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Zoe Keating Puts Her Revenue Figures into Perspective

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Last week Hypebot shared an initial response to Zoë Keating's most recent release of digital music revenue which tends to spark online discussion related to digital music and the careers of musicians. Keating responded with some clarifying emails regarding the larger discussion and agreed to let Hypebot share her discussion of the context for her download and streaming revenue figures.

From Zoë Keating:

I want you to know that I don’t release these numbers as a marketing tool. I’ve always tabulated stuff as part of doing my annual accounting and last year I decided to make a portion of them public. Music commentators were saying, over and over, that artists are not making a living selling music, they make all their money touring, etcetera etcetera. I noted that in my case that wasn't true and never had been. In the commentary I wasn't seeing a lot of actual numbers from artists and thought I’d offer some details of how it all works for me: a non-labeled artist whose career has existed entirely in the internet-age.

Of course I wanted people to notice my public spreadsheets but I have been genuinely surprised at the volume of discussion generated. Aren’t I just an example of “The Long Tail” at work? I will not ever sell one million copies of my albums, but I do sell 10k a year…..year after year with no marketing…. because people keep discovering my music on the Internet. Mine is an artisan product. I can make do with less and am quite happy with how things are.

Meanwhile yes, the big money is to be made at the top of the tail…and therein lies the promise of commercial music streaming services. It will be financially valuable to those who make hits and those who aggregate legions of artists. For a single artist like me commercial streaming will never be more than promo. I accept that. But will keep talking about it until streaming companies do more to make that promo more useful (i.e data).

I don’t think the future is blockbusters OR niche, it’s both. Fringe artists will continue being fringe. Pop music will be a Hunger Games-like fight to the top because there can only be one #1. And that leads to another of my motives for releasing data: with all the commentary that seems to say “get big or get out”, I want to say that small can be good and to encourage all those weirdos who make good art to keep at it.

I practice open finances to a point. Like other artists I make money from licensing and from touring but boy am I glad I don’t have to rely on that. The last couple years have been awesome….a Superbowl halftime commercial, a car ad, CBS Elementary, two PBS American Masters documentaries, many more..but licensing seems to fall randomly out of the sky. Will people keep writing asking to use my music? I have no idea. And touring doesn’t bring in as much as you’d think. I’m a mom and for now I don’t tour much because it is so disruptive. As for merch, that is a big zero because by choice I don’t sell anything other than music.

Given that commercial streaming is purely promotional for a small-scale artist, I think about what services I want to be included on…because they are not all the same and as yet there is not one streaming service to rule them all. Pandora is internet radio, and different, but I think it is awesome. It really is like radio, but way better. People discover me there. I was against them in principle when they tried to lobby congress to lower royalties but it’s always been true that, whereas they paid me about 3k for what I calculate to be about 3 million plays, I would probably be willing to waive that money in exchange for listener data. I’m not proposing that for anyone else, just to say that in my reckoning, for me, Pandora = valuable promo.

My withholding strategy with Spotify is somewhat accidental but I think it works for me. I left my digital distributor in 2010 and got a direct account with iTunes. Since then I haven’t had a distributor for my most recent album and haven’t been all that motivated to get one, so any music service who won’t work with me directly doesn’t have my last album. I like the business culture and the communities around Bandcamp and Soundcloud, and so all my music is freely available on both.

It is interesting to see that my music which is not available on commercial streaming makes up 60% of all sales. Is that because my accidental withholding strategy is working or is it because my new music is better than my old music or some other reason? I don’t know the answer! I have a new album coming out this year, so when the time comes I'll find a distributor who will let me pick and choose music services and control what songs I want to include and I’ll keep experimenting.

What about Youtube? I had about 2 million views in 2013 but nearly all of them are 3rd party videos. If I choose to monetize them I get, I think, 35% of the revenue share (the total revenue share being 55% to the copyright holders and 45% to Google). Given that, 3rd party videos will never amount to much. In my case I think of the 6,565 videos Youtube CMS has found so far, 90% of them are smalltime dance performances, rehearsals, films, art projects etc.

Until 2013, I always made a point of not monetizing videos that are live concerts (like those for Wired or ABC Radio National or Chase Jarvis) or 3rd party placeholder music videos….because I wanted the viewers to experience the music. I didn't want them to see ads, especially ads for things I don’t support, like Doritos. Everyone seems gung ho to embrace advertising but I would like people to see LESS ads, both because I think they make an experience unpleasant and because I want the entire world to consume less stuff (that goes for my merch too. I’m happy to sell you a digital download but I don’t want to sell you a tshirt). Until Youtube allows me some control over what is slapped on my music, I don’t think I want advertising on it.

As an experiment, in 2013 I started monetizing the masses of 3rd party videos - the dance performances, the art projects, the tiny films - but I’m going to stop it. The experiment was, can Youtube replace the small-time grand rights licenses I normally execute with dance companies? Grand rights licenses are time consuming but the vast majority of the time they don’t ask my permission anyway. I wondered if I could turn a blind eye to unlicensed dance performances and instead let Youtube advertisers pay. I’ve decided to end that experiment.

For one, the money is a tiny fraction of what I might ask per song for a grand rights license. But second, people complain. They send endless disputes to Youtube CMS because they don’t want ads on their content or they don’t understand copyright and Youtube doesn’t make the process very friendly for them. I have to choose whether to continue to assert my claim, and tick off a fan, or make a few pennies. The pennies aren't worth it. I should instead let all the fans and small timers use the music without advertising and use Youtube CMS to catch unlicensed uses of my music in commercial film, network TV and corporate advertising. You’d be amazed how often that happens. I’m probably not catching them all because I don’t go up and look all the time but when I do they get a letter from my licensing attorney and an invoice.

Lastly about Youtube... I’ve never made a music video. Maybe I will in the future. I know someone from Google recently said at Midem that “the video is the thing”, and the company changed their search results to reflect that. In my case that isn’t actually true. But what outcome do I want? Until the day I make a video should I upload all my songs to Youtube and make placeholder images for them? And if I do, should I stick to my principles and make the experience more pleasant for listeners and forgo the advertising revenue? Or should I sell out for a few pennies, make the experience as unpleasant as possible and accept ads for products I don’t support? I don’t know the answer to that one!
 


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