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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