For her current tour, Amanda Palmer put out a call for volunteer musicians to "hop up on stage with us for a couple of tunes." This request led to widespread attacks from musicians, music industry pundits and music fans as well as a seemingly smaller number of supportive responses from those same sectors of the population. Negative responses pointed to Palmer's Kickstarter milli, her millionaire husband and the need for all musicians to get paid. Positive responses focused on the fact that even a milli only goes so far and that it would be fun to hop on stage with Palmer's band. From every vantage point, this controversy is a hot mess.
I'm certainly an advocate of artists getting paid though I think whether or not free is a fair price comes down to the situation. While I think it's up to individual musicians to decide if performing with Amanda Palmer's crew for free is worth doing, the fact that Palmer has become a symbol of DIY power places her choices in a different context. It's an excellent opportunity to dig into such issues and one that must begin by considering the wide range of opinions.
Amanda Palmer Requests Volunteer Musicians
Amanda Palmer requested volunteer musicians for her current Grand Theft Orchestra Tour, some for her opening act and some for her own act, promising simple rewards and a lot of fun:
"we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make."
"we’ve had a blast putting people together this past summer...COME JOIN THE FUCKING ORCHESTRA. it’s almost as good as the circus."
Blog Post Comments Were Both Positive & Negative
Musician Amy Vaillancourt-Sals Wrote a Letter to Amanda Palmer:
"The naive ones will say 'sign me up!' I most certainly had that as my first response. But in looking at the whole picture, this time you're coming across as the 1% looking to exploit us. I'm guessing this is not the impression you were going for. If this is the case, please respect the musicians who are giving you their time and specialized skills. We would love to play for you!"
"Please do the right thing, Amanda. This all seems so contrary to your vision. The future of music is musicians being compensated for their specialized skills and the beauty and difference that their craft brings to the world! We all know you can certainly afford it…"
Amanda Palmer Replied With An Open Letter In Response To Amy
Palmer responded to Vaillancourt-Sals' letter with an extensive post that covered a lot of ground including responses she received from musicians who took her up on her offer:
"prompted by your letter (and the following avalanche of comments on my blog) i did what i always try to do: go to the source. i had a great talk backstage at the 9:30 club last night with the three string players from Classical Revolution DC who’d volunteered their time. jherek and i asked them point blank what they made of this whole issue."
"they said they firmly stood by their decision to come play the gig. they knew what they were responding to, and they didn’t feel at all violated. one of them told me he often plays violin for heavy metal gigs, for free. they were happy to be playing with us. and we were really happy to have them."
A Volunteer Musician Penned Her Own Response
One volunter, Betty Widerski, shared her take including her perspective on Palmer:
"I see her as one of the many people in my community who I support, who has managed some larger success while holding onto more of her soul than is frequently the case. I’m willing to volunteer half a day of my time to support that."
Comments Were Also Piling Up On Amanda Palmer's Facebook Page
Both Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing Became Topics of Conversation
In an interview, musician Chad Matheny who's often crowdsourced musicians on the road, said a lot depends on the circumstances and brand of the musician, saying he thought it would be ok for The Flaming Lips (even though they're on Warner Bros and Palmer's worked with them.)
He also pointed to her Kickstarter campaign.
"If she raised over a million dollars for this, she should have an itemized statement about where this money is going. People don’t understand that even with how much money is floating around the top levels of music, most musicians live in abject poverty. I have a fan base, I’m not a musician no one has heard of, but if you gave me 1% of that money it would immediately change my life. Those disparities are shocking, and that can really irritate people."
Reminding Us Of Palmer's Off-the-Cuff Budgeting Estimates
In fact, Palmer did estimate where her Kickstarter money would go, something I've never seen a band being funded by a label do, and by the end she's in negative territory. But she also pointed out that:
"we are committed to doing amazing things for all of you who pledged. sure, it’s going to cost more to make things extra fancy (and for us to ship things for FREE all over the world), but making this stuff amazing IS THE POINT. if i skimped on making the packaging and actual products INCREDIBLE, i’d be an idiot."
Apparently Amanda Palmer Does Outperform On Fan Rewards
But That's Not Enough For Steve Albini
Steve Albini supports crowdfunding but he's still not having it:
"have no problem with bands using participant financing schemes like Kickstarter and such. I've said many times that I think they're part of the new way bands and their audience interact and they can be a fantastic resource, enabling bands to do things essentially in cooperation with their audience. It's pretty amazing actually."
"It should be obvious also that having gotten over a million dollars from such an effort that it is just plain rude to ask for further indulgences from your audience, like playing in your backing band for free."
All these people say more. There are lots more comments on all these posts and articles. The music industry pundits also weighed in but you know where to find them if you're interested in what they have to say.
I'm more interested in what YOU have to say!
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) blogs about music crowdfunding at Crowdfunding For Musicians (@CrowdfundingM). To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.