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Summary:

Knock me down with a feather! After a week of sometimes not-so-civil discourse, alt-rock icon Amanda Palmer says she’s started paying the artists who volunteered to back up her band on its “Theatre is Evil” tour.

Amanda Palmer
photo: Flickr/Zawesome

After a week of some pretty passionate back-and-forth between Amanda Palmer, her critics, her fans and well — just about everybody — the singer said that she’s now paying volunteer musicians recruited to back up her band in its current tour.

On Wednesday, Palmer  blogged  that she had listened to people’s concerns about the use of free “crowdsourced” musicians, and sees their points.

me and my band have discussed it at length. and we have decided we should pay all of our guest musicians. we have the power to do it, and we’re going to do it. (in fact, we started doing it three shows ago.)

my management team tweaked and reconfigured financials, pulling money from this and that other budget (mostly video) and moving it to the tour budget. 
all of the money we took out of those budgets is going to the crowd-sourced musicians fund. we are going to pay the volunteer musicians every night. even though they volunteered their time for beer, hugs, merch, free tickets, and love: we’ll now also hand them cash.

The on-stage volunteers who played early on will also get checks — for how much we don’t know. She also reminded people that her band is on salary year-round.

The Palmer brouhaha raised anew questions — at least for some of us — about whether it’s right to use free or near free labor in what amounts to a commercial enterprise. Palmer’s reach-out for volunteers raised hackles coming as it did soon after she got $1.2 million from a Kickstarter campaign to finance her latest CD.

One GigaOM commenter made the point succinctly:

Volunteerism is for benefits and non profits. Volunteering to raise money for a food bank? Awesome, sign us all up. Volunteering to raise money for a musician with a million bucks to spend? Pretty damn exploitative.

For her part, Palmer seemed to come away from the whole experience no worse for the wear.

 i really appreciate those of you who came to the table and made your voices heard. despite a few of you haters who were just along for the fun, i really value your various points of view, and into conveying your thoughts – even if we don’t all agree. this is how we grow. we are the media, and we are a peaceful community who communicate with each other. this is how we do it, this is how we’ve always done it.

Love her or hate her, Ms. Palmer certainly knows how to get a conversation going.

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  1. Yeah…nobody forced these folks to participate and they benefited from the exposure, so I think the stink being raised is way overblown. The music industry, like all of the arts, has always been a large source of exploitation (bars paying in beer, roadies getting t-shirts, etc.) and pretty much anyone who has worked for more than a short time in the industry goes into the agreements with eyes wide-open.

    1. A history of exploitation doesn’t make it okay. This was less about the volunteers, who would be working without pay of their own free will, and more about the shrinking pool of paying gigs for professional musicians. Every volunteer would essentially be erasing a source of income for people who depend on it. We already barely value artists in our society. We all listen to music yet think nothing of expecting it for free. It’s a systemic problem and we’re all complicit in it. As a professional writer I see this all the time–when someone offers to do the job for free, they devalue the whole practice. Soon no musician can make a living. Yes, music is a hard life, but does that mean we should make it harder? Think about it.

      1. So, following your logic, until someone offers to pay you for it, you shouldn’t be doing it at all? Is that it?

  2. No, “huh”, he’s not saying that in the slightest.

    Madlyb, while I agree with the fact that this is not new, that doesn’t make it okay. To me there are two things in play. First, if you watched Amanda’s kickstarter video, she is breaking away from the evil music empire. But moves like this make it look like she is repeating the same things that made her leave. The only difference is that she is doing them instead of having them being done.

    Her whole Kickstarter vibe was very narcissistic. Apparently you can only donate so much to a campaign. She then says if “anybody is interested in donating a higher amount for a long term with no interest” you can contact her directly. Why? Who does that? What is in it for them?

    Ever since distribution became digital, people use the anonymity to steal. Sure, they justify it, but do that to Microsoft. Or, steal from MGM. Like it’s okay to charge for a chair, but not the engineer that designed it.

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