Indie Musician Zoe Keating Defines Transparency; Breaks Down Exactly How She Makes A Living

from the can-i-get-a-matching-offer-from-any-major-label? dept

We're used to hearing broad statements about the income of major labels, mostly about how little it is and why that needs to be “fixed.” We've also shown how any disclosure about income from the labels is less than a one-way street (more of a cul-de-sac filled with vacant lots) when it comes to their own artists. When it comes to making a living by making music, it often seems that beyond very public Kickstarter campaigns, not many people actually know how much money is flowing to artists and from where.

Zoe Keating, who's been featured on Techdirt before, mainly due to run-ins with ASCAP and Universal, has opted to go fully transparent. She's uploaded a Google Doc, breaking down every source of income in detail. Hypebot breaks down the breakdown

Clearly, the best way to support Zoe (and other independent artists like her) is to purchases directly from the artist. Just by taking a look at the pie chart, it is evident that the vast majority (nearly 97%) of her recorded music revenue comes from fans purchasing her music as opposed to streaming it. Less than $300 came from Spotify, while more than $45,000 came from iTunes.

“Music sales have been a consistent 60-70% of my total income,” Zoe told Hypebot. “The rest comes from concert fees and film/commercial licensing.”

Perhaps an unsurprising number, it nonetheless is a great reminder of why connecting with your fans is so important. If you can make that connection, it makes selling infinite items that much easier. As is pointed out by Hypebot, Spotify accounted for only $300 of Keating's income. This could be construed as being precisely what's wrong with Spotify, but Keating's take on this low number doesn't reflect that:

“The income of a non-mainstream artist like me is a patchwork quilt and streaming is currently one tiny square in that quilt,” Zoe said in her Google Doc

She also doesn't seem to be concerned, as others are, that Spotify and other streaming services will supplant tracks sales and reduce her income. 

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.

This isn't to say she doesn't have any reservations about the streaming service. In her Google Doc notes, she points out that, at this point, she feels artists should view it more as “a discovery service rather than a source of income.” This could change, though, if Spotify makes a few alterations. First of all, Keating would like to see it open its availability:

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.

At this point, Keating is still unable to get one of her albums (“Into the Trees”) onto Spotify due to the lack of a digital distributor who won't take a cut of her iTunes sales. In order to get her music on Spotify, she has had to run her albums through an aggregator (CDBaby, TuneCore, etc.) in order to make them available. As it stands now, her latest solo album isn't generating any Spotify income.

She also feels Spotify could turn itself into a better platform for musicians:

I wish Spotify would do more to facilitate the connection between listeners and artists – i.e. show that the artists is playing nearby, or add links to buy music. It's early days, so maybe this will happen eventually.

Away from the streaming front, Keating also addresses those who have suggested she leverage her success and sign with a major label to “extend her reach:”

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.

There's sure to be more discussions springing from this data and her comments. Having turned herself into a “data point,” Keating is now encouraging all artists to do the same. As she points out, if we're ever going to figure out where the music industry's headed, we need to collect as much information as possible from where it is now. Hopefully, Keating's transparency will result in many more “data points” offering up detailed pictures of how they're making money by making music. 


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Comments on “Indie Musician Zoe Keating Defines Transparency; Breaks Down Exactly How She Makes A Living”

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Loki says:

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.

Which is why the labels fight it tooth and nail. Unless they can plaster their artist at the top of the chain, and bury everything else as far down as they can manage, they will do anything in their power to stop competition.

If anyone thinks that is not true, they simply have to look at what they did with MySpace and eMusic.

Kevin (profile) says:

...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

Unfortunately, streaming sales are going to do exactly what she suggests they’re not, which is pretty likely supplant album sales. I’m an outlier in this case, but I can still see this trend happening.

I’m a Linux-running PC enthusiast, so I care more than average about actually owning my data, rather than “licensing” it from some 3rd party who can shut it off. None the less, my music purchases have ground to a halt in the last few years because most of the new music I listen to is on Pandora and, lately, Spotify. I’m in the same boat as most Americans in that I am doing a little better than living paycheck to paycheck, but a significant (and still fairly common) emergency could mean huge financial trouble for me. Last I checked this puts me in the same boat with roughly 70% of the population (because this is about what happens to your income and how much of it is eaten immediately after you get paid by routine expenses, and not how much you make necessarily, so the number is very high right now during the recession).

Rent, healthcare, gas, utilities, food, and all the basic expenses are going up. My income as a starting-out programmer is better than most people my age in this small town, but we’re still just a bit more than making it. The best way we can enjoy content is to use services that cost just a little bit each month like Netflix and Pandora to give us access to a wide range of content (even if it’s not always on our terms) to get the most bang for our buck.

There are a million different artists and charities that I’d like to donate to or support in some way, but for the most part I restrain myself from basically ever spending money like that, because it’s just a matter of having to draw the line somewhere. If I supported every musical artist and charity and website I liked with a $5 – $10 “micropayment”, I’d nickel and dime myself into needing a 6-figure salary to support my habit. Unfortunately, this seems to be pushing artists into the same territory that charities now face. We need them, and we want them, but the people with the money to support them the way they need are increasingly the people at the top hoarding all the wealth, and as we can see they’re simply not going to invest it like that (because it doesn’t make them personally richer).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

I think really only the end of that post could be construed as “anti-capitalist”. Almost the entire thing was just the observation that as a person with a modest budget, streaming services often present better value to Kevin than individual “hard” purchases.

MrWilson says:

Re: Re: ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

[Citation needed]

Some at the top certainly do spend a lot on charities, but those are specific charities that deal with specific issues. Most charities aren’t helping average Americans and many don’t even help human beings directly (other than the ones working for the charity).

Regardless of how much money the rich spend on products, they can’t make up in volume for what 99 percenters would spend the same money on. A rich person who makes as much as 200 other people combined won’t be buying 200 iPhones.

Not to mention, a lot of rich people hoard money, so they’re not spending all of what they make. They’re not necessarily putting it back into the economy, so it’s not doing anyone any good.

A lot of rich people are vulture capitalists who bet against the market doing well and who take apart perfectly functional companies for their own profit at the cost of jobs for poor workers. A lot of rich people invest in companies that ship jobs overseas thus decreasing American jobs and decreasing American consumer spending power thus making the economy worse.

But don’t let facts get in the way of a good pro-capitalist suck up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

“Of course, the people at the top do tend to spend a fuck ton on both products…”
While avoiding sales taxes by having their purchases shipped to states with no sales tax.

…and charites (sic)…”
only when it lowers their personal tax rate, otherwise screw the poor.

But hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a good pro-capitalist rant, boy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

And even if they avoid sales tax their purchases do create demand for products poorer people can’t afford thus creating JOBS that get money to the poor.

And you’re assuming that the tax rate is the only reason they do it. I know I’ve done plenty of things with the goal of both helpinmg others AND myself.

Devils_Advocate (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

@MrWilson (#9) and AC (#10)


Personally, I’m pretty sick and tired of hearing that old “trickle-down economics” chestnut, when we all know the truth is…
1) the rich have always extracted their wealth from the poorer; and
2) if the rich are doing so much that would actually be “bettering everyone else”, why is it the wealthy are now the only ones who can afford any real quality of life??!

After so many years of wealth “trickling down” we should all be living fairly well at this point, don’tcha think?!

And seriously, anyone referring to the rich as the “job creators” is either a complete moron, or just out to insult those of us who aren’t morons.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

Not to rain on your parade (because you do have some points worthy of public discussion), but lots of people can afford a real quality of life. No, lots of people don’t have heated tiles on their bathroom floors, but basic sanitation, clean running water, medicines for common illnesses and ailments (headaches, flu, cold, diarrhea, etc), birth control, and a host of others are all things that kings and queens of even a few hundred years ago didn’t have. Unless you are talking about the most absolute destitute, most of the bottom 20% have these things.

There’s still a wide gap between the wealthy and the poor. There’s still probably a lot that can be done to better the lives of the poor. I just want you to define what a “real quality of life” is? Things are getting better for nearly everyone. That isn’t the problem. We might not like that things are getting better faster for some than for others, but life is still getting better.

Kevin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

You know that’s a great point if you pretend the “bottom 20%” is just the bottom 20% of America, but America’s poorest are still “rich” compared to many areas of the world. If you do a real worldwide analysis on wealth distribution (and why the hell not? wealth has the opportunity to flow freely all over the world) the numbers get exponentially more bleak.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

When you start including the bottom 20% of the entire world, you are talking such massive changes, that almost all of the bottom 20% of regions like the USA, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Europe* jump up a ranking or two or maybe three.

Consider that the poorest people are probably in India, China, and Africa*, and that the combined population of those three regions represent about half of the world’s population. According to this table, India and China have less than about 5% and 8% respectively of the wealth per adult as the US, and many African countries have even less. These are really rough estimates that would be nice to have better accuracy on, but even so it’s fairly clear that including the entire world means that only the very poorest of the USA would get even close to the bottom 20% of the world. You might well have to get to the bottom 1% in order to do even that.

But even so, those bottom 1% are still better off than most people a long time ago if you look at the basic sanitation issue alone. It used to be that streets (made of dirt with lots of standing water for mosquitoes after a rainstorm) was where you dumped your chamber pot. For the most part, in any developed country you no longer have that.

Like I said, we can discuss what can be done for the quality of life of the bottom 20% (whether world or the USA), and it’s a good discussion to have, but we need to first recognize that improvements are being made, and also define what the end goal is. What is a “real quality of life”?

* I know Europe and Africa are continents, not countries. That’s why I said regions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

I know the answer to number 2.

Because they have accumulated enough promises(i.e. money) of work done.

You see is not money that make things happen, is work, no matter how it is done or for what reasons, if you work for something and produce something that thing is born that service happens.

Being poor doesn’t mean you can’t have it, it means you have to work harder to get it and when I say work harder I don’t mean earn money, I mean in the sense that if you want to have a chair you go out, get the wood, carve it and produce a chair, but to do that you need the knowledge to make the chair in the first place, this is why is so important to end artificial monopolies that distort the market and are a barrier for the creation of wealth real wealth not money wealth, real physical wealth and services.

The lack of money means you can’t afford the lack of knowledge.

That being sad the rich always will “afford” better care because they have means to make others work for them, while others only have themselves to do all the work.

This is the key, work, if we want better care for everybody, everybody will have to learn to work for others no matter what happens, that means putting aside emotions most of the time that get in the way of executing work.

People can get together and work towards better care but they will have to do it without the aid of emotional crutches like money, people will need to learn to work and produce because they need each others to so the work don’t become overwhelming.

And tech is coming along, it is possible to print drugs according to a UK researcher.

But that is only part of what is needed we actually need people to work for the care of others, have anybody volunteered to do work in places like The Gesundheit! Institute?

Money makes people work for others, but work can be done without money, you just need to start doing it, the problem is people find many excuses not to work, we don’t like someone and we don’t wanna help, we don’t like that color, we don’t like some decision, we don’t like something and so we don’t cooperate, that is what money really solves and produces a place were only the people with lots of it can “afford” anything.

Money is not the only way to do things though.

One person producing medicine probably won’t be able to produce all the medicines he/she needs, a group of people though probably will, a group of people can produce more products and services that one person alone and everybody can contribute to reduce the cost of living by starting to produce the bare minimum they would need to survive if anything gets taken away.

Letting others become your master by letting them control the production of goods and services only will lead to one result and that is the individual always will get screwed.

This is so basic that it works for individuals and for countries, you don’t let others become the sole providers of anything or else they will take advantage of that leverage, this is what is happening right now, people allowed others to become the workers, but many have the capabilities to live a decent life if they start producing the things they need(the basic things) and start teaming up with others to produce services that benefit everyone.

Knowledge will set you free, because when you can’t buy it, you will be able to make it yourself.

Dave Xanatos (profile) says:

Re: ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

Unfortunately, streaming sales are going to do exactly what she suggests they’re not, which is pretty likely supplant album sales.

I’m not convinced this is the case, anymore than radio supplanted album sales. The number of people unwilling to buy because it is streamable will easily be made up for by people willing to buy because they heard it streaming.

Kevin (profile) says:

Re: Re: ...but streaming sales will do exactly that.

I’m not convinced it’s the case either, but it certainly has for me, and I know many of my friends are in the same situation (and they don’t even subscribe to Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, etc. because of even lower incomes). It seems pretty reasonable to me to infer from that, with a healthy dose of statistics I read every day, that album sales might very well suffer.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is laid out one particular thing that the majors aren’t interested in doing. That is connecting with the fan. The majors just want to take your money and try to figure out a way to get you to pay again.

AC #5 points out about people at the top spending but the reality is that is the same as ‘lets reduce the taxes for the top 1% as job creators’. If that really worked, after 30 years of it, we ought to be up to our ears in jobs…so where are they?

Simply the numbers at the top aren’t enough to keep the economy running nor enough to satisfy the majors in income. It’s a sign of just how far out of touch they are with their market base in how they value their product. The value of a product is only what the buyer will pay, not some made up number the seller wants to charge.

So let’s not let accusations get in the way of a poor rant.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know about Paley, but Masnick’s business info is linked right there at the bottom of every page on Techdirt. One can infer from it that his income comes from his management salary and part ownership of Floor64, which in turn derives revenue from (perhaps among other things) ads here on Techdirt, and from consulting for corporate clients who need blogging platforms, tools and content.

In other words, he gives away captivating content for free, yet still makes a boatload of money off of it.

OK, now it’s your turn.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Maybe I'm biased but...

hint: not possible, I was born in Canada and there are naked pictures of me at Burning Man)

….I’d consider both those traits as well as the huge “not a politician” one to make her waaaay more suitable to be president than any of the candidates in the running for the job. 🙂 (And no I’m not Canadian)

Vidiot (profile) says:

More, please

Via Twitter, she’s thrown down the gauntlet and asked for other musicians to step forward with their own data, but we haven’t seen any responses, which is too bad; I think our collective understanding of how musicians earn their livelihoods would really be furthered if we had a broader range of examples. It’s like being the sole player in a game of I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours. That being said, kudos to Zoe for caring so much about us, and about her industry.

Michael says:

Interesting read.

As someone posted, the major labels are only game if their stable of artists is front-and-center and they (the labels, not the artists) rake in the lion’s share of profit.

I don’t believe that streaming services represent the future of internet music distribution and revenue, at least not with regards to any of its current iterations.

Of course Zoe’s right when she says that she wouldn’t make any money if she signed to a major label — they’d just hoard it all for themselves and keep her in the red. By going independent, she can make a living plus retain ownership of her work.

Why won’t more independent artists share their stories?

Simon Chamberlain (profile) says:

I wish Spotify would do more to facilitate the connection between listeners and artists – i.e. show that the artists is playing nearby, or add links to buy music. It’s early days, so maybe this will happen eventually.

To a certain extent it does both of these already – the Songkick app will show you that artists you listen to are touring, and there are links beside songs and albums that let you buy them (OK, not all albums, and it’s done through Spotify AKAIK, and the prices are too high – but it is there).

Jeff P says:

little of keating’s music is available on pandora either but according to her doc she made 3 times what she made from spotify. would like to see her total pandora numbers and what is their marketshare?

missing the point though which is: streaming income is never going to support a niche artist. at the average $0.0041 per stream, she’d need 12 million streams to make the same amount she does on itunes and no niche artist is ever going to do that. spotify is a mainstream artists game. given that anyone can torrent any music for free already, she’d be a fool to promote spotify when they don’t reciprocate.

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