“I decided I wanted to record more locally – travelling to record just didn’t feel sustainable, energetically or financially,” Keyte tells The Adelaide Review of her new single Travelling Woman. After recording her 2017 album Melaleuca in Point Londsdale with producer Nick Huggins and a band that was now spread between two different states, Keyte wanted to bring things back home, taking a new lineup of all-local musicians into Adelaide’s Wizard Tone Studios in early 2020.
A wistful folk song about a relationship marked by geographic distance and constant movement, Travelling Woman now arrives at a curiously housebound moment, having been completed just as COVID-19 made so many things musicians once took for granted – rehearsals, live shows, recording – virtually impossible.
With the touring cycle that traditionally accompanies a new release off the cards, Keyte hopes to use the track, and the current moment, to prompt a rethink of how we consume music. When Travelling Woman is released on Friday 1 May, it will only be available on Bandcamp, an online retailer that has built its name on encouraging listeners to purchase music at rates set by artists. In light of COVID-19, Bandcamp will also once again be waiving their fees for 24 hours on 1 May (from 4.30pm Adelaide time). “It’s a cool initiative,” Keyte says. “Last time they did it on 20 March artists made US $4.3 million in sales and merchandise.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about streaming as a way of distributing music and questioning the current model,” Keyte says of the streaming giants that now fuel much of Australia’s listening habits. Like many artists Keyte has hosted her music on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, but increasingly finds herself wondering if it’s worth it.
“I use an Australian syncing company,” she says, “and when I checked my account recently it had around $200 dollars – one of my yoga tracks [Keyte moonlights as a yoga instructor, complete with her own soothing soundtracks] has over 30,000 plays.”
Such slim royalties have long been criticised by the likes of stadium-filling artists like Taylor Swift, who are often able to use their market power to demand more equitable terms from the streaming giants. Smaller local artists however find themselves having to take their music where the audiences are, in the hope that the diminished value of their recorded music will pay off by attracting more people to live shows. One day this might build to the kind of critical audience mass that creates sustainable careers, an equation that while never ideal, becomes harder to swallow with live shows ruled out for the foreseeable future.
“Until you’re touring a lot, and collaborating with bigger venues, it’s not profitable,” Keyte says of independent touring. “You might just cover costs. I think now is a really good time to consider the way we consume music, because people aren’t playing live shows, and we can’t use that justification that by listening to people on Spotify, we’re increasing their algorithm and they’re going to get more people to their shows… because that’s not happening.”