Vancouver acts talk Amanda Palmer and TED: A new way to pay?

If you’re not familiar with Amanda Palmer, let me bring you up to speed.

She is half of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” duo The Dresden Dolls, half the conjoined-twins on piano performance artists/musical duo Evelyn Evelyn, and half the power couple that is Amanda "Fucking" Palmer and award-winning author Neil Gaiman. She's also an accomplished soloist, perhaps a bit of an attention whore, and, most recently, an online punching bag after she followed a $1 million Kickstarter triumph with an appeal for free labour.

Throughout that debacle, Palmer remained steadfast, stressing again and again on her website that it is expensive to be a musician, dammit.

To be fair, Palmer was bringing “volunteer” musicians on stage long before her success with Kickstarter. And she retracted a request for musicians to join her on stage without compensation shortly after the shitstorm her latest call out produced. But it still seemed a bit rich (and down right offensive, to some) that the request was made so soon after the crowdsourcing windfall that was only made possible by the contributions of generous fans.

Addressing the matter once and for all on February 27, Palmer gave a 14-minute TED talk entitled “The art of asking”, wherein she spoke about where she’s coming from, why she does what she does, and why what she's doing is the right thing to do.

Palmer compares street performance (where she began in the entertainment industry) to crowdsourcing, arguing that they are one and the same. Performance is a valuable art, and asking for money in exchange should be seen as fair compensation, not begging.

“For most of human history, musicians, artists—they’ve been part of the community,” she said at TED, “connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance. But the internet and the content that we’re freely able to share on it are taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”

Vancouver jazz-fusion sextet Brasstronaut raised $15,471 in 30 days on Indiegogo, another crowdsourcing website. To promote and press their second album, the 2010 Polaris Prize long-listers had counted on a Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR) grant, until it fell through. So the group had to get resourceful, clarinetist Sam Davidson said today in a telephone interview. “It was a desperate moment but we went for it.”

“The world is changing, people don’t want to buy and experience music the same way that they have for the last 100 years," he continued. "Now we can interact with the artists that we like and build relationships."

"You can never really count on federal funding these days because it is so darn competitive. I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t accomplished that campaign, I think the band would have folded.”

Vancouver guitarist Gordon Grdina, who has been working in Canada's music business for over ten years, agreed with Davidson.

“What the fuck do you expect us to do as artists?" he asked. "We have to do things like Kickstarter now because record companies won’t touch anything that doesn’t sell over 200,000 records. If you make anything that’s indie or artistic, you’re not going to be able to make close to that, so where are you going to get funds to make music and do tours and make what you are?”

Not everyone thinks crowdsourcing is fair. Last year, Vancouver music critic Michael Mann wrote in the Georgia Straight that bands asking for money on crowdsourcing sites “come across as a bunch of shameless and entitled pricks.”

He went on to state that the good old days, when a band had to suffer for their art and put its money where its mouth is, have been replaced by “sickeningly safe-and-easy websites that allow you to turn your band into a charitable cause in five minutes.”

Mann mentioned Brasstronaut in his article, saying the band used the site to "hire a publicist to get them more pixels of coverage on the blogs.”

“It’s just such an old construct,” Davidson responded. "There’s so many people who are able to support your music in different capacities, and every one of those ways is perfectly valid from an artist’s standpoint. We have to let people imagine how they want to experience their relationship with their favourite artist; some people can give more and some people can give less.”

It's an idea that echoes the main point of Palmer's TED talk: it’s about the relationship between the artist and the consumer. The focus should not be on how to make fans pay for music—that model's dead—but rather how to let them. “When we really see each other, we want to help each other,” she said.

“A lot of  people are confused by the idea of no hard sticker price," Palmer explained. "They see it as an unpredictable risk, but things I have done...I don’t see these things as risk, I see them as trust. The online tools to make the exchange as easy and as instinctive as the street, they’re getting there. But the perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other and give and receive fearlessly, but more important, to ask without shame.”


Comments (13) Add New Comment
She sure has a lot of warm, fuzzy euphemisms for "handout," "free stuff," and "cheaping out."
Rating: -44
Amanda Palmer's way is right - for her.

However, you can count on one finger the recording acts who are in position to leave a major label, which created their public foundation, then, partner with Neil Gaiman and his 600,000 twitter followers or whatever it was at that time...
Rating: -15
You can't spell connection without con.
Rating: -26
I can't take anyone with eyebrows like that seriously.
As Bart Simpson said "Snipers, where are you?"
Rating: -25
Interesting that people will bitch endlessly about how artists shouldn't be supported by tax dollars (grants), but when we actually engage directly with "the market" we are accused of being "shameless."
Rating: +25
To the people who've been carping about her and her message, please let us all know how many music tracks you've downloaded for free.
Rating: +21

In answer to your question: none.

SpinCity, you said it better than I could. Thank you.
Rating: -26
@Jiff, Agree. Wish I'd said what you said.
Rating: -25
Why should it concern anyone this much? If you want to give and you can then great, if you're against it then don't participate. The volunteer musicians and fans who have donated are not the ones complaining. It seems to me the people who have the biggest problem with this topic are those who are least affected by it. Live and let live, or create in this case.
Rating: +12
It's not a method that will work for everyone, sure. But it's better to have another option to the narrow track of commercial labels who are failing due to their inability to adapt or to force people to rely on archaic paths to "success". Artists on the whole get paid barely anything for the huge amounts of time and energy that they invest into their work, and if they're able to interact directly and form relationships with the people who want to pay for what they create then who the hell are any of you to tell them they shouldn't be allowed to try it?
Rating: +5
Justin Beach
I remember the Michael Mann, Mann came off as an entitled prick. The reality is that there has never been a straight line to success as an artist. Even in the "good old days" the majority of artists made a couple of albums and left owing the record labels money (while the label retained all rights to their work.) Amanada Palmer's way seems to work for Amanda Palmer, Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses) does a great job of sustaining her work (and two bands) through crowdsourcing. For anyone who hasn't read it, I suggest reading "Punk Rock is Bullshit" from Seattle Weekly (it's about the punk attitude, not the music don't worry).

It seems to me that every time an artist manages to make money, there is someone waiting to call them a sellout (or worse) for doing it. Those people are assholes.
Rating: 0
Every career in every industry has been affected by the revolutions of the last 20 years. The world where someone can just expect to "say I'm an accountant" or "I'm an auto worker" or "I'm a musician" and then live a predictable path are over (assuming it ever existed). Thomas Friedman laid this all out a decade ago in "The World Is Flat", we live in a world where a talented person with marketable skills can leverage the internet from anywhere in the world and completely circumvent traditional corporate structures. Amanda Palmer had a "marketable skill" and figured out a way to circumvent the traditional corporate structures to take that skill directly to the market place. It seems like a lot of the people complaining that her success was somehow "unfair" because she didn't follow rules, are like the guy's who spent all of the 80's learning how to "shread" on the guitar only to get blind sided when grunge came around in the 90's and nobody wanted to hear technically precise solos played on double neck Ibanez's anymore. Those guys ended up getting jobs at Guitar Centers and bitching about the 'unfair' music biz. At the end of the day music is entertainment and nobody can force anybody to like music they don't like. There is nothing wrong with being an avent-gaurde jazz bassonist inspired by late era Mile Davis, Sun-Ra and Tiny Tim (if that is your art, that is your art, don't change for anybody), do it because you have to, but don't complain when someone who is making entertainment leverages the tools available to better find an audience who's idea of being entertained matches the entertainment they provide.
The world isn't fair and rules are only illusions we believe in.
Rating: +4
@SpinCity - She has a strong cult following that is separate to Neils. You're silly to imply that her kick-starter only worked due to her proximity to him.
You are spot on with "Amanda Palmer's way is right - for her." She would be the first to state such, and that her way is one possible way. It would be difficult for her to do a TED talk on someone's path however.

@Jiff It's not free, it's an exchange which doesn't involve money. There is a difference.

@the author: "crowdsourcing windfall that was only made possible by the contributions of generous fans."
I backed the kick starter, but it wasn't out of generosity. I pre-purchased her album. It's not a "windfall" it's "sales". I also pre-purchase video games but no one claims electronic arts is benefiting from my 'generosity'.
Rating: +8
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