You’re likely familiar with Amanda Palmer for one of two reasons: she’s the lead singer and pianist of the Dresden Dolls, who had a mainstream hit in 2003 with “Coin-Operated Boy,” and she’s also married to Neil Gaiman, the author of The Sandman series and Coraline. You might also know Palmer from her recent decision to not pay her musicians on an upcoming tour, and instead compensate them with beer, merchandise, and hugs. Needless to say, that caused a sh*tstorm controversy. Here’s what the hell is going on.
On August 21, 2012, Palmer posted the following on her blog:
we’re looking for professional-ish horns and strings for EVERY CITY to hop up on stage with us for a couple of tunes. we need a COUPLE of horns (trumpet! bari! sax! trombone! all need apply!!!) to join in the blasting with Ronald Reagan, our sax duo who’ll be joining the Grand Theft Orchestra every night. and we need enough strings to make up QUARTET (pre-made quartets WELCOME) to join us for a couple tunes….and to act at the string quartet for jherek bischoff’s beautiful music. (Via)
Wow, that sounds amazing! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a fan of Palmer’s to play with her in front of other fans. It’d be like if Lou Reed asked if I wanted to jam with him and John Cale during their highly secret Velvet Underground reunion tour. There certainly couldn’t be a catch!
we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make. (Via)
OK, that’s cool and all, but what about money?
Damn. There’s the catch. So, not only wouldn’t Palmer pay you, but worst of all, shortly before making this announcement, she had opened a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her most recent album, Theatre Is Evil. Fans raised a record (for a musician, at least) $1.2 million, over 10 times the amount she originally asked for, meaning she not only didn’t have to pay for the album, but she’d be asking musicians to play with her for essentially free. I bet the beer was Natty Ice, too. Not cool, Palmer, and people were not happy.
I have no fundamental problem with either asking your fans to pay you to make your record or go on tour or play for free in your band or gather at a mud pit downstate and sell meth and blowjobs to each other. I wouldn’t stoop to doing any of them myself, but horses for courses. The reason I don’t appeal to other people in this manner is that all those things can easily pay for themselves, and I value self-sufficiency and independence, even (or especially) from an audience.
If your position is that you aren’t able to figure out how to do that, that you are forced by your ignorance into pleading for donations and charity work, you are then publicly admitting you are an idiot, and demonstrably not as good at your profession as Jandek, Moondog, GG Allin, every band ever to go on tour without a slush fund or the kids who play on buckets downtown.
Pretty much everybody on earth has a threshold for how much to indulge an idiot who doesn’t know how to conduct herself, and I think Ms Palmer has found her audience’s threshold. (Via)
That wonderful response comes courtesy of Steve Albini, the frontman for Big Black and Shellac and “engineer” behind such classics as In Utero by Nirvana and Surfer Rosa by Pixies, who argued that Palmer is sh*tty at her job if she needs to ask for funds from her fans, something broke, nearly homeless punk icons like GG Allin never had to do. Or at least as overtly. The hate also came from a musicians union in Seattle:
The back-and-forth between the two musicians ended when Albini apologized for his “idiot” comment after Palmer explained her side of the issue, but around and around the controversy went for a few days, in comments sections and NY Times articles, until yesterday when she wrote the following:
for better or for worse, this whole kerfuffle has meant i’ve spent the past week thinking hard about this, listening to what everyone was saying and discussing. i hear you. i see your 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.) (Via)
So, what did we learn from all this kerfuffle? Just pay your f*cking musicians.