TED2013: Amanda Palmer on "The art of asking"

Amanda Palmer's talk about "the art of asking" was one of Carla's favorites at TED2013. The video is now up and has been watched 750,000 times since it was posted a couple of days ago.

Amanda Palmer commands attention. The singer-songwriter-blogger-provocateur, known for pushing boundaries in both her art and her lifestyle, made international headlines this year when she raised nearly $1.2 million via Kickstarter (she’d asked for $100k) from nearly 25,000 fans who pre-ordered her new album, Theatre Is Evil.

But the former street performer, then Dresden Dolls frontwoman, now solo artist hit a bump the week her world tour kicked off. She revealed plans to crowdsource additional local backup musicians in each tour stop, offering to pay them in hugs, merchandise and beer per her custom. Bitter and angry criticism ensued (she eventually promised to pay her local collaborators in cash). And it's interesting to consider why. As Laurie Coots suggests: "The idea was heckled because we didn't understand the value exchange -- the whole idea of asking the crowd for what you need when you need it and not asking for more or less." Summing up her business model, in which she views her recorded music as the digital equivalent of street performing, she says: “I firmly believe in music being as free as possible. Unlocked. Shared and spread. In order for artists to survive and create, their audiences need to step up and directly support them.”

TED2013 -- Amanda Palmer: The art of asking

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      1. Please tell me your condemnation of her character is based on rather more than the fact she told a joke in poor taste.

      2.  Uhhh… first word of her tweet: “ironic”…  If anyone can’t see that, their magic word is “moronic.”

    1. When you figure out how Bandcamp can provide a touring musician with a couch to crash on or a meal, let me know.

      You missed a big chunk of her point.

      1. Bandcamp works for albums, not tours. There’s this thing called “cover charge” that usually pays the bands on tour. 

        I didn’t miss her point. I’m saying she’s proposed nothing new, so why are people praising her?

      1. I know. But if all she’s doing is  “cutting out the middleman” it’s just a new business plan, not New Altruism, and she doesn’t deserve a pat on the back when so many other bands do the same thing.

  1. I’m kind of lost here…

    Palmer believes music should be free, in her definition that means her fans need to pay her directly for her work and not go through a distributor.So now she is touring and wanted local back up musicians to play on stage for beer, which was criticized and she is now paying them.

    So what is the story? Her “free” idea isn’t really working for other people that can’t crowd source a million dollars?

    1. So you’re complaining about the options being:

      1. Hang out with a musician you like and play music with them

      2. Don’t 

      I don’t get it. It’s not like she was touring with a band and not paying them, she was just asking locals to come have fun.

      Hell, I’d probably play with bands I didn’t even like for free because it’d be a fucking good time.

      1. Exactly.  OP:  I took from her talk that she wasn’t opening up her stage to local bands for a full unpaid set.  I took it that she was opening her stage to any locals who wanted to get up there, play a song, dance around a little, have fun.  Big difference.

        1.  I thought it was a whole set but they got paid in being able to say they played with Amanda Palmer? The way I understood it, she didn’t budget for all the musicians she needed, and then asked local musicians to fill in (only paying for ppl if no one volunteered). Which was fine by me and by anyone who showed up to play…

          1. I was going from the context in the talk.  But if you were there, by all means, tell the story.  Still, if people wanted to sign up for a whole set, paid in beer and thanks, then that’s their choice.  I’ve been asked a bunch of times in the last few years to help people move.  Guess what?  I got paid in beer and smiles, and I haven’t moved or expected those people to “repay” me.  I don’t freakin’ care.  They’re my friends.

          2. How about this, Her fans paid not only for her to make an album but that money was also to be used to cover her touring expenses. (traditionally artist made most of their money from touring fans via merch and guarantees from touring without fans paying up front) Then she charges many of those same fans to get into the venue to perform. Then she asks those same fans who have paid for her album in tour in advance, who pay to get into the show they pay for to finally perform with her for free. 

            As Steve Albini rightfully pointed out it was asking way too much of an indulgence of your fans who have already given so much.

            also take into account the somewhat sketchy accounting on her budgeting and it left a bad taste in many peoples mouth.

            Nobody is saying she can’t use kickstarter to ask for money. 
            Nobody is saying that she can’t make money for her labor. But this reeks of taking your fanbase for granted and there should be reasonable discussion on how she conducts her buisness.

          3. Seemed like the controversy arose from people with a different idea of the boundaries between “fans” and “friends” and “collaborators” than that found in AP’s circles.  I think I could see both sides’ position.  Back when Jason Newsted was in Metallica, he’d sometimes ask the crowd if there were any bass players out there.  He’d pick someone from near the front, and some stoked-outta-their-mind Metallifan got to play “Seek and Destroy” onstage with their favorite band.  I don’t think those fans expected further payment.  In that vein, some of AP’s fans would love to sit in with the band just for the hell of it.  But also some people thought the gag reeked of opportunism on AP’s part, exploiting her fan base for unpaid sideline musician support.  Having played a few impromptu jams myself, I can see why AP would want to solicit such fan involvement just for the sheer fun of it, outside any thought of cheapskatery.  Playing music with likeminded musicians is, to put it mildly, fun.  But yeah, some musicians try to make a living by playing music, and live performance in front of a paying audience is more likely to carry an expectation (or hope) of remuneration than a casual frontporch jam session, and so some people would see it as exploiting fan musicians to avoid paying for professionals (though I doubt that was the actual intent).

            Whatever.  If AP views her fans as friends (ones whom she trusts to provide her with a comfy couch to sleep on, or a bass player if her usual one falls ill, or whatever she needs at any given moment, in return for the joy she provides them by playing music they love), and the fans more-or-less share that view, then they have forged a social contract that works for them.  Like awjt’s moving policy, when I fix cars for my friends, I don’t expect anything in return.  (My charge, should they insist, is The Cheeseburger Of My Choice, and has been for over a decade.  I just changed my dad’s spark plugs and wires on Saturday, and refusing his money, sent him off for a #3 at Carl’s Jr).

            But more to the original post’s point, I’m finding myself viewing AP’s talk as a bit utopian even for me.  It’s all very well to adopt AP’s business model (or whatever it is) as something livable, if not particularly profitable (though profit ain’t really the goal), if you have a base of fan/friends as broad as AP does.  Few indeed have the ability to tweet their need for a particular thingamabob and have it show up within the hour, delivered with a smile by someone who does so just because that someone thinks we’re awesome and they’re happy as hell to help.

            AP’s success with asking may be skewed by the fact that she’s Amanda Palmer.  We unknowns may experience varying mileage.

          4. If 30 people want to work for free for a ‘whole set’ in a coal mine for 2 months, in hopes of being one of the two or three who ‘prove themselves’ to the supervisor and are offered a job, that’s their choice too. You could just as easily claim that they got “paid” by being given a valuable opportunity.

            If I remember my history lessons correctly, such arrangements were common before minimum wage laws were passed in most countries. We as a society seem, for the most part, to have concluded that arrangements like that are exploitive and harmful to the community. There are certainly grounds for disagreement, (see the UK’s Workforce unpaid ‘training’ requirement) but the right way to express that disagreement is through discussion or at the ballot box. If you just go ahead and ignore the law and the social standard which underlies it, you ought to expect to be criticized.

          5. If 30 people want to work for free for a ‘whole set’ in a coal mine for 2 months, in hopes of being one of the two or three who ‘prove themselves’ to the supervisor and are offered a job, that’s their choice too. You could just as easily claim that they got “paid” by being given a valuable opportunity.

            If there were millions of people who mined coal for fun, you might have a point. But there aren’t, and you don’t.

          6. Did they require you to have some kind of proof that you’re an experienced, professional level mover?

          7.  I’m trying to go from memory of the flap back when it happened. A lot of ppl got really mad, but I don’t think it was the actual musicians who were mad…

        2. It went a little further than that, there was a vetting process, credentials, bonafides required etc. IIRC. It was a bit more than just inviting somebody to jump up on stage, which is why some people thought it got a little murky ethically. In the end it’s really up to how any musician feels about it personally though..

    2. The ‘story’ is that we, culturally, have real problems with honestly asking for what we really want, help getting there and that if we can get over that bias… life unfolds and becomes more satisfying!

    3.  She makes her living off of music, so you’d think she’d realise that other people do also. If she’s got millions to do this project and wants pro-level collaboration, she should treat her collaborators as if they were professional.  If she wants stuff that is made by people who make no investment in music, well, that’s another story, but it does seem unlikely.  Indeed, even the Scratch Orchestras got paid…

    4. You are missing what she actually was asking for.  She had some songs on her latest album which were recorded with a horn section.  She couldn’t afford to bring a whole horn section on tour for a few songs.  So… she asked for locals.  In larger venues, where there was more money coming in, the horn section got paid. In small venues, she looked for local volunteers.  And there were many who were happy to do it.  For all the “artists need to be paid” comments, there isn’t a realization that there are far more trained musicians working mundane jobs who would love the chance to gig with a rock star than there are scrounging freelancers.

      FYI – why we don’t have as much music education in the public schools: it used to be vocational education.  Kids who weren’t into academics and not going to college could get work as a musician straight out of high school bands.  The end of live bands at nightclubs meant being a musician wasn’t a working class gig anymore.  My high school had a near pro level jazz band.  The band director told us when he retired, it used to be his mission to get fuckups into a good living, now it was rich kids rounding out their college applications.

      1.  Ah, but music actually helps expand your mind generally, so many people are probably now doing it not as practice for a career, but as brain exercise (possibly because their parents insist).

        I was in Choir in high school, not because I ever intended to try to make a living as a singer, but because I enjoyed it. My Mother (a piano teacher) pushed me into taking up playing an instrument before that, but I also wanted to learn to play Saxophone, which I thoroughly enjoyed, even when I couldn’t play well

    5. In her definition (as in, her words), that means her fans “are allowed to” pay her directly for her work. She’s pretty shoulder-shruggy about, say, piracy, because of all the reasons Corey has beaten into stone now about how Fans Will Spend Money and how little brats like me who torrented the Dolls are now buying albums and merch and so forth. I think it’s fairly reasonable.

  2. I was troubled by the implication that critics of her not paying additional musicians on tour after her Kickstarter success were somehow ignorant/didn’t “get” the nature of her relationship with fans and supporters. There were plenty of Amanda Palmer supporters who were openly critical of the move. 

      1. Yes, her blog is going to be skewed towards those who share her perspective. The point is that having a critique/problematizing this particular issue doesn’t mean one doesn’t “get” the relationship she has with her fans. 

    1. Yes, she’s an artist, but she’s one that I (an artist) and some of my artist friends will roll our eyes at. That said, she’s brilliant at what she does.

        1. I’m not even completely sure what you mean.  My comment was meant as a way of “don’t paint all artists with such a broad brush of nutty eccentricity”. I guess if that means I hate her, I need to brush up on my writing/commenting skills.

          1.  It is the comment about the eye rolls. “Oh she’s a great artist but my artist friends just roll their eyes because she’s not really that great.”

            Seemed a bit purposefully sarcastic and caustic.

            What is it that she does, per your parlance?

  3. “also take into account the somewhat sketchy accounting on her budgeting”
    I’ll say… 

  4. I’m sure she is very intelligent. 

    I find myself completely put off by the crazy-person fake pencil eyebrows?  Why do people do that?

  5. There’s a musician’s union (the AF of M) that’s been protecting musician’s rights for over a century. Although I’m not a member (nor a professional musician), I know they are definitely not in favor of this crowdsourcing approach. The business of music, or making a living as a musician, is complicated. Lots of contracts, collective agreements, pension plans, regulations governing rates of payment (scales). My gut feeling on this issue is that some of Amanda Palmer’s supporters are engaging in some disingenuous behavior. Probably well aware of the harmful consequences of crowdsourcing in this domain, but feigning ignorance. Same sort of thing gun-lobbyists do.

  6. The talk seems slightly misleading when it gets to the criticism from last fall.

    Amanda Palmer was not asking for fans from the audience to jam.  She wanted “professional-ish” musicians who could show up for a rehearsal and were talented enough to follow a conductor.  The volunteers were also expected to email video of themselves playing or a resume.  [ http://www.amandapalmer.net/blog/20120821/ ]  It also appears that she (or someone who works for her) was recruiting from known professionals rather than just fans/friends.  [ http://boingboing.net/2012/09/19/apparently-there-is-some-drama.html#comment-655699641 ]

    Eventually she paid all volunteers, but initially she paid musicians only in certain cities [ http://www.amandapalmer.net/blog/20120914/ ]: 

    there were cities like new york where jherek – and everyone in the band – really wanted to make sure we had a 100% tried-and-true string corps. he didn’t want to bank on possibly risky volunteers that night. chad raines, my guitarist, who’s also in charge of wrangling the horns, agreed on that front as well. so we called our more professional horns and strings friends in new york, and we freed up the budget to pay them. we’re doing that in some cities, and in some cities it’s a total grab-bag of strangers on stage.

    I think some people were annoyed that some cities were seen as “important” enough to have paid professional musicians while others were not.  At this point she was also saying that she did *not* wish that she had the money to pay every musician (viewed having volunteers as an experiment).  There seemed to be a contradiction between paying people in certain cities and running an experiment using musicians of “of varying backgrounds and skill level” while wanting “professional-ish” people.

    Finally I think people found it hard to believe that she could not find $35,000 out of $1.2 million to pay the musicians [ http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/rockers-playing-for-beer-fair-play/ ]

    1. It’s really, really hard to make a decent-sounding concert when you just grab random people who SAY that they play a given instrument. She has a responsibility to her fans to put on a good-sounding show. How do you propose she should have vetted volunteers?

    2.  Are you aware that the money they used to pay those musicians came from the video-making budget? So those professionals were paid with money that would have gone to Other professionals, kind of a taking from Peter to pay Paul kind of scenario.

      1. Or she could have paid those musicians out of guarantee for playing shows. Estimated to be 5-10 thousand a show.

        amanda Palmer is an established working musician. She isn’t some aww shucks kid just trying to make good.

  7. Months later and this still pisses me off.

    The standard argument she gives is that people are happy to play for free, so why shouldn’t they?

    I spent many years in the poster art world making gigposters for venues and bands around the world.  Because it’s fun and interesting work, there’s a lot of people who are willing to make posters for free for bands – the band gets 50-100 copies of the poster for free to sell at their merch table or put up around town to advertize the show – and then the artist keeps some to sell themselves to hopefully cover expenses.  This is now a standard method in the industry.

    The problem with this method is that, once a band or venue gets those free posters, they don’t ever want to pay an artist to design and print a poster again, because there’s always someone new willing to do it for free for “exposure” or just because they’re fans.

    It doesn’t matter that “both parties are happy”, it’s still exploitation by one to get free work from the other, and the end result is that no one can make a living doing poster art because no one is willing to pay for it anymore.

    This is *exactly* what she is trying to do with musicians, and it should stop now before it becomes the norm and makes it impossible to earn a living as a musician, because once you do it for free, it’s free forever.

    1. OK, I get that there was a lot more to the story now.  And I see your point.   But a personal choice is still a choice.  If people VOLUNTEER to play in a band and don’t broach the subject of remuneration, then they are just that: VOLUNTEERS.  It’s a free country, and I am free to do stuff that I want to do for FREE with NO MONEY changing hands, if that is what I want to do.   If I were starting to feel less than human in the arrangement, I’d speak up.  And if the bandleaders pooh poohed me, I’d just bow out.  My time and talent are valuable, as are theirs, and loose agreements sometimes go dangerously close to the ragged edge.  But for there to be no such thing as volunteerism, and that doing anything automatically entitles you to be paid?  Come on, that’s not the real world.  I see your point, but I don’t see it as valid that nothing can be free.  Sure, some people ask too much.  When that happens, and you don’t like it, don’t participate.

      1. It causes the same problem I faced in poster making – there’s always someone like you who goes “well, this sounds like fun so I’ll do it for free,” and then the bands just expect it to always be free.

        It goes beyond the bands, too – large, well-funded national agencies start asking for the same deal because they see the bands getting it free.  It is now basically impossible for anyone to make a living doing poster art because the bar has been lowered so low, and there is always another new person to exploit.

        So, for the sake of working musicians everywhere, I guess I *am* saying “don’t work for a famous millionaire musician for free” because it makes working musicians jobs a lot harder.

        1. And I guess you should stop commenting for free, and Cory should stop blogging for free, because you’re making things impossible for professional pundits and journalists.
          How come people suddenly start being in favour of rent-seeking when ‘artists’ are involved.

          1. The opportunity to comment is the commodity, and Cory does make money blogging, even if it’s indirectly through the promotion of his art that blogging provides. I know you know that, but it needs to be stated.
            And maybe it’s important to talk about “rent-seeking” in this context because  it’s hard enough for artists to make a living as it is. Anything that potentially lowers the monetary value of art in a society? It needs to be discussed, by and with other artists. 
            I don’t think AFP really addresses (or perhaps comprehends) how she potentially effects the full ecology that she’s a part of. While her vision of “the Arts” seems to be horizontal, the arts and the audience as co-equals, her idea of Artists seems to be vertical, a hierarchy. The lingering resentment about the tour and the volunteers, I think, comes from her not seeming to to treat all artists as equal; some are worth paying, some aren’t. I don’t think she did that in an evil way . . . just a thoughtless way.

          2. “Free”

            It’s nice of them to let all those companies post their ads here….I’m looking at one for “Cadillac” right now…

        2. I had a prof in undergrad who used to play horns for Phish all the time up in Burlington.  I asked him if they were paying him, because this dude made big bucks (to me) working for the University and he said, hell no, I’m just doing it for fun.

          1. Friends sitting in on a home town gig is much different than trying to source, vet and evaluate (professional level) musicians or strangers for every one of your tour dates across the country.

          2. He was/is definitely a pro-level horn player.  Gets paid for lots of horn work, but not with that particular band, which also was a regular thing for him. He was on stage at least a few times a year.  I lost touch with him.  Don’t know what he’s doing now. 

          3. Not so long ago, everyone was a musician and made their own music. Paid entertainment as a widespread phenomenon is an aberration.

          4. I’m not sure that the loss of music-making ability by the majority constitutes an increase in complexity.

          5. I am sure the complexity of society and the myriad of things grabbing a persons attention is a form of complexity and greatly eats into ones desire and ability to learn an instrument.

            This is in response to Antinous below

      2. She sets a precedent, though. She wants to be paid for her work and rely on the generosity of her fans to provide that payment for her work as an artists, which implies that she believes she should always be compensated. However, she assumes that anyone working for her has to demand payment because she thinks the privilege of working with her is sufficient. That’s the problem: it’s exploitative and unequal, she places herself at the top of a labor hierarchy when she’s claiming the artistic market is flat.

        1.  Except that she’s Asking for musicians to join her, stating her terms up front, and not Forcing people. It’s not like she’s the CEO of a mining company and the other musicians are stuck in the company town on a contract, buying everything from the company store. She wouldn’t get very far if she abused the people who show up, or if the people who showed up didn’t feel like it was worth their time. As she says in the video, she (at least used to) suggest that the band members pass the hat amongst the crowd so the band would get extra money, basically asking the audience for a bonus if they thought the performance was worth it.

          The musicians could have voted with their feet if they didn’t think the cost of their time was worth the reward of playing at those gigs. I’m in IT, if someone asks me to do something specific for free/pizza and I don’t feel like doing it, I just say no, my time is worth more than that. I don’t go, and then turn around and insist on an hourly rate.

    2. The problem with this method is that, once a band or venue gets those free posters, they don’t ever want to pay an artist to design and print a poster again, because there’s always someone new willing to do it for free for “exposure” or just because they’re fans.

      And yet, museums, hospitals, botanical gardens, etc. have all managed for decades to have both volunteer and paid labor.

      1. Doctors and Nurses have unions and require certifications and licenses to work – musicians don’t require such things, so amateurs can easily step in to undercut professionals.

        1. Where would the line be drawn?  There are lots of people with musical training who’ve never been paid for playing music.  My ex worked installing high end stereos.  A bunch of the guys had a pick up band that did a tour of backyard barbecues in the summer.  They were better than some bands I’ve paid to see, certainly more accomplished musicians than many/most wedding bands.  Are they speaker salesmen or musicians?

          Don’t get me wrong, I really respect the long and hard work that goes into learning music.  But the real difference in pro and amateur is how quickly you pick up a new song rather than how good the final performance is.

      2. Hospitals are a bad example because of necessity. And many people are not fighting against volunteering it is more a hierarchical sense of entitlement. You should give me money. I don’t feel obligated to give any back, despite i am at a point in my life where I can.

  8. Cannot unsee: regarding that skin colored microphone:
    Am I the only one who thought her mic in the video still-frame looks like a giant wart with a hair growing out of it?

    1. hah, currency is just a formalised barter system! we’re still exchanging things for other things, just some of those things are more durable than others. And yes, there’s a certain stability built in by The Man’s influence, but it’s not wholly divorced as a concept.

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