Amanda Palmer’s Business Advice For Artists

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.

Amanda Palmer's TED Talk

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.

8 Replies to “Amanda Palmer’s Business Advice For Artists”

  1. I utterly <3 Amanda Palmer and I utterly <3 this presentation!

    Amanda Palmer’s business model works for her because she creates high quality, interesting art that people want to hear and see. As you say – she works very hard and holds herself responsible for doing good work, and for connecting to people.

    The issue is all those artists out there who believe that people owe them something simply because they’re artists. Who expect that they should be compensated for their work just because they did the work – regardless of whether or not they did it well.

    This is a touchy subject for me. I believe that artists are unfairly treated by our current culture. (What am I saying “current” for? Artists have always been badly treated!) I believe that artists should have job security, health insurance, etc., and that overall they’re vastly under-appreciated, under-valued, and under-compensated for what they do.

    Record studios and the like were supposed to provide that security. But despite those good intentions, the economic structure set up through them has succeeded only in rewarding mediocrity; in devaluing risk and innovation; in elevating bureaucratic middle men to positions of control; and in fostering an unjustified sense of entitlement among many people who care less about their art and really only desire the fame and rewards.

    Artists absolutely deserve to make a decent living – but at the same time, art is risk. It must be risk. It can’t be anything other than a risk to create something new and push your art to evolve. Our attempts to give artists security and adequate compensation have also removed much of the risk that art requires.

    Which explains why most commercial music is mediocre pabulum.

    What Amanda Palmer is advocating with this idea is just about the purest form of free market economics I’ve ever heard. It’s direct contact and interaction between seller and buyer. It’s pure supply & demand with no middle men at all. By rights, every stuffed-shirt economic conservative who has ever claimed to worship at the altar of the Free Market should back her plan. If they don’t, they’re purest hypocrites!

    Of course, these talking heads never truly did worship the true Free Market, only the bastardized version they set up to serve their own interests and ensconce their own advantages…

    1. Exactly. Depending on the steps artists take, the market is free and open and always will be. They are free to sign contracts, but it’s up to them to read the terms. I’ll be honest, I hate it when I see those bumper stickers that say, “Pay artists!” That’s the kind of attitude you get with those mediocre, entitled artist-types. If the human connection is there between artist and audience, with no red tape standing in the way, and if the art is worth paying for, then yes, people will naturally pay artists (so long as the artist is willing to ask for it).

      Here, too, is one unaddressed issue: the correlation between mental health issues (like social anxiety) that many artists suffer and the difficulty so many artists have in holding out a hat and asking for donations. Artists tend to have this cultural bias against money because they associate it with greed and evil. So when a person comes along and agrees to act as their liaison between their audience and their money, it can become a very attractive proposal, and from that we get institutions like the recording industry. What we need is more Amanda Palmers to teach us that it’s okay to ask your audience for payment for your art. We need to de-stigmatize accepting money into your hands. It doesn’t make you greedy or evil or anything. It’s self-reliance.

      And here, too, is a problem I run into: self-reliance, when it appears to be successful in this world, is never truly self-reliance. We need to wake up to the fact that it takes a village to create memorable art, even if the audience only ever sees one person. There are technicians, designers, and so on that the audience never meets. There are the people who make the paints and the canvases. There are artisans who hand-craft those banjos. And those folks need to get paid, too, for their craft. So really, for artists in a free-market century, tribalism is probably a better term. Maybe we should probably de-stigmatize that word, too. Geez, this is a rabbit hole and a half, isn’t it?

      1. Yes, yes, yes! No one goes it alone in this world!

        I think the reason it didn’t bother me that she spoke more in terms of sentiment than reality is because the change she’s advocating requires such a fundamental paradigm shift. We’re not at the practical application step yet – we need to change the way we think and feel about this first. The change we need begins with learning that our values are wrong.

        Her message here has import far beyond the sphere of the arts. We all have problems asking for help. Look at the entire culture that surrounds poverty, and charity. Look at the dog-eat-dog world of corporate America where the ideal is to take by force.

        It’s not so much a matter of redefining how we conceive of strong and weak. It’s a matter of realizing that weak doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and strong isn’t as good as we want it be.

        More than that – it’s about removing strong and weak and meaningful and relevant terms from the entire discussion.

        Asking for help – openly, honestly, with no drama or apology – is an immensely powerful act. It’s about supporting each other through connection, and through common cause.

        It’s pretty much the most human thing we do.

        1. Sorry – there’s a typo in my last comment. I meant “it’s about removing strong and weak AS meaningful and relevant terms…”

  2. Amanda Palmer’s business model in a nutshell: Take your clothes off and gold dig a high-ranking dweeb in a cult that has power in the entertainment industry.

    Amanda Palmer is a laughing stock and a hack. Her Kickstarter campaign was devised by Scientology. She doesn’t have a large fan base, she has a cult that supports her. If she had a million fans, she wouldn’t have been dropped by Roadrunner who removed her videos when they realized what an embarrassing disaster she was.

    The Kickstarter campaign is just another Scientology scam. Most of the donations were huge and none of them can be tracked or verified. Amanda Palmer is from a Sea Org family. Her Uncle Doug and sells fixtures under contract to the Sea Orgs. Her husband, Neil Gaiman and his entire family are high ranking Scientologists. Gaiman gave the cult half a million in 2010 through his company, The Blank Corp.

    Billboard indicates that over 90% of (Amanda Palmer’s) 23,000+ units “sold” (which propelled her to #10 on their chart) came from digital downloads.EVERY person who ordered ANYTHING from her Kickstarter – 24,883 people — received a download code which, when you really look at it, indicates that not even all of the Kickstarter contributors bothered with downloading her album — and that in effect, for all of her controversy and promotion (by her and her husband), she actually didn’t get all of her fans to gin up her pre-ordered estimate and only sold some 1,700 ‘new” albums she and her team hadn’t already factored into her unit movement.

    The Kickstarter money was in large chunks and is an obvious fraud.

    Scientology and fake Kickstarter funding isn’t the only thing Gaiman and Palmer lie about, they also bought Twitter followers. Half of Gaiman’s are inactive or fake and 80% of Palmer’s are inactive or fake. The rest are probably Scientologists: http:// statuspeople. com/ (Link edited by moderator to remove hyperlink in comments)

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