Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk is still making the rounds on the Internet, and I’ve seen both praise and criticism in plentitudes. I personally think it’s a video that every single working artist should see. Not just musicians, but anyone who produces works of art from any medium that they would like to share and make a living from.
If you haven’t seen it yet, please watch it now. Set aside fifteen minutes – 13:48 for the video, and 1:12 for your blown mind to settle back down.
If you don’t want to watch it, the basic message is “Ask people to pay, don’t force them to pay.” She talks about the connections she’s made on a human level that helped her be more successful without a record label than she ever would have with one, because when you are free to connect with your audience, your audience will support you emotionally and monetarily, and it’s a win-win for everybody because the good vibes are immeasurable.
I’m a very big fan of this TED talk, but not everybody else is. Her talk is wonderful in sentiment, but like many works of art, is more on the sentiment side than the reality side. The cynics among us decry the talk as being Marie Antoinette-ish, somehow labeling her an out-of-touch aristocratic idiot because she was successful before her unbelievably successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s so easy, they say, to raise $1.2 million when you’ve already got a fan base as large as hers. No small-time artist who’s never signed a contract can launch a Kickstarter campaign successful enough to pay for a proper studio album and tour, they say.
Perhaps that’s true. The Dresden Dolls spent time under a contract with a big record label that may have given them the shaft in many ways, but they did help their fan base grow immensely, perhaps more than they would have been able to achieve on their own in the early days.
But it’s not like The Dresden Dolls – or any band on a major record label – can afford to just sit around and not work while they’re under a big contract. Amanda Palmer definitely worked her ass off, and worked even harder after she broke free. I think a lot of this criticism stems from what may actually be the biggest flaw in her talk, which is that the final message doesn’t encapsulate the entirety of her career. It’s incomplete. “Let them pay, don’t make them” is perceived as a business model for artists at all stages, but it’s not a business model. It’s a sales technique.
Artists: take note. You ought to have a business model. Your business model ought to involve hard work and a consistent effort to connect with your audience. Don’t sit back and moan that they don’t understand you in your time. Work to be understood. Work constantly to be understood. And work to understand them, too. All the time. If your audience and you don’t understand each other, either find new audiences or change your game plan. Create something truly awesome. Create something that people love, that people desire, that people embrace. Find ways to give this creation to as many people as you can. And then let them pay for it. That’s the business model.