Music Marketing

An Insider’s View Of Amanda Palmer’s Success

Amanda Palmer standing Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls has shown very public disdain for her record label Roadrunner/WMG. So when she made a splash recently by earning $19,000 in 10 hours on Twitter, some in the indie community saw it as affirmation that Palmer's well tuned social marketing skills rather than her label were responsible for her success. Others retorted that the primary reason that Palmer had so many Twitter followers was because of previous promotion by Roadrunner.

Which is correct? Is Amanda Palmer a success because of or despite her relationship with her record label? To find out more, Hypebot turned to Emily White of Whitesmith Entertainment who has a long history with Palmer and the Dresden Dolls"

I tour managed The Dresden Dolls from 2003-2006 and later co-managed the band as well as managed the launch of Amanda Palmer's solo career.  The band self-booked a spring 2004 tour around SXSW hitting everything from sports bars to a bbq restaurant.  They had no label, publicist, radio promo, agent, etc. to help book or promote the shows.  Before hitting the road, I thought, "who is going to turn up to these shows outside of the Northeast? (as the band is from Boston).  How will anyone know about them?"

But kids DID turn up.  Whether it was 100 folks in Carbondale, IL or the amazing show Appalachian State University students put together in Boone, NC, the tour was a smashing indie success.  I asked the fans at the merch table and the folks who helped us put the shows together how they knew about the band.  The answers were consistently along the lines of "my cousin in Vermont IM'd me," "my boyfriend sent me a CD from Boston," or "someone forwarded me one of their mailers."  It was true word-of-mouth about an incredible new band, fostered by Amanda and Brian's commitment to playing killer shows, writing personalized mailers and signing an autograph for every fan who wanted one, no matter how many hours it took.

Around that time the band also signed to Roadrunner Records. 

There is no doubt in my mind that all parties had the best intentions.  When you're a young artist, have put your savings into making an album, sold ten thousand of them out of your bedroom and someone wants to help you release that music all over the world, it's hard to not consider.  At that point, we thought routing out the West coast was a big deal, let alone having the album in stores in Australia.

And because of that decision, the band did receive pockets of radio success in markets like St. Louis and Arizona.  The attendance at those shows spiked in 2006 when a few Dolls songs were receiving airplay.  Awesome, right?  Well, now it's 2009 and we've returned to some of those markets.  Many of those radio fans don't turn up anymore.  Yet, the hardcores or "1000 true fans" are still there, just like they have been since they organically founded The Dresden Dolls back in the day.  They still line up outside for hours, know every word of every song (whether or not it has been released), and wait around for Amanda's autograph.  They don't need a top down marketing plan to tell them what to like.  And who are the new hardcore Dolls/ Amanda fans?  They are the younger siblings and friends of the original fans, who continue to spread the gospel about an artist who's work they love so much they can't not talk about.

I think major label marketing can be and is effective for the right kind of artist.  But not with this fanbase, they are the definition of direct-to-fan.  Of course expanding the audience is always a goal, but this is an artist whose fans don't need to see their hero in a  magazine or hear a new song on the radio to keep them interested.  Amanda will just email, tweet, or blog to them directly.  And why not?  The technology is there, so let's embrace it, not ignore it.

Emily White
Whitesmith Entertainment

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  1. I saw The Dresden Dolls in… I think 2003, when they opened in Hamtramck, Mi for Edward Ka-spel of the Legendary Pink Dots. I immediately threw down $10 for the EP and as I handed her my cash, told Amanda I couldn’t believe they weren’t huge already. I knew this band was going somewhere, label or no label. Their path might have different without the label, but they were going to be recognized one way or the other, that is for sure.

  2. Maybe I’m an exception to the ‘younger siblings’ bit having accidently discovered Amanda Palmer when I was searching youtube for Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’.
    I instantly found her music had far more guts and substance than most of ‘todays stuff’ and my journey of discovery was just in time to notice that she had set up an Australian Tour so was lucky enough to see her amazingly powerful Brisbane show.
    As a UK ‘child of the sixties’ I’m delighted to find such freshness and power in a musician who cares about her fan base. I wish someone had told me about The Dresden Dolls when they started up! – Graham (in Oz)

  3. graham,
    awesome! but note that you still found out about the band on your own, the traditional channels didn’t get to you, which is surprising because the dresden dolls’ received a ton of radio support from Triple J as early as 2004.
    i will say, i’ve always believed in the band’s ability to reach folks of all ages, from children ( to fans who might be into Brecht (, Weill or Jacques Brel ( i even know some folks who are more into the band than their kids, however many are net savvy (as it sounds like you are as well!). so I didn’t mean any agism, but explaining how you found out about Amanda, still demonstrates a non-traditional method. 🙂
    take care,

  4. Thanks for the concise & accurate observations Emily; Thanks also for your informative (& cool!) website

  5. Thanks for addressing this very real concern. Although I have noticed that my attempts to ask about her affiliation with Roadrunner Records, and any corporate push she may have enjoyed have been eliminated from your blog, when I first read of her success on your blog in Amanda Palmer Made $19K In 10 Hours On Twitter I could not help but wonder whether the 30,000 followers she had on Twitter was due to this. I was certain I was not the only one to wonder.
    For someone to be considered for inclusion in your data base, should we or should we not include bands that have had some major label affiliation regardless of what the artist may think of the label to which they are signed?
    I am only trying to contribute to the conversation. I enjoy your blog and look forward to your updates.

  6. I don’t fit Amanda Palmer’s fan demographics. I already receive Social Security. No joke. I’ve been a loyal follower of hers for quite some time now, certainly from when she was independent.
    I was there when she made that $19,000. Indeed, I bought one of the t-shirts. I believe the $19,000 represents the gross, not the net figure, by the way. Still, it’s nothing to sneeze at.
    Amanda is incredibly talented and is a true force of nature. She is a great performer who has realized how to use twitter to communicate with her fans in a way that no other artist has done.
    I will continue to be a loyal fan of Amanda’s well into my dotage, assuming I’m not already there. There’s no one else like her.

  7. The first time I heard the Dresden Dolls was about 2003-04, when my co DJ played the CD on our college radio show, Homophonic Radio (lgbt music mostly) in Fairbanks Alaska.
    That’s some pretty powerful WOM.

  8. The first time I learned about the DD or AFP (and became a fan) was when DD opened for NIN in 2005.
    So I guess I have TR to thank for introducing them to me and not RR…? Or maybe TR learned about DD from RR…? Who knows…. but I’ve stayed a fan and connected to the latest news/releases/tours via online tools. So… there ya go.

  9. I found out about the Dresden Dolls thru gothy friends a number of years ago, and loved the music, but didn’t engage with the artists.
    Late last year Neil Gaiman blogged about his work on the WKAP book, which was interesting, and then Leeds United in various recordings started hitting YouTube, and I started feeling a bit more engagement.
    Then suddenly Amanda Palmer was going to be in town. Seeing as I’m in Wellington, New Zealand, which, along with the rest of NZ, is is about as far away from anywhere as you can get and still be in a “modern Western” city, so it was a surprise.
    Went to her concert with friends, was immediately impressed at her guts on just coming out and singing a Dead Can Dance cover with no opening announcement and no accompaniment. Best concert experience evah. Except perhaps Leonard Cohen… 🙂 Am now fully engaged and following her, and her romance with Neil on Twitter.
    As to the effect of record labels, for @David W King and his ilk, I almost never listen to the radio or watch music tv. In the car, at work, on the move, at home, my mp3 player is my music source, and my TVersity web feed through wifi to my Sony PS3 is my video source.
    I get all my new music thru friends directly or via posts on blogs I read, such as Warren Ellis’ I know many people who make their own music. My son, for instance is a DJ.
    In general my only involvement with the major labels is thru trying to fight their attempts to get our government to collect money for them and make ridiculously restrictive copyright laws.
    Oh, BTW, I’m 48. 🙂

  10. Let me say that I bought both the album and book WKAP because they are awesome artistic works. WKAP has provided me with days of earworms and hours of playtime on my iPhone.
    The way I discovered our divine Miss Amanda was from following a certain writer on Twitter and through his blog.
    I know AFP does not want to be half of an ampersand but being strongly connected with someone (he who crashes webites regularly by linking to them) with 666,666+ followers on Twitter has had to help pump up that $19,000-in-a-month total as well as her number of followers in conjunction with her ground up marketing. That connection cannot be ignored as an impact on her growing fan base. Hundreds of thousands of eyes reading about your stuff is going to get at least some of them to follow the links and like what they hear/see.
    This in no way detracts from her as an artist, crazy-mad genius, and magnetizing personality whom I adore. I am extremely grateful for that connection because it led me into her compelling world.
    Clocking in at 47 yo myself.

  11. nice article. Emily, your link to your site dont work.
    You don’t have permission to access / on this server.
    Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.”

  12. Asking if bands on labels are successful because of their label or their own efforts is a false choice.
    Bands on labels have always had to be aggressive and accessible to succeed.
    Those that succeed in using the new tools of accessibility deserve kudos.
    Undoubtedly, some “radio fans” became part of the “true fans.”
    Arguably, radio play means less now than it did in 2006.
    BTW this phenomenon has happened before.
    It was called ‘Punk Rock.’

  13. I know AFP does not want to be half of an ampersand but being strongly connected with someone (he who crashes webites regularly by linking to them) with 666,666+ followers on Twitter has had to help pump up that $19,000-in-a-month total as well as her number of followers in conjunction with her ground up marketing.
    True. Humping famous people doesn’t hurt.
    Unless it’s J-Lo.

  14. I think the right set of tools are all you need. Any musician with the right set of conviction and desire to get themselves out there can, and will. Just check out this set of 15 web tools that could, in my eyes, replace the need for a true record label with someone like a community manager.

  15. My God, you’re incredibly tolerant of Amanda Palmer’s vapid and annoying bid for attention, dropping her drawers whenever people are bored with her. Who Killed Amanda Palmer is stunningly awful and painfully tedious. Why did a record company ever let this awful project get this far? The book tie-in for this exercise in self-promotion, is a vanity publication. Apparently neither Amanda Palmer nor collaborator Neil Gaiman could actually find a publisher for their snuff/mutilation/porn project so they published their idiotic book themselves, with no imprint, the printing being done in Hong Kong.

  16. One person (you) may not like it, but clearly there is a much larger audience who does.
    That my friend, is the power of the internet. Anyone can find their niche.

  17. Another great article guys!
    Examples like this help people believe things are possible. It might not be easy, but it is possible.

  18. Amanda Palmer sucks. She really is the definition of the emperor has no clothes, in her case both figuratively and literally. The internet is a breeding ground for drivel and Palmer is a drivel purveyor.

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