SCOTTSDALE, AZ - The internet has made possible some pretty amazing things: crowd-free shopping, free video chat and more information than you can shake a stick at (I’ll look up the history of that saying on the web later).
Equally amazing are the realized dreams of the countless musicians using YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and the like to sidestep traditional means of getting their music heard and purchased by the masses.
For Zoe Keating, it’s the way she earns a living.
Keating is a classically trained cellist, having performed with artists including Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer and performing for movie scores, but now plays solo with a laptop computer that records and loops her playing live to sound like an entire orchestra.
Her latest album is Into the Trees and came out in 2010.
ABC 15: I saw your Facebook ad for the first time this morning, and was really surprised that I was able to get a hold of you and get over here. Is that type of internet presence, is it defining the way a lot of artists like you are able to operate at all?
Zoe Keating: I think so. I started out always just doing everything myself because I couldn’t afford to have anybody else working for me, and the internet is free, you don’t need publicity, you don’t need to hire a $2,000/week publicist or anything like that, you can just go online and get a Facebook ad. And then if someone wants to talk to me, all they have to do is email me and I’m right there. I think it is a lot more common, because there aren’t as many middle men involved. Everybody’s sort of downscaled and I like it that way. I’ve always been a very D.I.Y. person, and so I just like that interaction with people, I like to feel connected to where I’m going, I like to meet people when I’m there. It’s my life.
ABC 15: Being such a do-it-yourself person….I saw on your MySpace page, ‘unsigned’, ‘not even looking’, or something like that. Are you happy just sticking with yourself?
ZK: Yeah, again, when I first started out, I think I went the route of: I tried to get labels to be interested in my stuff and I sent them my demos and what have you, but they were pretty uninterested and the responses that I did get were like ‘well, you’re very interesting, but it’s completely unmarketable, we don’t know where you would fit.’ So, I didn’t want to take no for an answer, and I just believed that I could do it myself. And the thing is, when you do it yourself, you get to keep all the money, which is what a lot of artists who are on record deals are realizing now, is that there’s so little money to go around that it just works out better for me. The other thing is when you’re a small-scale artist, and it’s just you, you can make do with less. I don’t need to sell a hundred thousand copies of an album to make a living, you know? I can sell ten thousand copies. It feels much more sustainable, I can grow it gradually, like, I don’t have to do a big marketing splash, I don’t need like a thousand new fans a day or anything, it’s just very natural and organic, and I like it that way.
ABC 15: You mentioned the labels not knowing where to put you. Has that been a challenge for you in developing your sound? It’s a crazy unique sound.
ZK: Well, thank you. One thing that is a challenge is that people always ask me, ‘what category are you in? What artists are you like?’ It’s almost like we’ve stopped trusting our own musical instincts and we have to know what it is before we hear it. I’ve always sort of just refused to categorize myself, I tried for a long time, and I failed. So now I sort of make a point of deliberately not categorizing it and I just say “hey, I think it’s music that you might like and just give a listen, and you can put it in a category if you want to.” (laughs) It’s blue music, or it’s green music.
ABC 15: Can you give me some sort of timeline on how you developed that sound, or that idea?
ZK: Well, I was classically trained as a cellist from a young age; I started playing when I was eight. Then when I was in college, I sort of stopped doing classical music; I started doing improvisation, studied new music, and was studying things that weren’t about music, working with dance department and things. And then when I moved to San Francisco, I lived in a warehouse, and I was really influenced by the sort of electronic music scene there, and warehouse parties, that kind of experimental electronica. I think I really liked the idea of trying to make something that would have the production quality of electronica, but with a classical instrument and not modifying the sound, like only using an acoustic instrument. It sort of appealed to me; it was like a challenge to see if I could do it. I just like that aesthetic, but I like the sound of the cello, and I think it just naturally evolved like that.
ABC 15: I watched your videos and saw that you do your own rhythm on your instrument. Is that something you instinctively knew would work?
ZK: I don’t know. I just try things out. It’s always been