When Pomplamoose's Jack Conte disclosed the complex finances in the band's latest tour, other artists and the wider public raised a critical chorus of armchair quarterbacking, decrying the band's decisions and financial acumen -- a dismal rerun of the inevitable, reflexive social punishment that discourages transparency in the arts.
Writing in the Guardian, Amanda Palmer puts this back-biting in context, explaining the logic behind Pomplamoose's decision to run at a loss as an investment in future shows, and compares it to her own experience.
Particularly, Palmer was excoriated for inviting musicians in the cities where she toured to join her on-stage, cast as an exploitive class villain. I wrote about this in my New Statesman review of her book The Art of Asking:
As Palmer points out, other bands have run successful Kickstarters in which they charge their backers for the privilege of performing on stage during the tour. No one bats an eye at the idea that musicians should pay to perform, nor do they balk at the idea that they should be paid to perform. But let no money change hands at all and all of our reactions are disordered. Art without the market is a terrifying thing, a frank admission that the alleged "music industry"'s most indispensable components - the musicians - never really had a realistic chance of earning anything, and the ones that do get paid are statistical outliers.
In Palmer's Guardian piece, she expands on these themes:
Meanwhile, even as I was only breaking even on the Kickstarter with an optimistic vision of future earnings (which did eventually manifest as a larger fanbase, more profitable tours, and a book advance), I got widely raked over the coals in the media for not paying fans who’d volunteered to come to my show and play with me and the band for two or three songs in exchange for tickets, backstage beers and hugs. This wasn’t my salaried band or crew we’re talking about – these were local sax and violin players showing up for an impromptu jam session that lasted one evening. I’d been doing these sorts of trades for years and they’d worked out just fine for everyone, until people got the sense that I was a millionaire (or, at least the wife of one) running a rock’n’roll sweat shop.
The irony? Some of the exact same journalists and bloggers are now lambasting Jack Conte for paying the professional musicians he hired to toured with Pomplamoose (which is usually a two-person band that use loops to fill out their sound). Will Stevenson, a band manager himself, asked in the Alternative Press: “But why would the rest of you and your band need salaries? If you aren’t making the money, why would you pay it out to people?”
The backlash (Amanda, pay your volunteers! Jack, don’t pay your band!) is laughable, but it speaks volumes about the double standards with which the world tackles the music industry: you’re damned if you play by the rules, and you’re damned if you find a creative way to thwart them. We – Taylor Swift, Trent Reznor, Zoe Keating, Pomplamoose, U2, Radiohead, me – are all just trying to find a way to create and monetize our creations at the same time.
Art is a business – and, yes, artists have to make difficult, honest business decisions [Amanda Palmer/The Guardian]