Zoë Keating is phenomenal. NPR should give her credit when they use her music.

I first heard Zoë Keating about a month ago. I wish I could remember the steps that lead to me discovering her music, but all I can remember is how floored I was when I listened to it, and how I couldn't buy her albums fast enough.

Zoë plays the Cello, which is cool on its own, but she does something with it that will just blow your mind.

Here, watch and listen a little bit, and then I'll tell you more:

See that MacBook next to her? She uses that to sample herself several times to build a rhythm, and then she plays over it, like a one-woman string quartet. Or quintet. Or awesometet. I didn't realize this the first time I heard her; I just thought her music was haunting and beautiful, but once I knew what she was doing, I was awestruck. In fact, knowing how she does it, I defy you to listen to it again and keep your jaw off the floor.

I mentioned it on Twitter shortly after I discovered her music, and it turns out that she is friends with my friend Meredith, who is one of the awesome ladies behind Coilhouse. Mer wrote a post for Coilhouse this morning about Zoë that made me an extremely sad panda:

NPR’s show All Things Considered used a song of hers yesterday without permission or credit.
Zoë’s been featured on NPR before –a great opportunity for her– but in
my opinion, that’s no excuse for their programmers to assume she’d be
fine with them arbitrarily yoinking her work and using it anonymously.
NPR is supposed to support off-the-beaten-path artists, not exploit
‘em, right?

Zoë, understandably, feels conflicted about the situation:

People have written saying I
should be flattered. Yeah, I’m flattered, but I have mixed feelings. I
feel the same as [I did] when a Channel 4 doc used my music
without permission, money or credit. I’m flattered… but also bummed
that 1) my music isn’t worth anything and 2) no one thought to ask if I
cared about how they edited it, or in what context it’s used.

Also, the economics of it are kind of a bummer… I’m an obscure experimental musician. Just a link on the All Things Considered music page, along with all the other links to music used in yesterday’s show, would help. RadioLab
is a good example of this. They use my music with my permission and
they credit me. I am happy for them to do this because I love and
support what they do, and I benefit from increased exposure and
substantial iTunes sales (thank you RadioLab!). That is a fair
exchange… (although sometimes I think I should pay a cut to RadioLab because they have helped me so much).

Sometimes this business is such
uphill going that I have to remind myself why I spend all my time doing
it (er, why? something about the need to create, blah blah). Maybe it
would be easier to go back to being an Information Architect and just [doing] a little music in the evenings for my own benefit. Ha! Not likely.

It's always been a challenge for artists to make a living doing what we love. I know firsthand how hard it is to do this sort of thing independently, and more frequently than I'd like, I wonder if it's all worth it or if it's even going to work. Exposure on NPR is the sort of thing that we all dream about, but when a producer uses her art and doesn't give something as simple as attribution in return, it hurts, and it's wrong.

I really, truly hope that this was just a simple mistake. I really, truly hope that NPR will do the right thing and use this as an opportunity to invite Zoë to be on All Things Considered, talk about her music, credit her music, and let their audience know about the phenomenally talented woman behind the music they used without attribution this week.

If you read my site with any regularity, I hope you understand how valuable your voice is for letting people know about our work. In this case, I hope that just one percent of the tens of thousands of you who read this will be inspired to post about it on your own blogs, and tell your friends about Zoë's music.

If you decide to comment at NPR's website, do us all a favor and be polite. This isn't about attacking them. This is about encouraging them to correct what is hopefully just an oversight, and if you're a dick, you won't help that cause at all.

And, borrowing from Mer one last time: "You can buy Zoë Keating’s gorgeous music on iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, or directly through her site. Support this woman. She deserves all the credit in the world."

This post has been edited since it was first written. I'd speculated about licensing fees, and that's really not the issue. It was confusing, we talked out it in the comments, and I thought it was best to revise my original post.

Edited to add:

Zoe herself commented on this entry. For those of you who read via RSS and don't come comment:

Dear Will, thank you for posting about me and my music! Its very much appreciated.

I thought I'd chime in since I'm the one being discussed. It is the credit issue that bothers me (although their edits to fit the dialog left a little to be desired). It would probably be only 1 person in a 1000 who would try to find my music after hearing those snippets on NPR. But my entire career is made from those beautiful little threads of connection. I can trace nearly every concert and musical opportunity to someone, somewhere hearing my music and maybe clicking a link. By taking away credit, those beautiful connections cannot be made.

However, all musical interludes in ATC are credited, so I'm assuming that my case is an oversight, perhaps the creator of the piece didn't label the music, etc.

Regarding ASCAP: yes I have every single work registered with ASCAP but there is a lot of confusion out there as to how ASCAP functions. Its not a one-to-one relationship between airplay and royalties paid. ASCAP samples, I think, 10% of what is being played on the radio, and then distributes money to artists based a magical formula that I don't understand. I do receive checks from ASCAP on a regular basis, but never, ever have any of them been from plays in the US. All of them have been European PRS royalties from concerts, or for broadcast of the documentary Frozen Angels in Denmark & Sweden. The workings (or non-workings) of US performing rights societies is a rich topic.

Regardless, if a musical work is not "logged" as being played in a production, even if the payment system were more direct and (I think) fair, there is no way for money to trickle down to an artist, because there is no record of it. So hopefully NPR documented my musical contribution somewhere, and then it will eventually go into the black hole of ASCAP and they can give my $6, or whatever it is, to U2, again.

re: the Channel 4 documentary, my cousin saw it on UK telly and emailed to congratulate me. I then wrote to the producers and they very promptly sent me a check without me even asking for one! Case closed on that one I think, although I realize now that I never got a copy of a cue sheet, and don't know if they filed one. The life of an artist involves a lot of paperwork…

Anyway, I'm not outraged, but more disappointed and very tired. No one likes a whiny musician and I'll get over it. Ironically, everyone talking about this is probably more exposure than if I'd gotten credit. So now I'm really confused!

I'm going to forget about all of it onstage in Australia. Off to catch a plane…



One final update: A few people from NPR left comments here or on Twitter, and it appears that this was, in fact, a mistake. Reader JV sent me an e-mail just a moment ago with a link to NPR's website, where they've credited Zoe for her music. I've always thought NPR were the good guys, and I'm glad that people there made an effort to make things right.

91 thoughts on “Zoë Keating is phenomenal. NPR should give her credit when they use her music.”

  1. when one door closes another opens. i love the fact that you, wil, are lamenting this cool artist not getting credit so you put her on your blog and then i read it and listen to zoe’s fantasticalness and i and others go buy her music because she is so amazing.

  2. I’ll comment on a few things Zoe wrote – I lived with a professional musician for many years and have been friends with many more (some of them were actually able to quit the day jobs) I also saw the other end of ASCAP sampling at my college radio station.
    ASCAP does sample stations and use statistics to distribute the royalties – the problem is that when there are few plays of a musician, they either get missed completely or once in a while get logged and then show as a much higher play rate. NPR would have to be one of the stations being sampled at the time for the play to show up. I think the 10% is much too high – the sampling rate needed for the mainstream music is much lower and ASCAP isn’t going to spend lots of money to do a proper sampling to represent the fringe artists. [When our station was logging for ASCAP, I made sure that the underrepresented artists got played on my show.]
    The NPR _have to_ vs. _should do_ has been discussed already – the nice thing is that with the internet, it gets discussed and new people can find out even if NPR forgets to credit the piece.
    As for Zoe feeling slighted and unrecognized, she needs to develop a thick skin if she intends to continue in music. [Plus have good legal and accounting advice.] She will get used, abused, cheated, slighted, plagiarized, lied to, loved, hated, praised, insulted, etc., etc. Most of the people she will have to deal with don’t care about the music or playing fair – just making money or wielding power. (except fans, and they can be problematic in their own way)
    The musicians I knew all learned to deal with the nasty part of being an artist and enjoy the creative muse (like Wil has). The unpleasant stuff hurts, but you cannot let it get in the way of your performance. [some who were talented enough to go professional couldn’t endure the nasty and competitive part of the business so they went back to playing as a hobby.]
    Thanks Zoe for the music. Thanks Wil for introducing me to the music.
    – – –
    Another artist who was playing duets with a computer – – Bela Fleck was playing Dueling Banjos against a Mac at concerts in the late 80s. He also used a delay circuit to play a duet with himself a few seconds in the past.

  3. Zoe, you wrote: “By taking away credit, those beautiful connections cannot be made.”
    That’s it right there, isn’t it? I submit that “Those Beautiful Connections” ought to be the title of something.

  4. Just wanted to drop a line saying thanks for introducing me to Zoe’s music…bought the (heh…was going to say “album” but then I caught myself. Wouldn’t want to confuse the younger readers here.)bought it on itunes immediately.
    Since a lot people are suggesting similar stuff, I’d like to point out two bands: October Project and Downy Mildew. Unfortunately I believe both have gone the way of the dodo.

  5. This is one of the great things about Web 2.0…I found your site via your Twitter profile and then found this post and this amazingly different music by Zoe.
    I would have never found it otherwise. What a killer find. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great Post Wil – I like to hear about the musicians or artists (writers, photographers, etc. etc.) that would otherwise be missed by the mainstream and it is nice to see you standing up for them.
    I listened and watched the video and enjoyed what I heard, so much so that I went and purchased Zoe’s two albums on iTunes “One Cello X 16″ and “One Cello X 16:Natoma”
    A friend of mine (Paul F. Page) is an independent musician who has done a lot of instrumental piano work on his Mac, too. Think there is a correlation between artistry and Macintosh computers?
    Thanks for the ‘Zoe’ posting – keep ’em comin’
    Bill Teeple
    San Jose, CA

  7. Hi Wil,
    When you go to the All Things Considered homepage on any given day, you’ll see the stories listed, along with a button that says “music interludes view.” When you click it, it displays all the music that’s been logged for that episode, including a link to purchase the music via iTunes.
    Looking at the show’s rundown for the day in question, I’m not seeing Zoe mentioned – the musical interlude listed with the segment is the band Tuatara.
    I’ve been out of the office at a conference all week and missed all of this until late tonight, so I apologize if someone at NPR has responded to this already and I’ve simply not seen it yet. But I will check with my colleagues at NPR and get some clarification. Obviously, we take crediting musicians who appear in our segment interludes seriously, and built the iTunes link for each interlude so musicians can benefit from people discovering their music via NPR’s website. But I will dig around and see what I can find and report back as soon as I can.
    Andy Carvin
    NPR social media desk

  8. The musicians I knew all learned to deal with the nasty part of being an artist and enjoy the creative muse (like Wil has). The unpleasant stuff hurts, but you cannot let it get in the way of your performance.
    Hmm. Y’know, actually, I very much doubt that this snag will get in the way of Zoe’s performance. The woman’s a pro, not a hobbyist. She’s been doing this for a very long time and her skin is plenty thick.
    But… speaking as a freelance musician myself (hell, as a creative type, period), ye olde “suck it up, walk it off” type responses to someone raising perfectly valid concerns about receiving proper accreditation just don’t seem particularly helpful, sorry.
    DIY artists can be tough as nails and this sort of thing will still be frustrating, fair use or no. In my opinion, addressing the situation head on is far healthier than “oh, well, dat’s just the biz. Dem’s da breaks. C’est la vie.”
    I think it’s VERY important to self-producing creators to stick up for themselves when mishaps like the NPR oversight occur… Of course, in this case, it’s more Zoe’s colleagues piping up FOR her than anything else. :)
    But hey, now that all this is said and done, everyone still loves NPR for doing what they do. Only, now a few more folks love Zoe, too. I call that progress!
    (Thanks, Wil.)

  9. Hi Andy.
    It’s really, really cool of you to notice this and take the time to reply. I’m a longtime subscriber and listener to my local affiliate (KPCC) as well as the national programming, and I just love what you all do at NPR.
    I sincerely hope that this was just an oversight, and that NPR makes things right. Zoe is so wonderful and so talented, it would be such a huge shame if more people heard her music and didn’t know where they could get more.

  10. Wil — again thank you. I am so happy I follow your blog. Not just for the interesting items you post every day but also for gems like this blog post.
    I’ve never heard Zoe’s music before and the video post you included was absolutely mesmerizing. Like Michael who posted before me, I also went straight away to iTunes and purchased her album.
    I find it so refreshing that you’ve brought this up and had, what appears to be, some really nice back and forth in the comments as to the crux of the issue — I came into this after you edited the main post so the issue at hand is completely cogent.
    I hope it was just an oversight on NPR’s part but either way, I hope they make amends. Also it makes me smile that it all comes back to your blog’s motto…don’t be a dick, give credit where credit is due!

  11. Wil! Thanks for mentioning Zoe… I recently heard her on Radiolab and loved it. You probably already knew this, but in case you didn’t (and for others wanting to know more) be advised that there is a Radiolab Podcast that is *all* about Zoe and features two long pieces and many short riffs, and probably half an hour of her talking with Jad Abumrad about her music, style, background, etc. It wasn’t played on the radio, and is only on the podcast, but it’s free from ITunes Music Store. Search for Radiolab: Quantum Cello. Radiolab also featured her music on the “War of the Worlds” episode quite a bit.

  12. I have more awesome cello-ness to add the mix:
    Portland Cello Project This ain’t your grandma’s orchestra made up entirely of cellos (celli?). Salt n Pepper? Check. Britney Spears? Check. Star Wars and Superman theme? Check. Oh and a little classical just to keep the old folks interested.
    Lindsay Mac She straps it on! The cello I mean. And yes, I do like saying that a bit too much, why do you ask? Watch the videos and look up more on YouTube to really appreciate the magic.
    Enjoy. And thanks for the new cello goodness.

  13. Hey Wil, sorry to go OT on you, but did you hear you got a mention on the latest ESPN Bill Simmons podcast on 2/20? Unfortunately it was Adam Carolla casting you as a pedophile in his movie pitch for “Pedof Isle” :/

  14. You should check out a fellow called Jeff Klein if he ever plays anywhere near you. He plays with the Twilight Singers and Gutter Twins but also does his own solo shows where he’s been doing the same layering trick with an acoustic guitar and a few pedals for the past 5 years or so. He has a wonderful break in his voice and his songs are drenched with heartache, loss and a nice dash of vitriol…
    Will have to track down more of Zoe’s stuff,always loved the sound of a cello and her music has a beautifully haunting quality. Cheers for the tip.

  15. That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve never met him, the few times I’ve heard Adam Carolla mention me, it’s been in some kind of dickish way like that.
    I don’t think he means it, is the thing. I think that, in his mind, I’m not a person, I’m That Guy Who Was In That Movie When He Was A Kid, so he’s just using my name and the way he identifies me in his head as part of a (weak) joke.

  16. Wil, I know you borrowed the quote from Mer on where Zoe’s music was available from, but I wanted to let everyone know that it’s also available from the Zune Marketplace. It’s available for purchase in DRM-free MP3 format or for download as part of a Zune Pass subscription.
    Just an FYI for those people with Zunes out there!

  17. But… speaking as a freelance musician myself (hell, as a creative type, period), ye olde “suck it up, walk it off” type responses to someone raising perfectly valid concerns about receiving proper accreditation just don’t seem particularly helpful, sorry.
    I should have put a few more words in there to make my intent clearer when I wrote “deal with.”
    I didn’t mean “suck it up, walk it off”; I meant “doing everything you can to protect your career, health, art, and finances.”
    I was trying to get at the concept that you have to be Jekyll and Hyde – aggressive and relentless in business when necessary yet calm and professional when creating and performing. I run a business with my wife and I have to do that with the work vs. business parts of the company. Sometimes I have only a few seconds to switch personalities – I’m not great at it, but I work at it.

  18. It’s not as bad as it sounds – I think you came up in a riff about child actors. The joke was a little more about the Hollywood casting process rather than you personally. Give a listen if you have the time.
    Maybe there’s an opportunity here – either to get on the B.S. Report to chat about NHL hockey. Adam is apparently setting up his own podcast as well and appears to have some geeky tendencies (for instance building a garage with a hydraulic lift). Maybe you could do a podcast with him and he can realize that you’re more than “That Guy Who Was In That Movie When He Was A Kid.”
    Of course,
    a) What do I know?
    b) I know you’re too cool to worry about it.

  19. Wow, that’s good stuff. One of my friends does the whole livelooping thing with him beatboxing, a variety of instruments – very impressive! Off to visit iTunes now, thanks!

  20. Speaking of live looping, my favorite version of Imogen Heap’s Just For Now is her live looped version. The studio version is okay, but the version performed live and solo is just incredible.
    From Zoe’s comment, it looks like it’s something that they’ve all been working on.

  21. Excellent. Thank you Wil. Sometimes I truly believe you are the glue that holds the internets together.
    If you enjoy the amazing sounds of “one person bands,” and want to hear some amazing loops, then you should check out Keller Williams. He seems to attract, uh, recreational listeners, IYKWIM, but he is an amazing musician. He plays 11 different guitars, a bunch of percussion instruments, “mouth trumpet,” and beat-box, to name just a few. He also sings, and loops it all to make amazing music.
    Here’s a video:
    Oh, and you have generated another Zoë Keating fan. Kudos.

  22. WNYC’s Radio Lab did a short 20 min segment on Zoe Keating on their podcast. It was totally amazing. The girl can keep track of 20 threads in her mind (speaking from a software engineer’s point of view).

  23. Amusing seeing this post. I went to college with Zoe at Sarah Lawrence. I honestly didn’t know her well – she’s a couple of years older than me and we never had classes together but a lot of my friends know her. As time goes by, so many of the people I went to school with there are becoming very successful, especially in the arts: Zoe, David Lindsay-Abaire, Eric Mabius, Elizabeth Rohm and there are others I can’t remember at this time. All went to SLC at the same time.

  24. Wil, thanks for recommending Zoe Keating’s music. I got her music off iTunes, and I’m listening to it right now. Wow. Just wow. As a computer programmer, I’ve found Zoe’s music (along with Mozart) to be very conducive to coding. Thanks again.

  25. Hi Wil,
    I’ve been poking around here at NPR to see what I could piece together. Here’s where things stand. (I’m cross-posting this to Coilhouse as well, so please forgive me if anyone of you have read this already.)
    I just talked with Bob Boilen, former director of All Things Considered (ATC) and host of All Songs Considered. When he was director of ATC, he was in charge of selecting music, so he knows a lot about how this works.
    Essentially, there are two issues here: permissions and crediting. Permissions is fairly straightforward. NPR pays fees to major music licensing orgs like ASCAP, of which many musicians are members. That allows us to use snippets of music on air without having to negotiate permission on a case-by-case basis. Meanwhile, many artists also submit their music to NPR in the hopes of having it played on air. But since Zoe’s music is ASCAP registered, permissions would have been covered under that relationship, since we pay ASCAP fees as well. So if the system works properly, Zoe gets paid by ASCAP when we air her work and log it properly.
    The other issue, though, is NPR giving Zoe credit. Zoe notes correctly that entities using ASCAP are supposed to log their music plays. NPR has an in-house system for doing this, so we can track all of the music we use, report on that use, and give credit to the artist publicly. If you look at the rundown the day the story in question aired, the song that follows the story is by the band Tuatara. The rundown page credits that band, and when you listen to the audio for the story, that’s the music you hear. So at least on our website, which captures the stories and music interludes we broadcast, there’s no sign of Zoe’s music that I can find so far.
    I thought this was strange, so Bob and I searched our internal database for Zoe’s music, since that would tell us if she’d ever been considered or actually used by one of our shows. Two shows listed her music – Morning Edition and Day to Day. I can’t tell if this means they actually used her music at one point, or if they merely flagged it as of potential interest. Either way, nothing turned up for All Things Considered.
    I asked Bob why this might be the case, and he came up with two theories. One is that NPR itself didn’t use her music in the broadcast, but a local station used a piece of hers as interstitial music – and that’s what Zoe ended up hearing. Stations often will layer their own local content, including music interludes, over our national programming, so it’s possible that Zoe happened to hear a local station do this. Bob’s other theory was that it was possible that one of the hourly feeds of All Things Considered switched the music around for some reason, and it didn’t get logged properly. ATC is re-aired each hour so stations around the country can choose when they want to begin airing it, and sometimes edits are made to subsequent feeds. In theory, though, this should at least be flagged when we do a search for Zoe’s music in our database, but it’s possible that something fell through the cracks.
    So at this point, I’m close to reaching a dead end, but not entirely. I plan to ask the director of the show that day to see if he knows Zoe’s music. If he says yes, it probably means something went wrong with the logging of a feed. If he says no, it probably means it was a local station using her music and not NPR itself.
    It would also help if Zoe could reconfirm that this was indeed the story she heard, and if she could say what time of day she heard the story, and at what point in the story she heard her music. Either way, I’m gonna keep poking around.
    Lastly, a message for Zoe – please get in touch with me or Bob Boilen. Bob really likes your music and wants to talk to you about it. :-)
    Andy Carvin
    @acarvin on Twitter

  26. I was mesmerized by Zoe’s technique when I watched the video, so I bought the album from itunes and it’s just amazing. Plus I’m a big fan of cello music – Thanks for the suggestion, Wil!

  27. Awww, suck! I totally missed out on seeing her here in Sydney. Thanks for the exposure to a new artist, Wil – I’m off to iTunes to give her my monetary support. :) Mare

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