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
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.