Who is Zoe Keating and why should independent filmmakers care?

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

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at [email protected] or follow me at @chrisdorr
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