Saturday, February 6, 2010

Amanda Palmer Is Not Afraid To Take Your Money

Originally Appears in Issue 2

Brogen Hayes on why the former Dresden Dolls’ supremo is making sure she’s not hard up for a few quid

Amanda Palmer is arguably best known as the lead singer of the Brechtian punk cabaret twosome The Dresden Dolls. She’s a singer, lyricist, pianist, performer, and she is not afraid to take your money.

Palmer made her first solo record in 2008. The album Who Killed Amanda Palmer, produced by Ben Folds, was also released on the label Roadrunner Records, to almost no applause. Good job she’s a self-promoter then.

Amanda Palmer is a blogger, a tweeter and a web caster. Through this she has made herself someone worth paying attention to. Oh, and her songs are pretty good too. Palmer uses the internet to connect with her fans all around the world and also to make a living that, so far, Roadrunner Records appear to have denied her.

Earlier this year, she made $19,000 in 10 hours online. This is approximately $19,000more than she has made from 30,000 records sold via her label. And she is not ashamed of it.

Palmer and Roadrunner Records have been in dispute for some time. After the release of her video for the song ‘Leeds United’ she stated in her blog that Roadrunner wanted to cut certain shots from the video that showed Palmer’s exposed stomach because, in her own words, “they said I looked fat”. Partly because of this controversy, Palmer has campaigned for her own label to drop her, even going as far as to write a song called ‘Please Drop Me’. Sample lyric: “You don’t get me/You won’t let me/Continue my career in peace/And it’s making me sad”. She goes on to say “You won’t miss me/Plus you still have Slipknot”.

At the time of writing Palmer has gathered 106,760 Twitter followers, a figure that is only going to go up. Why? Well, like many celebrities Palmer is finding the site to be a powerful tool to connect with her fans. She posts most of her messages herself and when someone is Tweeting (to use the parlance of our times) for her, they say so. This gives fans the feeling of connecting with Palmer and an insight into what she is really like. And for the lucky few, she sometimes even Tweets back.

In her blog, Palmer said of the Twitter phenomenon; “I twitter whenever I’m online, I love the way it gives me a direct line of communication with my fans and friends. I [have] already seen the power of twitter while touring… using twitter I’d gather crowds of sometimes 200 fans with a day’s notice to come out and meet me in public spaces (parks, mostly) where I would play ukulele, sign, hug, take pictures, eat cake, and generally hang out and connect”. This is certainly a new tack for an artist to take. Then Amanda Palmer made it something more.

Amanda Palmer described the Losers on a Friday Night on Their Computers (or #LOFNOTC) Twitter event best in her blog; “so there I am, alone on Friday night and I make a joke on twitter (which goes out to whichever of my followers are online): ‘I hereby call THE LOSERS OF FRIDAY NIGHT ON THEIR COMPUTERS to ORDER, motherfucker.’ One thing led to another, and the next thing you know there were thousands of us and we’d become the #1 topic trend on twitter. Zoe Keating described it as a ‘virtual flash mob’.”

If you are unfamiliar with how Twitter works, users can include a hash tag (#) in their posts. If enough people start making posts that include that has hash tag, the topic will rise up the charts of what people are currently discussing, which will generally bring more people in, to see what all the fuss is about.

Amanda Palmer, as it seems only Amanda Palmer can do, went on to make money from being the #1 trending topic on Twitter. She said in her blog;

“So anyway, there we were, virtually hanging out on Twitter on a Friday night, very pleased with ourselves for being such a large group, and cracking jokes. How do you ‘hang out’ on the internet? Well, we collectively came up with a list of things that the government should do for us (free government-issued sweatpants, pizza and ponies, no tax on coffee), and created a t-shirt. Thank god my web guy Sean was awake and being a loser with me on Friday night because he threw up the webpage while we were having our Twitter party and people started ordering the shirts (that I designed in Sharpie in real time) and a slogan that someone suggested: ‘Don’t Stand Up For What’s Right, Stay in for What’s Wrong’.

“By the end of the night, we’d sold 200 shirts off the quickie site (PayPal only) that Sean had set up. I blogged the whole story the next day and in total, in the matter of a few days, we sold over 400 shirts, for $25 each. We ended up grossing over $11,000 on the shirts.

“Total made on Twitter in two hours = $11,000.

“Total made from my huge-ass Ben-Folds produced-major-label solo album this year = $0”

Then Palmer decided to webcast, but instead of a webcast where Palmer simply sat and gave shout outs to whoever messaged her as most artists tend to do, she dug out old props and costumes from her apartment and auctioned them live on the internet via webcast and email. This was not only an opportunity for fans to see Amanda Palmer as she really is, hanging out and drinking wine in her apartment, but to get their hands on some genuine, one off items, provided they had some spare cash. By the end of the auction, Palmer had sold off signed postcards, clothes that she wore in her videos and bizarrely, a glass dildo, and made $6,000. Enough to pay her rent. She then went on to make almost $2,000 from 200 tickets that she gave away on Twitter, she asked only for donations in return.

Amanda Palmer then did a second webcast auction in September and made around $10,000. Since then there has been some criticism for Amanda asking her fans for money and for encouraging fans to buy her CDs, DVDs and other merchandise directly from her so she will actually see some of the profit. In order to clarify her reasons, Palmer did what she does best, blogged.

“Artists need to make money to eat and to continue to make art. Artists used to rely on middlemen to collect their money on their behalf, thereby rendering themselves innocent of cash-handling in the public eye. Artists will now be coming straight to you (yes YOU, you who want their music, their films, their books) for their pay checks. Please welcome them. Please help them. Please do not make them feel badly about asking you directly for money. Dead serious: this is the way shit is going to work from now on and it will work best if we all embrace it and don’t fight it.”

Fair point. Palmer has not seen any of the money she has made from record sales through Roadrunner Records, and as she said, she needs money to eat and continue to make art. And along the way Palmer connects with her fans in a way that was inconceivable before the advent of the internet. The world is getting smaller and celebrities and public figures are no longer the untouchables they once were. If the future is as Amanda Palmer envisions it, with fan and artist interacting directly, I say embrace it, it can only be good for all involved.

And as Amanda Palmer said; “Taking my stand as a virtual street performer is the best thing that’s happened to my career and I revel in it. And I love bringing people along for the ride. I believe in the future of cheap art, creative enterprise, and an honorable public who will put their money where their mouth is, or rather, their spare change where their heart is”.

Amen, Ms Palmer.

Thursday, February 4, 2010