Amanda Palmer rose to local prominence in 2002-2003 with the rise of her band The Dresden Dolls. The Dolls were an admittedly fresh change of pace from the other bands in this area at the time; they combined punk, cabaret, and goth in a way that felt effortless, and the duo seemed like they were having a great time making music they enjoyed together. They were snatched up by Roadrunner Records (distributed by Atlantic Records), released two albums, toured internationally, and Palmer promptly began a solo career also under the Roadrunner umbrella. While not outselling U2, The Dresden Dolls were quite clearly a success. However, the relationship between Roadrunner and Palmer deteriorated when they asked her to cover her belly in a music video. She protested, and she eventually got her way and was dropped from the label (For the record, I side with Palmer in that dispute).$100,000 was a reasonable amount to seek out for an elaborate album and tour.Palmer initially embraced Bandcamp, an excellent tool for online music distribution, as her new label, so to speak. Utilizing the site’s “pay what you want” scheme, Palmer continued happily, often expressing on Twitter how she appreciated the service. Then last Spring, Palmer launched a Kickstarter project to fund her new “RECORD, ART BOOK, and TOUR” (sic; phrasing is important). I’ve made my thoughts on Kickstarter supporting bigger artists known before, but in Palmer’s case it initially seemed innocuous. She sought out $100,000 to create an album with very intricate and elaborate packaging and then tour behind it. $100,000 was a reasonable amount to seek out.
The problem was, she overshot it by well over a million dollars. Palmer raised $1,192,793, which we can all agree is a metric fuckton of money. For that budget, she likely could have flown to each show in a hired jet, if not hired the best tour bus in the country. Yet just a few weeks after the Kickstarter success, Palmer did something unusual. For her TOUR (of “RECORD, ART BOOK, and TOUR” fame) she asked her fans to learn her songs and play them at each show. For free. A San Francisco musicians’ union was the first to complain. Then other started speaking up, until Palmer made the mistake of offering an excuse: she had no money to pay the musicians.The video would have been budgeted properly had she not been banking on getting her fans to play for free. Predictably, Palmer had turned from a symbol of what is possible for a career musician in this era to a villain overnight. She was no longer someone who had fans that believed in her; she had become a monster who took advantage of her fans. Her fans gave her a million dollars more than she asked for, and she responded by asking her fans to play for her for free because she could not afford to pay auxiliary musicians on her “TOUR”. The whole thing reeked, and it was only a few days before Palmer begrudgingly announced that she would be paying her musician fans after all. She was sure to mention that this money would be pulled from her video budget (not the RECORD, ART BOOK, or TOUR). A video for which a budget would not have existed if not for her fans overshooting her goal significantly, and which would have been budgeted properly had she not been banking on getting her fans to play for free.
Fast forward to today, and you can imagine my surprise when I got a Pledge Music update in my inbox announcing that Amanda Palmer was seeking more funding. The event was entitled “The Amanda Fucking Palmer Salon”, which best of all was free to view. It aired online on June 4, and featured performances from Palmer, her husband, author Neil Gaiman, and a handful of lesser known artists. $25 was the only amount given with a reward offered, and the reward was a download of the event, high quality audio files of Palmer’s performance, and a poster. Presuming most of her pledgers provided $25 in order to get the rewards (a fair amount to estimate) then she raised well over an additional $5000 from her fans.It is possible, on any level, to occasionally give something back to the fans that support you short of blog entries and poems.What irks me to no end about this is that Palmer and her husband are wealthy to begin with, and neither are any stranger to financial controversy. Palmer’s history is given here, and Gaiman’s is easy to find on Google. If they have a burning need to engage in a passion project, I have no qualms with that. However, to ask fans to support their every move at this juncture is insulting. Perhaps they should consider giving something back to their fans; on a smaller level, many independent bands offer the same “pay what you want” scheme for their music, knowing full well without Palmer’s level of popularity they will never turn a profit. On a completely local level, 130 Boston area musicians all donated tracks to a One Fund benefit compilation in the immediate wake of the Marathon Bombings (Palmer was notably absent from participation, although she did post a terrible poem about it online). On a larger level, the Smashing Pumpkins did a major tour of the United States in 1998 donating all proceeds to local charities at each stop. It is possible, on any level, to occasionally give something back to the fans that support you short of blog entries and poems. That’s enough, Amanda Palmer.So with this in mind, I say the following: That’s enough, Amanda Palmer. You’ve sought out and received more than enough financial support from your fans. Asking them to buy your record is one thing, but nickel and diming them every time you want to play a few songs live somewhere is outrageous. There’s no reason for you to have tried to raise money for this stream. You grumbled about a million dollar video having some of its budget re-routed to paying tour musicians. You don’t have a day job in between tours. You don’t need the money. However, you have the potential to do actual good in this world as you inexplicably somehow still have a fanbase. Even if you are spending most of your time at the podium fundraising or offering to fundraise in this manner for Morrissey. The way I see it, in today’s musical climate artists who ask for money can’t afford to NOT give back, and you don’t have the faceless scapegoat of Roadrunner to hide behind anymore.