Amanda Palmer Crowd-Sources Unpaid Backing Musicians
September 18, 2012 11:07 am
Cabaret punk musician Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.2 million for her artbook, record and upcoming tour. The enterprising musician also took to her blog to crowd-source local horn and violin players in each city on her six-date tour, asking musicians to show up for a short rehearsal and then play the show for “beer and hugs.”
Palmer spoke to the the New York Times on the wildly successful campaign, saying:
“It doesn’t feel like a windfall. It feels like the accumulated reward for years and years of work.”
Palmer’s blase reaction to her seven-figure payday may have contributed to her refusal to pass on the bounty of riches to her backing musicians, but regardless of why, her request for free labor has started a heated debate over the value of a night’s work . To some extent, the anger at Palmer’s request comes from her documented ability to raise large sums of money (an increasing rarity in 2012), as well as her efforts to excise free labor from musicians who ply their craft on traditionally classical instruments.
The New York Times reports that at least one musicians’ local has denounced Palmer over twitter, stating: “To some extent, the kerfuffle results from a culture clash between the freewheeling rock ‘n’ roll scene of club dates and scarce cash and the world of established conservatory-trained musicians long supported by strong union locals with wage scales.”
But even those familiar with small clubs and uncertain paychecks are calling Palmer out for her greed. Legendary musician/recording engineer/crank Steve Albini didn’t mince words when he analyzed Palmer’s model in an e-mail Q & A with the Stool Pigeon:
There is a whole culture of people who do things independently and efficiently, and it isn’t an accident that they have been at the vanguard of culture for decades …
On the part of the fans, I totally understand and sympathize with this impulse [to play for their favorite musician for free]. That’s starkly different from a millionaire asking people to do things for free, under the guise that she is giving them something by indulging them. It’s cheapness repainted as generosity and it’s gross. Using people in this way, exploiting their good nature for one’s own benefit, is a cancer that taints many enterprises and it always reflects poorly on the exploiter. It’s one of the things I hated most about the old-school record business, the practice of fucking with people who loved music so much they would put up with endless greed and abuse just to be a part of it. A new music business paradigm, if it is worth anything, should strive to be free of exploitation and be honest about its motives…
Palmer herself seems to understand the terms of the argument, commenting on the uproar in a recent blog post:
…many musicians and artists are SCARED right now. the economy is sucking. traditional record sales are plummeting. digital content is rampantly freely shared (and many artists like me are encouraging people to share and copy). big, previously untouchable musical institutions and symphony halls are shutting down. a lot of musicians fear for their livelihoods…and fear often breeds hate and anger. a lot of musicians really don’t know where their next paychecks are going to be coming from.
and everyone has a different approach. this is the nerve we’ve struck. and i am a really convenient target at the moment.
The real issue seems to be that Amanda Palmer has done nothing to assuage this fear. Rather than act fairly from her position of relative comfort, she chooses to devalue musical performance even more — essentially using the carrot of proximity to an admired musician and a glamour industry to conscript musicians into one-night unpaid internships on a highly profitable tour.
Image from here