Amanda Palmer on why she's not ashamed to ask her listeners for money

A reader writes, "Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls, etc., passionately rants about artists' fear of asking fans to support them directly, and the evolution of new artist-fan relationships as corporate middle-men go as the dodo."

I was at a dinner with Amanda a few weeks ago and we talked about this at length. She's not only incredibly interesting on the subject, but also insightful -- and successful at it.

i can't help it: i come from a street performance background. i stood almost motionless on a box in harvard square, painted white, relinquishing my fate and income to the goodwill and honor of the passers-by.

i spent years gradually building up a tolerance to the inbuilt shame that society puts on laying your hat/tipjar on the ground and asking the public to support your art...

i did this for 5 years, and i made a living that way. dollar by dollar. hour by hour. it was hard fucking work.

and for the last 10 years, i have been working my ass off in a different way: tirelessly making music, traveling the world, connecting with people, trying to keep my balance, almost never taking a break and, frankly, not making a fortune doing it. i still struggle to pay my rent sometimes. i'm still more or less in debt from my last record. i'll lay it all out for you in another blog. it's just math.

if you think i'm going to pass up a chance to put my hat back down in front of the collected audience on my virtual sidewalk and ask them to give their hard-earned money directly to me instead of to roadrunner records, warner music group, ticketmaster, and everyone else out there who's been shamelessly raping both fan and artist for years, you're crazy.

why i am not afraid to take your money, by amanda fucking palmer


  1. Amanda is absolutely right. Direct fan to artist donations/payments are the future. Musicians no longer really expect to make anything off selling albums. Sure, it is supposed to be an inticement to pay for a show, but the truth is that most people don’t go to shows (how many have you been to this month/year/century? how many gigs of music do you own?), and with how easy it is to get a global audience chances are artists might not ever perform in even the same country as some of my listeners. For example, my band’s lastfm account has recently gotten an obsessed listener in Poland.

    So unless we all want to sit around waiting for Honda/Apple/Outback Steakhouse/Royal Caribbean Cruises to call us up and offer a stack of cash for a license, we’re going to need some support. Recording costs money. Gear costs money. Vans, gas, tolls, rehearsal space, flyers, it all costs money and shows regularly pay a couple hundred bucks at most to a group of however many people. Or, more often, a percentage of a polled door, which means $0-50 and 2 drink tickets if you’re not in your home town.

  2. Hell, why not? Bloggers already do this, passing the hat every so often. But it’s true that many good bloggers, are afraid to ask for money even in their extremity.

    In the 100 years that an entertainment industry has existed in some form or other and done quite well for themselves, but the performer is still getting screwed. As Steve Albini pointed out, performers could make more money working at the 7/11. They won’t likely get rich even on an honest label, but may make enough to afford to keep at it without going broke.

    It’s only in the last few years that performers could try alternatives, some more successful than others. Reording and storage technology allowed music production to become a cottage industry. Fanzines and then the internet allowed performers to promote themselves and distribute their output directly to fans. The DIY/punk scene showed years ago that it could be done.

    The internet allows performers and fans to compare notes on what works and what doesn’t and (again) how badly both are being screwed by the entertainment industry. Use Twitter to find free lodging for performers and support instead of being overcharged for hotels.

    Putting out the tip jar from time to time is a lot less complicated (minus Paypal’s cut) than getting a sticky-fingered record company to do it for you, and more direct and honest. If a performer is connecting and doing well, nobody is holding back royalties. If they can’t hack it, they won’t be paying some exec to blow smoke up their ass until it’s clear to everyone.

    So, yeah, I’ll bite. Bummer that those web auctions are in a different time zone, though.

  3. I have been to three Dresden Dolls concerts, and each time both Amanda and Brian worked their asses off to give a fantastic show. They both work so hard to be real *entertainers*, not just musicians.

    I distinctly remember a tired but smiling Amanda after each of those shows, posing for pictures with fans and talking to anyone who waited their turn (including me). She really appreciates her fans and in turn I have no qualms at being patron to her creativity, however modest my contribution may be.

    Thanks for posting this, I’m off to put a tip in Amanda’s virtual hat!

  4. I’d much rather pay her directly and as a self-employed furniture make I do the same thing (work directly with my clients).

    She’s awesome. I like how she readily admits it’s hard work (without whining) and keeps moving forward.

  5. So as modern tech “democratizes” music production/promotion, we move into an anachronistic patron/artist relationship? This should be interesting–does this mean more freedom for the artist, or will the fans get a bigger say into how the next album turns out? (I guess studios have always been shaping the artists’ visions, as well.)

    I like the idea of supporting artists directly, but I would worry that an artist like Palmer (and a great artist she is) would end up catering to her fans in order to retain an income, sans a guaranteed contract. Would support retention take precedence over, say, free experimentation, or maintaining high quality in favour of frequent output?

    (not to suggest the Dolls are prone to selling out, I mean this for bands in general.)

  6. I knew Amanda for early days hanging out at Manray in Cambridge, and would often make a point to walk to Harvard Square on Sundays to see her perform as the Eight Foot Bride. She would stand in whiteface and bridal finery, motionless, in heat or cold, endlessly until someone would approach.

    I always walked right up to her and put cash in her bucket, at which point her silent responses to my casual conversation would always amaze the crowds (and me too, for that matter) with their expressiveness. Sometimes, she would say Farewell by giving me a rose. :)

    This gal earned her money every time, and I was glad to give it – even if we did drink it away at the next Fantasy Factory.

    Pay up. Your performers are working hard, harder than most office desk jocks. Give ’em what they deserve for distracting you from your boring life.

  7. Amanda is right. However the current (or former, depending how you see things) marketing method, that of a corporation handling all of the management and marketing for the musician is only diminishing in importance. It is doubtful that it will go away entirely simply because it is so much simpler for the artist to have someone else do all the work. It helps if you think of the music companies as providing a service for musicians, a service which is paid for through fees taken from profits generated by the musicians.
    Intelligent and hard-working artists now have great tools to use in promoting and selling their work, but the artists who don’t want the hassle will keep paying for the help.

  8. “i stood almost motionless on a box in harvard square”

    Why do people give money for that? It’s the most idiotic “street performance” you see in every city, and it’s not the least bit entertaining.
    Thank God she is an awesome musician. Those efforts I have supported.

  9. Thanks for sharing this. I read it last night, and it really touched me. I find that both Amanda’s posts and her music always force me to question what I think I know and feel about myself, others, and the world around me. If she has the time, I think she’d make a fantastic guest blogger.

  10. It’s not that Artists asking fans directly for money is the way of the “Future” it’s the way of the “Now” and the past 10 years or so. 90% of artists signed to major labels go into thousands of dollars of personal debt after their first album and never ever get the promotional help needed to sell it. And given the fact that unregulated radio dictatorships like Clear Channels, who run something like 95% of all radio stations on the continent, fired the hundreds of radio programmers their stations previously held and create their playlists based on record company payola and ridiculously complicated screening process that promotes maximum homogeneity. The only way for a band who isn’t manufactured by the corporation to get any money at all is through shameless and tireless self-promotion. Even more so then spending a few dollars, music acts need their fans and supporters to help spread their music around. Promotion is hard damn work and if it all comes from the band itself then the band gains an appearance of only caring about money and fame. I have no qualms asking fans for money but artists also need to be willing to ask fans to spread the word around if they want to make any kind of living at it at all.

  11. ‘I would worry that an artist like Palmer (and a great artist she is) would end up catering to her fans in order to retain an income’

    Speaking as an artist who has both been signed to a major, and now has a direct financial relationship with listeners who choose to support me directly, I can honestly say that the degree of control imposed on my creativity by a major label was enormous.
    Genuine music fans want their favourite artists to be themselves and follow their creative impulses and that’s why they support them. This is of course only my experience, but I have to say that part of my decision to take my music making out of the hands of labels (and yes.. it was actually my decision!!) was because of the wisdom of people like Amanda (and Kristin Hersh and others) and it has broadened rather than stemmed my creativity.

    So huge kudos to Amanda for bringing the music home. Its changed my life that’s for sure.

  12. Kudos to Amanda. I hope this works out for her…’tis nice and honest.

    Will BoingBoing keep us up to date with how it runs?

    There are loadsa bands that do essentially this, though. By, say, pressing up limited CDrs of their music which they then flog via ebay, myspace or whatever. It amounts to the same thing really (minus a few bob for thge CDR/postage).

  13. There is a great new band here in Austin The Belleville Outfit who have adopted an interesting new model for getting their records made, since they are not signed to a major label. They ask for sponsorship of a track, and will put on a personal performance in your house (or wherever) as well as list you in the credits of the album for your support. So we are back to enlisting patrons of the arts, but what’s wrong that? If you don’t like being in bed with music industry sleaze that “rape” you, then don’t sign the contract and find a different model.

    Musicians begging for bucks after I have already given them my hard earned cash for their CDs / DVDs / t-shirts (which continue to promote them) and concert ticket funds (the latter two of which are getting more and more ridiculously expensive) seems ludicrous to me.

    As a musician, I have played plenty of gigs for tips, so that’s not what I am addressing here. But begging on the side while not providing anything (even recognition) in return ain’t right. I have also given out plenty of promo (CDs and T-shirts), which you have to do these days in order to find an audience. The DD already have their fanbase, so bilking them for donations seems inappropriate to me. Give them new product and stop doing business with anyone unscrupulous!

  14. Let me be clear that releasing product by yourself with no middleman is the way to go (the way I have been doing it for years) but it seems to me from reading her soapbox post that she is not simply doing this, but asking for a handout, which seems ridiculous to me.

  15. @ALDASIN

    Not to comment on Amanda’s skills as a living statue but that description doesn’t really do a good job of conveying how a good performer does that act – and I can completely understand how you might be baffled by why people would give them money if you had never seen a good one.

    A proper living statue is very entertaining and requires a good deal of talent – knowing just the right moment to make slight movements or give a wink, for instance. It is not about standing still it is about making just the right moves at the right times. Of course, a great deal of people watching and performers themselves miss this (they think it is a game of trying to fool people into thinking you are a real statue but this is as silly as just watching the ventriloquists lips and not listening to the interplay of the characters) but when you see it done well it will make you smile which is why those who mastered it have very full hats.

  16. Yay, AFP love!!! I’m so glad to see her getting much deserved attention. I second, third and fourth having her as a guest blogger, please, please, please. What an amazing artist!

    I was just talking about this today with another graduate student who works on similar issues as mine, how we are somehow unable to come to terms with the fact that, like it or not, music is a commodity and as such is important to talk about in such a way. As I’m looking at phd programs, I’ve come across some reluctance to see my topic (punk) in a broader cultural-political-economic historical light… some think I should do American culture studies or ethnomusicology, but as Amanda points out here, art and commerce are incredible intertwined in our society, and trying to pretend it’s not just won’t fly. I’m glad that she’s so honest about the state of affairs for artists today (as that is part of my life as well, making music, and being unable to see ever doing anything within the mainstream entertainment industry), and that she has taken a stand, as she says, for that. In a weird way, both what she does and Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello does, have inspired me to go after write a punk history rather than a more traditional sort of history in academia (my other choice was American foreign policy…). Sort of reminds me of Peter Burger and the whole “praxis of life” thing, too.

  17. Direct payment is probably the way to go. I much prefer buying direct from artists (at their gigs or via their website) and the internet means that I never need to use record companies to promote material to me. I can get lost for hours, chasing links on Last fm – it’s worse than Wikipedia or TVTropes!

    It also gives me a nice warm feeling when I get an email from the artist thanking me.

    I wonder if labels specifically prohibit artists from setting up donation boxes with paypal, etc?
    It would act as a justification for piracy for many people. Just give the artist a fiver and torrent their album. You get an album at half price, the artist gets many times what they’d get from a CD purchase and a record company executive gets one less line of coke.

  18. Redrichie:

    Most notably, I had a prog-rock band until a few years ago that managed to gig regularly. Think King Crimson meets Zappa with a little Floyd thrown in for good measure. All originals. The highpoint was opening for Bernie Worrell and getting invited on stage to join his band for a number. I was organizing a prog-rock fest at a local club and Pat Mastelotto was going to sit in with us, but the venue went under and the band fell apart soon after. I still make music, but I am done trying to hold a band together. Thanks for asking!

  19. Phikus.

    Ace, shame that the band thing didn’t work out.

    Prog often unfairly derided IMHO. THere *is* to be fair some effing horrible stuff, but to paraphrase Sturgeon, “90% of all prog is shite, but that’s because 90% of everything is shite.”

    No worries…I often wonder who some of the Boingers who are artists of some type are!

  20. Why do people give money for that? It’s the most idiotic “street performance” you see in every city, and it’s not the least bit entertaining.

    Speaking as a former denizen of the Harvard Square Pit, let me assure you, she was beyond memorable in the role – and that was ten plus years ago, back when you did not see it in every city.

  21. First off, Amanda Palmer is the hardest working musician I have ever seen. Her performances are draining to simply watch, she’s a dynamo on stage and gives you not just your money’s worth but far beyond.

    And that’s the thing, she’s not a studio creation or producer’s project, she’s just TALENTED, and yes that should be in ALL CAPS. The wonderful thing about the new era of information is that with a little browsing you can find, and directly support, TALENTED people so easily. You don’t need to be told by a record company or a radio station or a promoter what the great new sound is. FM radio in the US is so bland and boring these days it might as well be white noise. Wander a few clicks on or pandora and whole musical worlds open up.

    Buying a t-shirt, a download, hitting a concert, all totally worth it. Because unlike CDs, which are the same price as they were when i bought my first one in 1993, those are all items with real ROI. Also, knowing I am giving money directly to an artist feels really good. I’m supporting the TALENT not some lawyer or MBA or A&R drone.

    AFP FTW!

  22. See, Doug? Just when you think things are darkest, someone shows up to even out the universal caps balance. Grammar is restored. The sun is once more permitted to shine.

    IMHO, caps are overrated. There are very few situations where omitting them might cause confusion.

  23. yeah, we shouldn’t just give an artist money to ensure they can keep working and making music, we never watch their clips on Youtube or their website for free, we never listen to their music on other people’s myspace pages for free, they need to Man Up and do it purely for the love of music!!

    I’m an IT geek, I Love messing around with hardware and software, and I love even more getting paid to do it so I have a roof, food and transport. When friends ask for IT support, they usually provide something in return, food, their own skills, friendship, etc.

    Everyone needs to make a living, those who work hard should be rewarded by those whom their efforts affect. We all love music, and should support the artists whose music moves us, directly when at all possible. -1 for record company execs who have been screwing artists for decades and providing no value to the chain.

  24. damn! I just noticed ( that you can buy her most recent DVD of music videos, for $7 plus shipping!!!! now I know that’s USD not AUD (I live in Australia), but I paid about $35 for the Weird Al DVD, and I hate to think how much of that actually got to him.

    You want to know why Amanda keeps asking for money? Her physical media unit price is LOW!

  25. @MG Farrelly

    “Because unlike CDs, which are the same price as they were when i bought my first one in 1993, those are all items with real ROI.”

    Is that strictly true? It seems to me that CDs are less now than they were in 1993. Hell, even in the late 1990s/early 2000s it wouldn’t be hard to pay £14-£15 for a chart album, whereas now they’re less than a tenner and sometimes even £8 in supermarkets.

    Whatever the other arguments may be for/against, accuracy is nice, surely?

  26. I’ve gotta chime back in here on the subject of record labels. While they are unnecessary from a listeners perspective, they are fairly essential for an unknown artist.

    If you are not on a label it is very hard to book gigs or do promo. This is simply because everyone gets so many requests or submissions that they tend to filter by labels. Imagine being an editor at Pitchfork or Stereogum: “Ok, here’s another crate of new albums. 3000 unsigned bands of people messing around in their basement, blah blah, hey a new band on Matador! Let’s see if they’re any good.”

    Sure, if you’re Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead or Madonna, you don’t need a label. Everyone knows who you are. If you’re a new band like mine, you could really use the help.

  27. Sure, it is supposed to be an inticement to pay for a show, but the truth is that most people don’t go to shows (how many have you been to this month/year/century? how many gigs of music do you own?

    I can’t remember where I read this but I’m sure that I’ve read that ticket sales have increased pretty much worldwide over the past 5 years. I probably go to about 1.4 gigs a week on average sometimes as many 5 in a week, quite frequently I’ll attend 2 different gigs in a night.

    In Melbourne there is probably about 3 gigs a night I would attend if fatigue/money/time travel weren’t always getting in the way.

    I’m not sure where you live, but I assure you live music is very much alive and well in this city (the only thing that’s hurting it is stupid people building poorly sound proofed apartment blocks next to old/established/famous venues and noise complaints shutting them down – if I was mayor I’d pass legislation stating any new construction next to established late night venues must have a high level of sound proofing [and people that want to sleep with their windows open have no right to complain about noise]).

    If you’re a new band like mine, you could really use the help.

    Yes but when your band still goes no where and you owe the record label $15,000 I bet you’ll be wishing you’d just put in more hard work at the start.

    If you’re good enough to make it to the stage of getting the record deal in the first place then you’re good enough to get a few good gigs to get a name for yourself. If you want to sell cds get a promotional deal (one where they take a cut of profits and nothing else, a decent indie label will do this if they think your record will sell).

    Also I too play in a band. We’re a post-rock meets electro/noise. We’re called Red Hymns. Our EP is being recorded next week.

  28. Itsumishi:

    As regards the gigging thing, it’s really hard to know where the truth lies with that.

    You read different stories about it. For example, I remember one on (I think) The Long Tail talking about the increased amount of money being spent on gigs. But the top ten it had was full of HUUUUGE artists, like The Rolling Stones, Madonna and Metallica, who would, one suspects, distort those kind of figures beacuse of the stupidly high cost of admission.

    I myself try to get to gigs as often as possible (and – without wanting to sound snobbish) they’re the kind of gigs that people who listen to a lot of music go to (ie, not so popular ahaha) and you really do see the same people at ’em all the time. (Also, given the low ticket costs it’s difficult to know how the bands cover the cost of getting there, but that’s another story).

    Now I know that my experience is not necessarily indicitive of anything universal, but I’m sure I’m not the only person guilty of that! It’s just a point of view and something to consider.

    Also subsequent to these stories I read that some “biggish” acts are quietly cancelling gigs due to insufficient interest (I think it was a thing in the Guardian a wee while ago). Again I know it’s not universal, but I’m just not convinced that everything is so black and white with this…and that applies to the big labels and their take on the issues – f’ them especially hard, if they go under, I don’t care as I haven’t heard anything good from them for yeaaarrrsss.

    I’d go with your point about the raw deal given to artists on labels. Steve Albini was very eloquent on the subject a few years ago. I’m sure the article is on the Interwebs somewhere.

  29. I don’t know how many of you are actually familiar with her… I agree with the notion that it’s the fan’s responsibility to be more supportive financially of the artist, but at the end of the day, they should directly, specifically benefit from their gift. it’s economically unrealistic, because her “paradigm”, despite the fact that all of us here would love for it to spread, isn’t realistic for fans/supporters. she’s incredibly bitter here. i’ve followed her for a while, and I can’t believe what a narcissistic, arrogant, bitter person she is. My thoughts here aren’t just based on her rant or the tone of it’s delivery, but on her blog posts about completely separate issues. “and I don’t make a fortune” ??? come on… cry me a river. She acts like she’s a victim here — she’s not. rather than whine and complain, why not find other ways to thrive musically. She came out broke after producing her record? then do it yourself, or with a small core of people who aren’t charging much. maybe try getting fans to help, specifically with the recording process. start getting creative, and stop whining and complaining about how the world doesn’t give you credit for your genius. in case you’re wondering about whether or not I understand what it’s like — I am a musician, I struggle to survive on it just like everyone else, I’m frustrated and angry as hell that fans/listeners aren’t willing to contribute to my work as they can and should, but you know what? I chose to do this. I can quit at any time. and more importantly, I’m not a victim — I am responsible for whatever happens to me, good or bad, frustrated or not. I put myself where I am and I have the ability to change it. stop whining and start thinking, strategizing and planning.

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