Since she last spoke at Midem, in 2010, Amanda Palmer has practically become the ultimate DIY artist. Making an album in just 12 hours, attracting 1,3 million views for her TED Talk, on “The Art of Asking,” and most famously raising almost as many dollars on Kickstarter, to fund her current album. midemblog caught up with her on her current world tour, to find out what’s changed since her record-breaking exploit; what it means for other artists; and what’s next for the incredible Ms Palmer!
midemblog: Now the dust has settled since your epic Kickstarter fundraise, what surprised you the most about the amount you managed to gather?
Amanda Palmer: It surprised me how easy it was to put straight back into the packaging. Like a gift that kept recycling back and forth between me and the community. Well, actually, that’s a lie. I wasn’t surprised by how easy it was to blow all the money making the packages beautiful. But looking back over the numbers and seeing the details of how every little packaging and shipping expense added up was a bit mind-boggling. All lessons for the future.
> What were the most positive, and the most negative consequences of the campaign?
AP: The most positive? Feeling directly connected to my fans without having to deal with the decisions and vetoes and arguments of a label who only cared about sales and money. The negative? Having everybody think that I was rich all of a sudden and judging my every move. That sucked.
> Might it have set the bar too high for other artists (who might be disappointed to not raise a million themselves)? Or is that not the point?
AP: That’s not the point. It’s scalable. I’ve seen great successful crowdfunds that raised $1500. I think the most important thing to point out is that if anyone copied my EXACT forumla, they’d possibly lose money or, at best, break even. But that was a deliberate choice on my part. I did this Kickstarter to make a point, and as a loss leader. My career continues, I make money on the road, the income flows. It works. But you need to have a long-term plan if you’re planning to break even on your Kickstarter record/product.
> In 2010, you told us the ‘traditional’ music business model would be dead within the next two years. Would you say that it is now?
AP: Pretty much, yes. There are old ways that have stuck around, and still work for artists, and there are new ways that are exploding beautifully. I think it dies and is reborn every minute.
> If so, which other artists do you think have been the most creative and successful in this sense?
AP: The old school: Trent Reznor. Radiohead. Björk. All three unfraid to experiment and fail, simultaneously clinging to old form while testing the waters. The new school? All of my friends that you’ve never heard of, and may never, and that’s fine. Tom Dickins. Kim Boekbinder. Zoe Keating. Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte from Pomplamoose are pretty amazing, they’ve founded a new site called patreon.com that allows for rolling patronage from fans to support “free” content.
> Surely those who aren’t as active on social media as you are need the help of labels, managers and other third parties?
AP: Surely they do if that’s the kind of work they don’t want to do themselves. All artists need HELP. This is what we cannot forget. Social networking is great, DIY is great, Kickstarter is great, but no artist wants to sit behind a desk all day and make phone calls and crunch budgets and talk to distributors and printing presses. This is where HELP comes in. Call it a label, call it label services, call it middle management. The nice thing about the back and forth between artists and their HELP nowadays is that the artist isn’t at the mercy of their helpers. If you don’t like somebody’s personal, creative or emotional style of trying to help you, you can LEAVE! Unlike the label days, where you just wound up stuck in a miserable marriage for the kids’ sake.
> Would you not say some labels – indies, for example – have become far more creative in recent years, for example in terms of digital marketing?
AP: I would not not say that at all. Necessity is the mother of invention. A lot of labels are great and have very smart and cool people working at them, they’ve figured out these so-called “new” things right along with the artists who’ve gone independent and figured out the same “new” things. Hopefully we don’t see this as a DIY-Artists vs Evil Label competition, but rather as an ecosystem that can fit every style of business and work. The most important thing is that the artist be in control of the fate of their artistic life. While everybody scrambles around looking for the magic bullet, they’d be better off re-assessing their attitude towards artists. If I hear another person crucify an artist for “making the wrong move in this new digital marketplace”, I’m going to puke. Let artists use sponsorship. Let artists use crowdfunding. Let artists use patronage. Let artists ask for money directly, no matter who they are, how big or small (*cough Zach Braff*). Let artists return to their labels if they decide they want to (*cough Trent Reznor*). LET ARTISTS DO WHATEVER THEY DECIDE IS BEST FOR THEMSELVES. Everyone judges so harshly from their smug sidelines… it’s depressing. Let the artists break new ground, find new paths, fuck up, experiment, decide their own fate, change their minds. The marketplace is so wild, the least you can do is cut all these artists some flak for screwing around with different systems and changing tactics.
> Streaming services like Spotify have become big in recent years. Are they screwing artists? Or rather giving them a new promotional window?
AP: Easy. They’re doing both.
> What are your biggest hopes for your current tour?
AP: Well, it’s almost over, but I did get one hilarious viral video out of it:
(“Dear Daily Mail”, written in response to the UK paper’s coverage of her breast “escaping” onstage at Glastonbury this year)…
And I love my fucking fans, they get better and more crazy and loving with every round of touring. I miss touring when I don’t do it. But it’s exhausting. The dilemma of my life.
> You’ve connected with your fans far more deeply than many other artists have. How can you go further? Do you want to?
AP: If I didn’t want to go further, I wouldn’t be me. And if I told you how, I wouldn’t be me either. I plan on barreling in as usual and figuring shit out as I go along.
That’s the fun of it, right? IT’S ROCK’N’ROLL. Stage dive, pray, land, repeat.
Photo © Shervin Lainez