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Naomi Keyte on COVID-19, streaming and sustainable listening

Rosina Possingham

Adelaide songwriter Naomi Keyte returns with a new single, and a call to think more deeply about how we consume music in this time of disruption and isolation.

“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.”

“In the same way that there’s been a big movement considering the true cost of fashion, and looking at more ethical models and labels, I think we need to do that with music.”

With usual models of performance upended, there has been a flurry of adaptation in the music industry with many artists exploring livestreaming via Facebook, Instagram and other video platforms. But as independent artists and larger organisations alike are discovering, such online stopgaps are can help maintain a connection with audiences, they are no substitute for the lost income that is now more important than ever. 

“I think the idea that artists want to make work, and will therefore give it away for free, is really problematic. Art is valuable work and it should be valued as such. We need to pay artists whose work we are consuming equitably in support of making their careers long and sustainable,” Keyte says.

“In the same way that there’s been a big movement considering the true cost of fashion, and looking at more ethical models and labels, I think we need to do that with music.”

It’s not entirely unlike the impact of gig economy food delivery apps on the restaurant industry. Like many ‘disruptive’ platforms that provide convenience to the end consumer, and extract a healthy profit along the way, the true cost often is often born by those performing the labor of production. Perhaps then, just as some have recommended using online ordering services as a navigation tool to identify what’s available, before going directly to restaurants, it’s a good time for listeners to be more proactive in making our hard-earned becomes artists’ hard-earned.

“I do love Spotify because it’s user-friendly, and I can listen to music whenever wherever,” Keyte admits. “There’s space for it all, but just be mindful that if you’re just consuming music on Spotify then the artists that you love aren’t really benefiting from that – it’s not an equal exchange.”

Travelling Woman is available now via Bandcamp


While we’ve got you, here are 10 other great South Australian releases worth supporting this Friday

Dyspora – Australien

Lonelyspeck – Abyssal Body

Fair MaidenOleander

David Blumberg and the Maraby BandGertrude

Keeskea – Find Yourself Alone

West ThebartonDifferent Beings Being Different

Ross McHenryNothing Remains Unchanged

Bec StevensWhy Don’t You Just

The Sea Thieves Disquiet

Elsy WameyoOutcast

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country.

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