zoë keating

Unsound: extended trailer rough cut from Count Eldridge on Vimeo.


MMT Featured Artist Zoë Keating updated her Spotify spreadsheet with some deep thoughts today, and not much has changed since we checked in around a year ago.  Despite reports about big increases in Spotify payouts, the average per stream appears stuck at a fraction of a penny.

Spotify Accounting: October 2001 – March 2012

Below she compares her earnings from other platforms over the same time period that she received $281.87 from Spotify.

It’s comparing apple to oranges, but I for the same time period (Oct 2011 to March 2012), I received, net (i.e. after fees):
– $46,477.77 from iTunes
– $25,000 from Bandcamp
– $8,352.45 for physical sales on Amazon
– $2,821 from Amazon MP3

Deep Thoughts

I think Spotify is awesome as a listening platform. In my opinion artists should view it as a discovery service rather than a source of income.

The income of a non-mainstream artist like me is a patchwork quilt and streaming is currently one tiny square in that quilt. Streaming is not yet a replacement for digital sales, and to conflate the two is a mistake.   I do not see streaming as a threat to my income, just like I’ve never regarded file-sharing as a threat but as a convenient way to hear music. If people really like my music, I still believe they’ll support it somewhere, somehow. Casual listeners won’t, but they never did anyway. I don’t buy ALL the music I listen to either, I never did, so why should I expect every single listener to make a purchase? I think that a subset of my listeners pay for my music, and that is a-ok because…and this is the key…..there are few middlemen between us.

My financial picture would be worse if I was on a record label. Some people say that if I was on a record label, I’d have a larger reach and therefore would be making more money. To this I’d like to point out that I make instrumental cello music. There is about as much chance of my music becoming mainstream as there is of me being elected President of the USA (hint: not possible, I was born in Canada and there are naked pictures of me at Burning Man). While it is probably true that the right label could help with the reach part, I don’t think they could help me enough to offset their cut, and you know what….no label has ever approached me and the ones I’ve approached said no, so I’m guessing they think the same thing.

I’ve said multiple times what my issue with Spotify is: fairness. I care about making the playing field level for all recording artists: signed or unsigned. Let it be a meritocracy. Also, I wish Spotify would do more to facilitate the connection between listeners and artists – i.e show that the artist is playing nearby, or add links to buy music. It’s early days, so maybe this will happen eventually.

~ Zoe Keating

p.p.s. I’d like to be known for my music more than my tendency to stir up controversy, so I probably won’t say much more on the subject because I have some music to make….;-)



An interview with Jonathan Matis

On Saturday, April 14, 2012 Zoe Keating, Noveller, and the Low End String Quartet (LESQ) came together at the CenterStage in Reston, Virginia for an evening of new music. LESQ started the night with compositions from founder Jonathan Matis, and closed their set with premieres of new works commissioned from Zoe Keating and Sarah Lipstate (Noveller).

Has LESQ commissioned any works previous to these?  

No. This was our first attempt at commissioning music from other composers. Our other repertoire is from ensemble members. I wrote most of it, our former cellist wrote “Mystery Snail.”

How did you come to choose Sarah and Zoe for the commissions?

I was trying to find composers that would intuitively “get it” in terms of what we’re about. People who already understand why we’re amplified, and how that works. I also wanted to find composers who are working outside of the typical “new music” world. Both Zoe Keating and Sarah Lipstate are great composers, but they aren’t necessarily recognized as such since they’re performers too.

With both of them, I heard their music and I loved it immediately. That’s important to me. I want to play music that has an immediate, visceral appeal. I also want there to be more going on beneath the surface, but I feel like so much contemporary music coming out of the classical tradition is too concerned with its own construction, and not concerned enough with the actual sound and the experience of hearing sound. I’m not interested in music that’s about how clever the composer is. I want music that is awesome. And that feels awesome the first time, and the 100th time you hear it. Zoe’s and Sarah’s music has that quality. It’s beautifully put together, but that’s not what it’s about.

I heard a Noveller show at a club in DC a few years ago. Hearing her music live, it was obvious that she was very thoughtful and intentional in her compositional approach. Other “experimental” electronic music performers I’ve heard are more improvisatory, and they’re turning knobs for the fun of it. Sarah was clearly using electronics in service of the music she was writing, not as a means of inventing the music. That made me think she’d be a perfect choice. Obviously, she has a great command of the electric guitar and its sonic possibilities. I hoped adding the other string instruments to the palette would be fun for her.

With Zoe Keating, my wife actually introduced me to her music. I think it was Last.fm that played it for her. She sent me a text right away after hearing one of Zoe’s pieces asking if I’d heard that music. I hadn’t. She said Zoe’s music sounded kind of like Low End String Quartet, but better. I can’t argue with that. I looked her up for myself and that was a no-brainer. Luckily, Zoe was interested in writing for an ensemble, so she was open to working with us.

What was the process like — was there any back and forth, or were the pieces delivered to you whole and final?

We didn’t have much back and forth during the composing. They both wrote the pieces on their own. We had some conversations at the beginning about the quartet, and about the specific performers so they could be aware of our individual strengths and weaknesses. But they basically did their own thing and sent us a finished product.

For Zoe’s piece, she delivered audio files that we transcribed. Neither Zoe or Sarah typically work with notes on paper. Sarah also gave us a recording, but did make a written score. In both cases we worked with them during rehearsals, but after the pieces were composed.

Did Zoe or Sarah have any input into the performances?

Yes, happily they did. As we rehearsed the pieces, I made recordings that we sent to them for comments. Sarah’s piece required fairly specific guitar sounds so I was able to send her audio files and she could make sure I was getting the right sounds.We weren’t all in the same location until the day of the show, but we did get to spend an hour or so that morning with each composer working on their piece. That rehearsal time made a huge difference, for both pieces. And working with Zoe and Sarah was lots of fun. They were able to zero in on particular things right away and they helped us a lot. I suspect because they are performers themselves, they knew exactly how they wanted to hear it played, and they knew how to explain that clearly.

Zoe didn’t waste any time. She picked up the cello and showed us parts that she bowed a certain way, or articulated certain phrases differently from how we’d learned them. It was easy to take those kinds of pointers and it made the piece sound so much better.

Sarah made some nice adjustments to the guitar effects, and gave me some tips on bowing. I hadn’t played the guitar with a bow before, so that was something I had to learn for her piece. The other players in the quartet gave me a crash-course in bow technique, but Sarah had some guitar-specific tips that she’s figured out over the years.

After hearing the piece, Zoe told us she wants to make some revisions. Her typical process involves playing pieces many times, and they evolve over time. I’m not sure yet how the process will work for us, but I’m eager to find out what kinds of changes she wants to make. There might be some sections that get expanded. Hopefully we’ll get to work on it some with her before too much time passes and it’s still fresh in our ears. She’s so busy, we’ll have to see what’s possible.

Sarah’s piece is pretty much finished. We’re going to take a stab at recording it soon.

Where do you think the audience for new music is coming from?  How are you finding an audience?

I wish I knew the answer to these questions. The whole world of music is so up in the air right now, and changing so fast. It’s the best of times and the worst of times. Maybe not the worst, actually. There’s so much great music going on all over the place now, and I think people are listening to so much different music. In some ways, people’s ears are more open now than ever, but it’s also so hard to be heard with so much music everywhere. I don’t honestly know how to find “our” audience, since I’m not sure what that really means. Who is our demographic? I have no idea.

I’m curious about where the “new music” (i.e. “post – classical”) audience is coming from, in as much as there is such a thing. I don’t have a lot of faith in new music as a sub-genre of classical music. I don’t think it really works that way as far as audience demographics, but I don’t really know. That’s just my hunch. I think the “new music” audience is made up of people interested in hearing new things, not necessarily a specific genre. Thinking of the big picture, I think the audience for instrumental music of any kind is already such a tiny slice of music audiences overall, I’m not sure how we zoom in within that little piece. Who are audiences for new / modern jazz? Who are the audiences for experimental, instrumental rock bands? I suspect those audiences overlap more with “new music” audience than broader classical music audiences. Nevermind the problems in the classical music business in terms of shrinking audiences over there…

Ultimately, I think it’s probably better to leave the demographics questions to the marketing people. I don’t understand it well enough. It seems to me that, in general, awesome music finds an audience eventually. In some cases that happens quickly, and in some cases it takes a long time, but good music will find appreciative listeners eventually.

Any thoughts on the “business” of music? How can performers sustain themselves under the current conditions?

I wish I understood the “business” better. I don’t think the Low End String Quartet has really figured out a business model yet. My background is on the nonprofit side of the performing arts world, so that’s what I’m more familiar with.

I spent a few years writing grant proposals and trying to keep the group running that way. We had some success with it; our first (and only, so far) studio recording, “Blunt Objects,” was funded mostly by grant money. Support like that, for commissioning new work, and making recordings, is quite difficult to come by. And it’s getting harder.

After the record was done, the only grant funding I could find was for educational programs. So, we put together a pilot program to figure out how to do in-school programming. That project didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. We raised some money, and put together an in-school concert program. My impression now is that to really succeed at educational programming, you need to specialize in it. Since that’s not where my heart is, especially with this group, I’ve set that initiative aside for now. I want this group to stay focused on developing new music, playing shows, and recording.

Since 2008, we’ve had much more trouble finding funding using the nonprofit model. From where I’m sitting, it sure looks like arts funding dried up real fast once the recession started. I don’t know if that’s actually true, more broadly, but it was my personal experience.

For this project, we did a big online fundraising campaign in collaboration with Sarah, and that worked quite well. We qualified for some matching funds and also had a great response from our friends and fans. I guess this move toward “crowd-sourcing” is promising, although that presents its own challenges.

There’s no easy solution to the money thing. Hopefully we can find other opportunities to commission more new music – and hopefully the results will be as good as these two! I think we’re spoiled now, since Zoe and Sarah did such great work for us. In the end, I think we need to stay focused on the music. If we can deliver awesome performances, then we should be able to keep moving forward.

MMT asked Sarah Lipstate about the process of composing her piece for LESQ:


I wrote a lot of the melodies for the piece on piano and then arranged it for violin, cello, and bass.  Most of the guitar parts I wrote on the guitar, though a few were done on the piano and then I had to figure out how to play it on guitar.  I had to create a pretty strange guitar tuning to accommodate those melodies!  I used midi instruments to record the string instruments and to do a reference recording of the piece for the musicians to listen to along with the score.  I did a lot of revision at home and let a few close friends hear the recording and give advice, but I only delivered the final version to the LESQ musicians.

~ Sarah Lipstate (Noveller)

An Alt-Classical Artist for the 21st Century

We first featured Zoë Keating as a Free Friday pick in 2010.  Last year she received more mentions in MMT than any other artist — largely due to a guest post she wrote for us: “Zoe Keating on Spotify, Apple and Independents (and lettuce).”

In addition to being at the vanguard of alt-classical music, she has become a leading light for the DIY movement and unofficial spokesperson for indie musicians.  As the handcrafted artisan music blog at the intersection of art, commerce, and technology, Zoë’s story and music have a special resonance with MMT.

Stage fright steered her away from a career as a classical performer and into a liberal arts education at Sarah Lawrence College.  After college, Zoë strengthened her tech skills through the tuition of several dot-com startups while moonlighting as a musician.

Then the dot-com bust provided an opportunity to work at music full-time while doing information architecture on the side.  Everything converged around the cello and MacBook Pro.  Although limiting at first, through advances in technology she is now “dealing with the repercussions of being able to do almost anything.”  And she has dealt with those repercussions quite well — producing music and managing her career with fierce independence and great success.

You can sample some performances and get more information from her featured artist profile, available from the dropdown list at the top of each page and previewed below.

 [click through for full profile]

click through for full profile

zoë keating photo: nadya lev

street signs: steve jobs keynote from the ipad launch

The year of Apple, artists, and unanswered questions

As we reflect on 2011 through the lens of MMT statistics, it’s not surprising to see that Apple dominated the year from multiple angles.  Apple’s iCloud service was the subject of this year’s most popular post, and 6 of the top 11 stories had ties to Apple services, apps, or devices.

With the introduction of Spotify in the US, and the integration of multiple music services into Facebook, 2011 was a breakout year for streaming music.  And even if you get your streams from MOG or Spotify instead of iCloud, chances are good there will be an Apple computer, tablet, phone, iPod, or other device in the mix.

Another topic high on the list is artist compensation.  Apple shows up here, too — whether they are being praised, thanked, blessed, or cursed.  Steve Jobs keeps popping up in our Music 2.0 series, where Pete Townshend expressed a desire to cut off his balls and Jon Bon Jovi personally blamed him for “killing the music business“.

In a few hours, 2011 will slip away — just like Steve Jobs, Napster and a disheartening number of artists.  Thanks Steve, thanks sleepy cat, and thanks to all of the musicians who left us their songs, compositions, and performances.

  1. I want my iCloud!: a step-by-step guide to iTunes in the Cloud
  2. Circle of Fifths Part II: The Inner Circle
  3. Mega Music Meta-Battle: MOG vs. Spotify Reviews
  4. Zoe Keating on Spotify, Apple and Independents (and lettuce)
  5. Best of NAMM, Part II: 2BOX DrumIt Five
  6. Handpan Roundup & Reviews: HAPI, HALO, Hank, and Hang
  7. 15 Must-Have iPad Music Apps for the Professional Musician
  8. How to Hang A Didgeridoo on The Wall
  9. 11 tips for getting the most from MOG and Spotify
  10. Practice > Scales and the Circle of Fifths
  11. Animoog: Editor’s Choice – Best Synthesizer App for the iPad

Thanks and Happy New Year to all our MMT readers, and special thanks to guest authors Zoe Keating and Chris Taylor for writing the #4 and #7 things on our list for 2011.

Zoe KeatingPhoto: Jeffrey Rusch

Spotify may be aiming to win the hearts and minds of app developers, but they still have some work to do when it comes to musicians.  We reported the early results of our Spotify survey here, and can now announce that the final results are…well, pretty much the same.  Once again:

  • When asked how they feel about Spotify as a listener, fans were twice as likely as musicians to profess their love.
  • When asked what they thought about Spotify from the musician’s perspective, musicians were three times as likely to feel the hate.

The survey is closed, but you can let us know how you feel in the comments below.

The first two responses to each question can be viewed as favorable, and the last two as unfavorable.  This time, 57% of musicians view Spotify favorably as a consumer, while the favorable rating from fans rose to 70%.

Looking at things from a musician’s perspective, 52% of fans rated Spotify as good or OK, vs. 43% of musicians.  The biggest split between fans and musicians is the 30% gap between those fans who hold an unfavorable view of Spotify from the musician’s perspective — just 18%, and the 48% of musicians who gave an unfavorable rating.

Also worth noting: 29% of fans don’t seem to care much about how Spotify works out for musicians. We did get a comment complaining that not sure, don’t know, and who cares are three different answers.  That’s (kind of) true, but since the survey page asks you to read this story first, it’s fair to say the not sure and don’t know answers betray a certain amount of indifference.

Why the hate?

Is it because streaming services like Spotify are “ghastly, malicious succubi suckling at the teat of artistic talent”? With 18% of their shares owned by major labels, and artists receiving fractions of a penny per stream, Spotify has managed to become the poster boy for everything that is wrong with both the old and new music industry when it comes to artist compensation.

Many of the issues with Spotify concern the ways independent labels are treated.  Zoe Keating did a nice job of summing up the controversy in a guest post she wrote for MMT.    According to Zoe, “the word on the street is that majors receive profits from Spotify’s advertising revenue and indies do not.”

The Guardian has reported conflicting statements on this, which may just reflect deals changing over time and differing in various countries.  In 2009, they wrote:

On Spotify, it seems, artists are not equal. There are indie labels that, as opposed to the majors and Merlin members, receive no advance, receive no minimum per stream and only get a 50% share of ad revenue on a pro-rata basis (which so far has amounted to next to nothing).

~ The Guardian – Behind the music: The real reason why the major labels love Spotify

Then in February 2011:

Though all deals with Spotify are covered by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), it is well known in music industry circles that Universal was able to secure a minimum streaming rate for the ad-funded version of the site – something, it is understood, not even the other majors have been able to accomplish.

~ The Guardian – Spotify should give indies a fair deal on royalties

Assuming that there is difference in compensation, there are two basic questions to deal with:

  1. Fairness: why should indie labels and artists be paid less than major labels?
  2. Evasiveness: if Spotify has compelling reasons (or better, an algorithm) for different pay structures, why do they keep avoiding the question?

Since Spotify uses peer-to-peer technology to deliver their streams, I can see where it would be more expensive for them to manage tracks that are rarely requested. But that’s a quantitative problem that could be easily solved, and applied equally to both independent and major label artists.

What’s better for musicians: Spotify or Piracy?

It’s obvious from the survey results that not all musicians speak with one voice on Spotify.  Some say “hey — it’s better than piracy ” (well, actually it’s mostly Daniel Ek who says that).  Others argue that piracy is better than Spotify:

As an example, my own Spotify statements via CDBaby have thus far reported 4583 plays and paid me a grand total of $11.38, including precisely zero downloads via their own store – so in terms of raw financial return, 2 people torrenting my stuff and deciding to buy a CD or download, and/or go to a show would beat Spotify hands down.

~ Steve Lawson – Spotify, File-Sharing and Incomplete Statistics

Derek Webb makes a similar case when he says that giving music away is better than Spotify:

On Twitter, I recently said, “I make more money giving records away on @NoiseTrade (in exchange for info) than selling those same records on iTunes (let alone Spotify),” which resulted in some pretty interesting discussions.  I said that in response to questions I received after criticizing streaming services like Spotify, which claim to offer a viable alternative to “piracy,” when in reality they offer artists almost no meaningful revenue or fan connection.  And while iTunes is certainly a better financial model and more equitable for artists, it does almost nothing to connect the fans to the artists in a way that yields any long-term benefit.

~ Derek Webb – Giving it Away: How Free Music Makes More Than Sense

Spotify and Streams vs. Sales

In a response to Derek Webb’s post, Sam Fisher Jr. claims that both free and streaming music are undermining the ability for musicians to make a living:

Hard numbers:  sales have dropped for my releases by 25-35% since those releases became available on Spotify.  Streams have shot through the roof.  For instance, we received a $123 check for 34,000 streams.  Consumers are starving artists by streaming their music.

~ Sam Fisher Jr. – Don’t Believe the Hype

A recent study showed that Spotify and similar services increase access for artists, but reduce spending on higher-return formats like digital downloads and CDs.  After checking with the 238 independent labels distributed by STHoldngs, only four decided to stay on Spotify.

As a distributor we have to do what is best for our labels. The majority of which do not want their music on such services because of the poor revenues and the detrimental affect on sales. Add to that the feeling that their music loses its specialness by its exploitation as a low value/free commodity. Quoting one of our labels, ‘Let’s keep the music special, fuck Spotify’.

~ Wired – 200+ Labels Withdraw Their Music From Spotify: Are Its Fortunes Unravelling?

And it’s not just independent artists that are balking.  Coldplay decided to withhold their latest release, Mylo Xyloto from Spotify and other streaming services, presumably to maximize sales.  If more labels and artists decide to pull out, or to use streaming services for marketing samplers instead of streaming full catalogs, then the current instantiation of the celestial jukebox may be doomed.  We’ll look more closely at this as we continue our series Music 2.0: Battle of the Business Models.

Spotify, MOG and me

Spotify seems to garner the most (good and bad) press attention, but are they any worse than the other services when it comes to artist payments?  Maybe.  First, the disclosure: after comparing streaming services, I cancelled my Spotify Premium subscription and became a MOG affiliate, then a member of the MOG Music Network.

I think that both MOG and Spotify are fantastic resources from a music listener’s perspective.  I am conflicted when it comes to how they affect musicians.

For my own account, I don’t think either service changed the amount of money I pay for recorded music, mostly because I am very interested in audio quality and willing to pay for formats with higher fidelity.  This might change however, as technology improves and high definition streams become available.  The services have probably contributed to increasing the amount I spend on live performances and other artist revenue streams.

I doubt that the rates MOG pays are much different from those paid by Spotify.  The major labels are all shareholders in Spotifty, and both Universal Music Group and Sony Music have invested in MOG. But while Spotify seem to be tone-deaf to the complaints from musicians and independent labels, MOG at least sounds sympathetic and has answered some of the questions that Spotify continues to evade.

At the Digital Music Forum West earlier this year, MOG executive Anu Kirk said:

It sucks that right now artists are getting paid so little money by subscription services, but it sucks that artists are getting paid so little money by everyone.  Subscription services are paying out what they can, but there’s just a lot of music.

A lot of music, and not a lot of paying customers.  This, much more than streaming rates, is the real problem.  Spotify is losing money now, and this analysis suggests that rates will never rise above a fraction of a penny.

MOG CEO David Hyman thinks that with enough paying customers, streaming services can deliver more money than digital downloads.  Licensing costs are the biggest expense for these services, and without giving away precise figures, he offered the following comparison to Fast Company:

And even on iTunes, he says, the average consumer pays roughly $40 per year. “That’s like $3 and something-cents a month,” Hyman explains. “This is the average iTunes consumer: $3 and change. Out over every $10–again, this is just a ballpark, I’m not giving the exact number–but let’s say we pay $6 [per month] to the labels.”

“So, which one is going to make them more money?”

~ Fast Company – Spotify, Rdio, And MOG On Artist Payments: Don’t Blame Us

When asked about the criticism from indie labels and artists, Hyman responded “The indie labels get the same deals as major labels…How they negotiate their deals with their artists, I have no idea.”  Unfortunately, he went on to say: “I don’t know why indies would be different than a major. Maybe because nobody is listening to their music?”

Comments & respondents: back to our regularly scheduled survey

Respondents had the option of leaving comments for each question, a sampling appears below.  The majority of responses are still from the US (59%), with the UK again in second (14%) and the rest scattered around Europe. Two Canadians participated.  We do not know why.

Q. How do you feel about Spotify as a music listener?

Too many holes in it’s available music.

I like the product, but the forced integration with Facebook is making me reconsider. It is impossible to understate how stupid this move was. Hope you made a lot of money.

So far, it’s seems MOG’s library is a bit deeper, but it could just be the artists I’ve searched. Also, MOG offers 320kbps in it’s $5/mo package, whereas Spotify only gives it to $10/mo Premium subrscribers. I’m still deciding on which service to use.

Spotify seems to have more commercial music. Not great for finding underground and independent artists.

Q. How do you feel about Spotify from the musician’s perspective?

Gives the opportunity to listen to music before purchasing. If you have a great CD chances are you will score a purchase but if the CD is crap then you won’t, but I think it will motivate artist to make sure their albums are not one hit wonders.

I am writing this as an end user, I might have a different opinion from the other side of the fence!

It’s great to get the music out there, but the ‘revolution’ hasn’t finished yet….. so who knows what’s to come.

Apple Employees and the Trevor Project: “It Gets Better”

October 11, 2011

In addition to being rated as the top gay-friendly brand in tech, Apple was an early supporter of domestic partnership benefits.  From a 1994 post: Our position was to make our benefits equitable,” says Bill Keegan, spokesperson for Apple Computer Inc., which made same-sex domestic partner benefits available to its 12,500 employees worldwide last year. […]

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Why you should buy your music directly from the artist

October 4, 2011

A closer look at online earnings (and losses) per platform (originally published September 27, 2011) If there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the recent kerfuffle over Spotify and artist payments, it is this: fans of indie music should buy directly from the artist whenever possible. The dust-up started when Uniform Motion posted earnings from […]

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Zoe Keating on Spotify, Apple and Independents (and lettuce)

September 23, 2011

Zoe Keating is an avant cellist whose work has been previously featured on MMT.  At yesterday’s F8 Conference, Spotify Founder & CEO Daniel Ek said that he wanted to “develop a system that fairly compensates artists”.  Given the recent controversy over artist payments from Spotify, I thought “artists” was an interesting choice of words.  I […]

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Zoe Keating: Avant Cellist (A Visibly Smart Film)

March 27, 2011

Intel produced a short film on Zoe Keating, where she describes building a world with music. Well, maybe describes isn’t the right word, because as she says: “You can’t actually describe it with words because…that’s why it’s music.”  Anyway, here’s what she has to say about it: A couple of weeks before I left to […]

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