. I still believe it will all end tomorrow and now a lot of people think the same. That monthly check from iTunes will eventually dry up, either because everyone has moved to streaming or because my run is over ;-) But it’s ok, I’ll roll with it. The people who love music will always be out there, I’ll just have to reach them differently. And when my run really is over, I’ll get a real job.
Happy Birthday iTunes and thank YOU listeners for buying all those downloads.
I know, you’re thinking….why is Zoë posting a recording of the Star Spangled Banner???
Let me explain. It’s a long story. Sorry.
Two years ago I got a call from Chris Wiltsee of Bandpage. He was on the board of the SF Chapter of the Recording Academy (you know, the GRAMMY folks) and said, “Hey, there’s an opening on the board in the next election. You should apply!”. I never paid much attention to the GRAMMYs honestly except for the years that Imogen Heap was nominated (I was on tour with her in Europe when she got the news in 2007, and onstage with her again when she got the news for 2010), but my post-production friend Count was already on the board. So was Minna Choi from the Magik Magik Orchestra and some other music folks I vaguely knew. I live far from the city in the forest and often my only interaction with other artists is through the interwebs. I said yes.
Since then, separately from the Academy, I’ve unwittingly become involved in larger ongoing discussions on topics like statutory royalties, streaming payouts, DIY careers, etc. I don’t think my position on issues, when I have one (usually I’m just figuring things out for myself), lines up with that of any organization, as far as I can tell. It’s hard to say what I am: an advocate for the little guy? a gadfly? a naif? It is certainly true that it is easy for me to be a ‘renegade’ when I’m not dependent on anyone (other than my fans) and very few people are dependent on me. But I like it that way.
Anyway, I am curious about how sausages are made, and of course I have opinions, so when the opportunity came up to go to Congress for the Academy’s annual Grammys on the Hill event, I signed up. Yeah, I want to meet my elected representatives! I planned to blend in with the rest of the SF Chapter and get a glimpse of what lobbying looks like. I don’t blend in very well apparently, because shortly after I signed up to go, Daryl Friedman, the Academy’s advocacy chief in DC, asked me if I would play the national anthem at the awards ceremony the day before.
I think I’ve talked about this before, but fancy galas and I are not a good fit. Put me in a meeting room or a beanbag lounge where we can talk big ideas, but to stand awkwardly in a party with a cocktail in my hand making polite smalltalk? Let’s just say that I’ve been known to hide in the bathroom. Luckily, I have this thing I do with the cello and I totally use it as a crutch. Playing the cello at an event is like getting magic fairy dust sprinkled on my head. Suddenly, I have confidence! I can go and talk to anyone! I said yes.
But now I had to learn the national anthem. I have a difficult relationship with patriotic songs. Maybe it started when my family moved to America when I was 10 and I didn’t want to go, but in high school I stubbornly refused to sing the anthem and opted out of the Pledge of Allegiance. So first, I tried playing it straight, in a variety of key signatures. This was unsatisfying. The music just didn’t mean anything to me and I couldn’t muster up the necessary amount of cheese and bombast to pull it off. It’s that kind of piece: major key, essentially a hymn. Maybe I wasn’t patriotic enough to play this thing? Then there are the words. Boy, did I pore over those words. How to match the music with the meaning of the words? Eventually I tired of playing the melody (everyone in the house was tired of it too) and I started improvising. But when I focused on rendering those words into notes, I ended up with horror movie music. I decided to give it a rest for a week and work on my own damn music, which arguably is what I should be doing anyway.
Over the weekend I thought maybe I should educate myself in how other people had rendered this vexing song. I fired up Youtube and watched Jimmy Hendrix, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, Nirvana (theirs was my favorite actually…a staggering Kurt Cobain plays the anthem while the rest of the band trashes all their gear). Watching the endless variations I came to the realization that the most patriotic way to play the Star Spangled Banner is to make up your own damn version. Only in America can you remake the national anthem to fit YOU. That was the permission I needed. I spent a day (the horrible day after the horrible Boston Marathon) working out a looped and layered version of the Star Spangled Banner.
The result is rough around the edges, has moments of hopeful exuberance, doubt and a little bit cheese in the middle. Just like me. Just like America.
We have our issues, but this is a great place to be.
(p.s. this is essentially a live recording and isn’t mastered or anything proper like that, so listen at your own risk.)
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
i'm in edinburgh right now, in a fantastically homey pub called the Black Rose Tavern. the mohawked staff is attractively decked out in black, the music loud and punk, but most importantly, they have all day breakfast (black pudding!!), comfy sofas and free wifi.
anyway, i haven't had internet for a few days and see that i have a PILE of messages! i will do my best to read them all, but you should know that i might be a bit out of touch for the next 4 weeks since i'm relying on free wifi in conjunction with free moments to find the wifi!
thank you for the lovely messages. as some of you probably heard, amanda palmer got hit by a car in belfast. she stepped off the curb while looking the wrong way. thankfully, only her foot was injured, but pretty seriously, and she has three broken bones in her foot, a broken big toe and a cast up to her knee. the girl is a trooper though and even performed an extra long set in belfast that same night. so...the show goes on. send her your best bone-healing wishes....
i'm going to go now and have a wander while the sun is shining. i forgot how much i LOVE BEING ON TOUR.