Crowdsourcing or Exploitation? Amanda Palmer's Search For Volunteer Musicians

Warning: These videos aren't exactly safe for work. View at your risk, preferably at home with the shades drawn.

Amanda Palmer is learning that Biggie was right: More money does in fact equal more problems.

A while back Palmer created a Kickstarter project for her new album and tour. Her thousands of fans came together to donate, and the end result was a project that had $1 million to its name.

Whether she knew it at the time or not, the reality is that money is a blessing and a curse. While it allows her to work as an independent musician away from the corporate music landscape, it also allows people to use that money as a weapon when she makes unpopular decisions.

This is how "Amanda Palmer crowdsources musicians for upcoming tour" becomes "Millionaire wants backing band to play for free."

The facts are these:

1. Amanda Palmer made $1 million to fund her album and tour, among other things.

2. Amanda Palmer wrote a blog seeking volunteers in the various cities her tour is hitting to compliment her touring band. These "professional-ish" musicians would be paid in beer, high-fives, merch, and/or thank yous.

3. People got really upset with this request.

The core of the argument against Palmer is that she is exploiting these musicians who sign up to perform with her, and by not paying these string and horn players a fare wage she's no different than the corporate music labels she hates so much. In the words of the Musicians Association of Seattle, "Hugs don't pay rent."*

(*For more on the arguments against Palmer, I direct you to this blog and this petition. And if you're curious as to what Steve Albini thinks I can link you to that too.)

I don't have a dog in this fight. I'm not a musician, professional or otherwise. Other than the three years I spent playing baritone in middle school, at which I was awful, I've never learned to play anything. I've also never listened to a single song written by Amanda Palmer; truth be told, I usually confuse her for Emilie Autumn.

That said, having spent an afternoon reading dozens of articles, blogs and open letters on the subject I have a few things to say to both parties.


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Fitzgerald's

2706 White Oak, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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16 comments
Jerry
Jerry

I play in Two Star Symphony and we backed Amanda Palmer last night at the Fitz show. We're longtime struggling musicians and also huge Amanda Palmer/Dresden Dolls fans, and I get the problem people have with the way the 'crowdsourcing' call for volunteers was handled. That said, Amanda DID PAY US and it's my understanding that the local hires will continue to be paid. So if it's any comfort, the AP crew seem to have listened to the criticism and taken it to heart. Also, Amanda was cool as hell - friendly, funny and supportive, both onstage and off. The whole thing was an amazing experience.

Sarah Belham
Sarah Belham

When I fixed computers for a living, I was frequently asked by relatives to come over and fix theirs for beer, food, or free. After arriving at a relative's house for Christmas dinner one year, I had barely set foot in the door when said relative steered me directly into the office and started listing everything wrong with his computer--he expected me to sit in there and fix it while everyone else ate, and did he even have a present or a card with some money in it for me? HELL NO. She's asking professional-level musicians to play for her and be paid in beer and hugs. It's the same fuckin' thing. No, actually, it's not. It's worse, because she can afford to pay them and she's just choosing to be a greedy asshat.

Mark Salvie
Mark Salvie

If Amanda had marketed this as a cool opportunity for her fans to perform with her instead of a financial decision, she wouldn't have gotten any crap for it...

Tea_Elle
Tea_Elle

I think the crux of the issue is that it is exceedingly difficult to get paid to play music. Therefore any example of someone who is unwilling to share whatever cash they make with their supporting musicians just looks bad.  

wonko
wonko

She's entirely welcome to ask for players to play for free.  But HOLY CRAP is it tacky. 

 

HEY GUYS I JUST SPENT A MILLION BUCKS MAKING AN ALBUM AND NOW I'LL BE PLAYING TO SOLD OUT SHOWS OH AND I'LL PAY YOU IN BEER, OK?

 

The cynic in me thinks that she is smarter/more devious than she appears with all this.  She's likely too popular now to fly under the radar and just have session players onstage and *not* pay them scale without running afoul of local unions, which she probably can't afford - so by getting "volunteers", she doesn't have to. 

 

She is paying rpofessionals at *important* shows.  So if you live in NY, you're getting the best of the best...and everyone else in the US can suck it, I guess.

A_Rod
A_Rod

@hprocksoff sometimes getting ones name out there is pay for itself

Kenneth Rex Nabours III
Kenneth Rex Nabours III

The Violent Femmes did this for years and no one said anything. Apparently Amanda Palmer herself even played with them a few times. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violent_Femmes#Horns_of_Dilemma It seems like it was supposed to be a fun networking sort of thing but histrionics got in the way. If I had access to any sort of horned instrument I definitely would've volunteered myself for this.

KellyDearmore
KellyDearmore

@hprocksoff If someone wants to do it, let them volunteer. The people that take the offer will see it as a trade-off, not as exploitation

Cathy Power
Cathy Power

I have traveled to Chicago and Portland to see AFP play. This musician would definitely say yes if asked.

Booger Boogerson
Booger Boogerson

Im thinking that she is paying union musicians in union cities

Kelly Switzer
Kelly Switzer

AFP is no Jay-Z, I don't personally begrudge her this tactic. Also, it sounds fun as hell.

joshwebster
joshwebster

Booooo! It's exploitation for sure. Music can be a career or a hobby, but not both.

Sarah Hirsch
Sarah Hirsch

Having used crowdfunding techniques for all my Jealous Creatures albums (btw, THANKS EVERYONE!), I don't feel comfortable with this at all. This musician raised over a million dollars on Kickstarter, but she can't pay her musicians unless they're in select cities, like New York? If the shows are free, then it might be awesome to have this kind crowdsourced show, but if she's charging money for tickets, doesn't every audience deserve the same caliber show no matter where they're located on the tour?

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