Why Amanda Palmer is Wrong

I am a big fan of Amanda Palmer. I contributed to her Kickstarter campaign (which broke records at $1.2 million) and think she is leading the way of the future of the indie artist. That is why it is so upsetting to me that she is using her fame and influence to damage that future by exploiting her fellow musicians.

Beer, hugs, and merch. Oh, and a “thank you”. That is what Amanda Palmer, champion of the working artist, has offered to pay trained orchestra members to play for her Theater is Evil tour. When I went to her website to see if it was true, her blog post was reminiscent of a Craigslist ad.

Don’t we all hope for a big break? For the chance to play for someone huge, because that’s where the money is? Amanda Palmer is now just like that bar manager that says “Play for free. It’s good exposure.” We expect it from club owners that don’t understand that some of us go to school for music. We get degrees in this stuff. We’ve invested many thousands of dollars in lessons, gear, and R&D. We expect these people to be ignorant and not respect the years and money we’ve put into this so that we can make music a career.

We don’t expect it from one of us.

We don’t expect that someone with a background in busking and asking for tips would be stingy the other way around. In 2009, Palmer wrote a blog called “Why I am Not Afraid to Take Your Money”. In it, she says, “artists need to make money to eat and to continue to make art.” We thought this meant she supported artists like herself. Now it’s clear that she only supports herself.

And if Amanda Palmer is the top, what is there to look forward to as a career musician? Soon, other successful artists and bands will be crowdsourcing their tour musicians as well as their tracks, and the “viable career” that so many of us hope to attain will be laughably impossible.

We gave Amanda Palmer $1.2 million. She is now the 1%, and acting like it.

EDIT: Here is AP's response to the flak she's been getting: http://www.amandapalmer.net/blog/20120913/. Apparently some people are paid, others volunteer, but there's something of a scale. I'll accept that she has the choice to do it this way, but I won't recant that her way of asking for volunteers is damaging to the future of the industry. It's hard enough getting paid work as a musician without it being broadcast that volunteering is now acceptable for big names.


7 comments

  • James Nimark

    James Nimark

    Ok, I have to say I disagree with you about this. First and foremost, I agree that artists of any type deserve to be paid for their work. Period. That being said, there is nothing wrong with asking people to play for beer, hugs, etc. It's a choice. She isn't knocking on peoples doors demanding that they put time and effort in for no financial compensation. She isn't saying that if you don't do this you are some loser who thinks they are too good for her. She's saying "Hey, I got this idea and I could use your help. No I can't pay you, but it could be a fun time, and I will give you various things in return." Reading the post, she seems to be offering free entrance to the show (Duh), free drink, probably a t-shirt, CD or both. For some people that's enough. People donate their time quite often to help someone else out, or just to have a fun time. To quote Amanda Palmer herself: "Funny what they give you when you just learn how to ask." She is asking for people who can actually read music and play an instrument well. She is not asking for people who are part of the Philharmonic only. That covers a lot of ground. You are probably one of the most successful musicians that I know. You should be paid for what you do. You also need to remember that there are a lot of people out there that know how to play an instrument quite well and they just do it as a hobby, for fun. For them, the chance to get up on a stage and play with someone whose music they enjoy is the dream of a lifetime. She is bringing in different people in every town, to do something a little different and unique. Could she hire professional people and have them tour with her? Sure. Could she hire people in every town? Sure. Would that provide the same unique indie vibe that she's known for? Probably not. Wild and amazing things happen when you put random people together for something like this. I see a wonderful opportunity for the amateur or hobbyist musician to get up on stage and play with a great performer. I am not sure why you are choosing to look at this as the newly appointed evil 1%'er trying to screw over other musicians. I think you may just be looking at this differently than I am.

    Ok, I have to say I disagree with you about this. First and foremost, I agree that artists of any type deserve to be paid for their work. Period.

    That being said, there is nothing wrong with asking people to play for beer, hugs, etc. It's a choice. She isn't knocking on peoples doors demanding that they put time and effort in for no financial compensation. She isn't saying that if you don't do this you are some loser who thinks they are too good for her. She's saying "Hey, I got this idea and I could use your help. No I can't pay you, but it could be a fun time, and I will give you various things in return."

    Reading the post, she seems to be offering free entrance to the show (Duh), free drink, probably a t-shirt, CD or both. For some people that's enough.

    People donate their time quite often to help someone else out, or just to have a fun time. To quote Amanda Palmer herself: "Funny what they give you when you just learn how to ask." She is asking for people who can actually read music and play an instrument well. She is not asking for people who are part of the Philharmonic only. That covers a lot of ground.

    You are probably one of the most successful musicians that I know. You should be paid for what you do. You also need to remember that there are a lot of people out there that know how to play an instrument quite well and they just do it as a hobby, for fun. For them, the chance to get up on a stage and play with someone whose music they enjoy is the dream of a lifetime.

    She is bringing in different people in every town, to do something a little different and unique. Could she hire professional people and have them tour with her? Sure. Could she hire people in every town? Sure. Would that provide the same unique indie vibe that she's known for? Probably not. Wild and amazing things happen when you put random people together for something like this.

    I see a wonderful opportunity for the amateur or hobbyist musician to get up on stage and play with a great performer. I am not sure why you are choosing to look at this as the newly appointed evil 1%'er trying to screw over other musicians. I think you may just be looking at this differently than I am.

  • robinyukiko

    robinyukiko

    I understand what you are saying, but I disagree for two reasons. 1) She's not asking for amateurs (she requested resumes!) and 2) There's a difference between needing help and asking for a freebie. If she were a starving artist, that'd be one thing. But she went over her kickstarter goal by so much (she broke the record!) and now she is claiming that she "can't afford" to pay musicians. If she wants amateurs, then beer is fine. But she wants semi-pros and that's not fine. Even if she didn't want to pay scale, she could offer some small amount of money.

    I understand what you are saying, but I disagree for two reasons. 1) She's not asking for amateurs (she requested resumes!) and 2) There's a difference between needing help and asking for a freebie. If she were a starving artist, that'd be one thing. But she went over her kickstarter goal by so much (she broke the record!) and now she is claiming that she "can't afford" to pay musicians. If she wants amateurs, then beer is fine. But she wants semi-pros and that's not fine. Even if she didn't want to pay scale, she could offer some small amount of money.

  • James Nimark

    James Nimark

    Robin, I don't think we are reading things the same way. Just going to use your #'s so we stick to the same topics. 1) I don't see where she says amateurs/hobbiest need not apply. She says send a link showing you can play - OR - a resume. Not that a resume is required. She wants proof, because the worst thing in this scenario is you tell someone they are in and then later find out they can't play. That just makes sense to me. 2> Yes, her Kickstarter generated 1.2 Million dollars. So what? She doesn't have 1.2 Million dollars in her pocket right now. She paid almost 10% of the money in fees between Kickstarter and Amazon. So that's around 100k right off the top. Now she gets to pay taxes on 1.1 Million. Let's assume Ms. Palmer is not very smart and actually has to pay the full 35% in taxes on that money. Now she has around 720k. Almost 500k has disappeared and she hasn't even bought her eyeliner yet. =P My point in this is you don't know her financial situation, and don't assume just because she raised over a million dollars that she is living the high life and has money to throw around. She might owe money to a record company, she probably has to pay an accountant, lawyer, equipment costs, travelling costs, etc. The point is we don't know. Another thing to consider on the tax side is if she pays people, she has to document that. Especially if she is putting that out on a web site asking for people. To file tax information for each person. . . That's a lot of paperwork. She can write off beer and merch much easier. Let's say she were to pay eight people per city * 35 stops on tour, that is about 280 different tax forms to worry about. That costs a lot of money and overhead. Could she maybe just give everyone $100 under the table... Maybe. She would have to account for what she did with $28,000 if she got audited. I don't know how much money musicians make for this sort of performance, I am just using $100 as an easy number, I would assume in the pro league you get paid more. I think you are making a mountain out of an ant hill. I think I see your perspective on it though. Heck, if I was a musician struggling, and I gave money to an artist and then saw them take that money and not "give back" I would be upset. I just think that this sort of situation is not as cut and dry. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this and reply in a kind fashion. That speaks volumes today on the internet. =)

    Robin, I don't think we are reading things the same way. Just going to use your #'s so we stick to the same topics.

    1) I don't see where she says amateurs/hobbiest need not apply. She says send a link showing you can play - OR - a resume. Not that a resume is required. She wants proof, because the worst thing in this scenario is you tell someone they are in and then later find out they can't play. That just makes sense to me.

    2> Yes, her Kickstarter generated 1.2 Million dollars. So what? She doesn't have 1.2 Million dollars in her pocket right now. She paid almost 10% of the money in fees between Kickstarter and Amazon. So that's around 100k right off the top. Now she gets to pay taxes on 1.1 Million. Let's assume Ms. Palmer is not very smart and actually has to pay the full 35% in taxes on that money. Now she has around 720k. Almost 500k has disappeared and she hasn't even bought her eyeliner yet. =P

    My point in this is you don't know her financial situation, and don't assume just because she raised over a million dollars that she is living the high life and has money to throw around. She might owe money to a record company, she probably has to pay an accountant, lawyer, equipment costs, travelling costs, etc. The point is we don't know.

    Another thing to consider on the tax side is if she pays people, she has to document that. Especially if she is putting that out on a web site asking for people. To file tax information for each person. . . That's a lot of paperwork. She can write off beer and merch much easier. Let's say she were to pay eight people per city * 35 stops on tour, that is about 280 different tax forms to worry about. That costs a lot of money and overhead. Could she maybe just give everyone $100 under the table... Maybe. She would have to account for what she did with $28,000 if she got audited. I don't know how much money musicians make for this sort of performance, I am just using $100 as an easy number, I would assume in the pro league you get paid more.

    I think you are making a mountain out of an ant hill. I think I see your perspective on it though. Heck, if I was a musician struggling, and I gave money to an artist and then saw them take that money and not "give back" I would be upset. I just think that this sort of situation is not as cut and dry. I really appreciate you taking the time to read this and reply in a kind fashion. That speaks volumes today on the internet. =)

  • robinyukiko

    robinyukiko

    James, I understand how Kickstarter works, having done it myself. The point is, if she chooses to pay musicians, that's a tax write-off, so it would actually be beneficial to her. I could go on all day about the many reasons why what she is doing is wrong, but why don't you just go to her website and read the blog comments. Nearly all of them are from outraged musicians who feel this is exploitation and a con. I am not the only one. I have always been under the impression that she supported local artists and was community oriented. If that were the case, she could have hired local musicians. Honestly though, if she "can't afford" to pay all these players, she doesn't deserve to have them. I guarantee you she is making $$ on this tour. a few seconds ago · Like

    James, I understand how Kickstarter works, having done it myself. The point is, if she chooses to pay musicians, that's a tax write-off, so it would actually be beneficial to her. I could go on all day about the many reasons why what she is doing is wrong, but why don't you just go to her website and read the blog comments. Nearly all of them are from outraged musicians who feel this is exploitation and a con. I am not the only one. I have always been under the impression that she supported local artists and was community oriented. If that were the case, she could have hired local musicians. Honestly though, if she "can't afford" to pay all these players, she doesn't deserve to have them. I guarantee you she is making $$ on this tour.
    a few seconds ago · Like

  • Mike

    Mike

    Well written article! I have never cared for the always-on super-artist thing that Amanda Palmer has going on. Also, she flatly admitted that she didn't have the $35,000 she needed to pay the musicians. While I agree that anyone can do as they please and if an artist wishes to work for free they can, I don't really like the idea of her being okay with not paying them. She has put a lot of pretentious work into her image and obviously values that image over others' livelihood. If independent musicians can't look out for each other, who will?

    Well written article! I have never cared for the always-on super-artist thing that Amanda Palmer has going on. Also, she flatly admitted that she didn't have the $35,000 she needed to pay the musicians.
    While I agree that anyone can do as they please and if an artist wishes to work for free they can, I don't really like the idea of her being okay with not paying them. She has put a lot of pretentious work into her image and obviously values that image over others' livelihood. If independent musicians can't look out for each other, who will?

  • T

    T

    Agreed 100%, Robin. Well-said.

    Agreed 100%, Robin. Well-said.

  • Lil McGill

    Lil McGill

    You are both right, because there's no crying in baseball. Personally, I had no idea who Amanda was until everyone started shitting on her. I did my homework. She is talented, funny and not lazy. I don't feel one way or another about her asking for volunteers. I have seen her sing and play all by herself and she's fantastic, so it's not like she NEEDS these volunteers to make her sound good. It seems to me she is just looking to do something different to get attention, and it fucking worked! Now I know who Amanda Fucking Palmer is, and she successfully gained a new "fan", although I cant donate a dime or time, and I dont play horns or strings, otherwise I would consider volunteering in Boston, just for the fun of getting drunk with her after the show :) It also happens that I am a sucker for anyone with huge balls!

    You are both right, because there's no crying in baseball. Personally, I had no idea who Amanda was until everyone started shitting on her. I did my homework. She is talented, funny and not lazy. I don't feel one way or another about her asking for volunteers. I have seen her sing and play all by herself and she's fantastic, so it's not like she NEEDS these volunteers to make her sound good. It seems to me she is just looking to do something different to get attention, and it fucking worked! Now I know who Amanda Fucking Palmer is, and she successfully gained a new "fan", although I cant donate a dime or time, and I dont play horns or strings, otherwise I would consider volunteering in Boston, just for the fun of getting drunk with her after the show smile It also happens that I am a sucker for anyone with huge balls!

Add comment