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Who is Zoe Keating and Why Should Indie Filmmakers Care?

by Chris Dorr
October 2, 2009 9:50 AM
8 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

New York-based digital consultant Chris Dorr and I had a lively phone conversation Thursday about how independent filmmakers should exploit the internet. He got off the phone and wrote this essay.

Several years ago, I left the movie business and entered the world of the internet and mobile. Since then, independent filmmakers have often asked me about what they should do in this “new media” digital world. As digital innovation has increased in its speed and scope over the past two years, as the iPhone has come out, as social networks have exploded, these questions have grown exponentially as well.

Recently I have been telling everyone the same thing. If you want to get into the digital world, if you want to build an audience for your work, if you want to make some money, learn from Zoe Keating.

Here are a few relevant facts about Zoe.

She is a cellist who writes and records her original compositions. Some call her music pop, some say it is classical, and others insist it is avant garde. Zoe performs by herself with an Apple computer by her side, which allows her to sample her music and create loops that give a density and expansiveness to her sound.

Though she has recorded several CDs, she does not have a record deal with any record label, nor does she want one. Her CDs are available on Amazon, CDBaby and her website as well at her live performances.

Her recordings are also available on iTunes. On more than one occasion she has occupied the top sales spot in the Classical category on iTunes. As she said in a recent interview, her iTunes revenue exceeds her monthly mortgage payments. (When you spend $.99 on one of her tracks, she gets 70% after Apple gets their 30% distribution fee. Remember-- no record company. So real sales equal real money for the creator.)

You can find Zoe throughout the internet, on MySpace, on YouTube, on Facebook. And check out this statistic--Zoe has over 1.1 million followers on Twitter. If you do not believe me, go there yourself and find her at @zoecello.

As she writes on her blog;

“What is great about Twitter is that…it allows me to be myself to as many people as possible….I’ve always had this stubborn, egotistical belief that if I just had a chance to get the real me across…people would be interested. The belief that what I’m doing is worthwhile, even if no one hears it, has sustained me through a lot of rejections and hard times.

I doubt my current career would be possible without the internet. Thanks to social networks I can have what feels like a direct relationship with an increasingly vast audience. There is no middleman.”

In addition to selling her recordings, Zoe makes money through paid gigs, licensing her music to commercials and writing music for films. In other words, she has created a 360 degree music career that pays her well. It is her sole occupation. She has no side job to keep the music career going. Instead, the money she makes from the music keeps the music career going.

None of this is easy. Zoe estimates that she spends 50% of her time on the music and 50% managing all the business and audience development that is required to keep her enterprise going.

What has Zoe really done?

First, through her work she has created a singular vision, an authentic voice that is uniquely hers. In the language of corporate marketing, she has created her own “personal brand”.

Second, she has placed her work on digital platforms that generate awareness and sell her wares.

Third, she has used the digital tools that are freely available to reach her audience directly. By doing so, she has created an ongoing conversation with her audience. She has allowed them to become part of her world so they can make her part of their world.

These three elements have created an income stream for her, one that flows directly to her and no one else.

If you want to do what Zoe Keating has done, you cannot execute one or two of the elements in her digital strategy. For any chance of success you must execute on all three. To use an old analogy, all three legs hold up the stool.

Independent filmmakers typically make a film and turn it over to some one else who takes over the responsibility of marketing and distributing it. In today’s world if you want to succeed you have to take a different path.

Today filmmakers must engage and build their audiences themselves. The digital tools now exist that allow anyone to engage directly with a vast audience. These tools are FREE. There is no excuse not to use them. And guess what, they get better every day.

Don’t believe me? Like I tell every filmmaker I meet--learn from Zoe. So get going and google Zoe Keating. You know how to google don’t you?

You can follow Chris Dorr on twitter @chrisdorr.

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More: Independents, Web/Tech, Guest Blogger, Marketing

8 Comments

  • Chris Dorr | October 11, 2009 11:19 AMReply

    Jim Berridge--Thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right, we are in a world where attention is the commodity that everyone has to chase. And yet we have the tools to grab it inexpensively which begins to level the playing field. As long as you know what field to play on.

  • Jim Berridge | October 11, 2009 11:06 AMReply

    I think Chris is right, independent film makers can learn from the Zoe Keating model on a number of levels. We are in an 'attention' economy now and with so much media exposure out there film makers are going to have to work hard to put themselves top of mind with an audience that has so many digital entertainment options to choose from. Its not going to be enough to just have a traditional marketing/promo blitz prior to a new movie launch every 6 months. Movie producers are going to have to work hard to grab potential movie audience attention and stay top of mind. Digital marketing is key to grabbing audience attention. Keating knows this and works a whole range of digital promotion channels to build her audience. Viral marketing is also a powerful way to build a new audience - I am sure she has brought many new listeners into the fold who would otherwise not show much interest in classical music given its traditionally elitist connotations. Clips, previews, teasers, producer & talent interviews - there are whole host of ways for indie movie producers to put stuff out on the web and build some viral attention ahead of time. Its all about grabbing and holding people's attention when they are constantly looking at a buffet of digital entertainment options.

  • Chris Dorr | October 11, 2009 2:42 AMReply

    Tom Hall--Thanks for the link to Zoe's music
    Ginger Liu--You are right, not every filmmaker has time--unless they are prepared to commit the time. Zoe Keating probably wishes she could do her music all the time and not hassle with the business/promotional stuff. But she realizes that if she wants to support herself completely with her music, she must make the time to use the digital tools available to her to promote herself and sell her music. Filmmakers have the same choice to make.
    Oscar Solis--You are very right and I would also say that in addition to the will there is the right use of the digital tools that are available to make that will productive.
    Alan Green--Great point, thanks for making it.
    Michael Harpster--Yes, I agree the model is different, yet I also think there are enough similarities to draw upon that will allow filmmakers to create new models. At least for those who are willing to jump in and try.

  • Michael Harpster | October 3, 2009 8:38 AMReply

    Very good stuff- however, the models are fundamentally different. Film has a much higher up front cost, takes much longer and can never have the immediate kind of feedback loop with an audience. There are a lof of other differences.

    Nonetheless, a site that aggregates speicifc audiencces will be an outlet for film. The revenue generated by digital streaming, owning or renting is very small but it should increase.

    One wonders how many downloads she manages to monetize vs the ones she looses to the pirates-but long range, even illegal dowloads contribute to audeince building.

  • oscar solis | October 3, 2009 4:32 AMReply

    Zoe Keating proves the old adage: where there's a will, there's a way.

    More power to her.

  • Alan Green | October 3, 2009 2:14 AMReply

    compare the cost of showing a million people a tv ad or online banner to the cost of getting a million hits on facebook.

    it's time to migrate to the web. how? the answer is obvious: somehow.

  • ginger Liu | October 2, 2009 11:20 AMReply

    Yes, great article. But not every filmmaker has time to market themselves constantly through social networks, forums and blogs. That is why I am employed. I am paid to put in the full-time work. If the filmmakers are unemployed for six months after post production, then good luck to them.

  • Tom Hall | October 2, 2009 10:42 AMReply

    Her music is amazing... I posted one of her performances a while back...
    http://blogs.indiewire.com/twhalliii/archives/testing_one_two_three/

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