MIDEM Panel and Q&A: Kevin Wortis on Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter, ‘Theatre Vs. Theater’

MIDEM Q&A:Kevin Wortis on Amanda Palmer, Crowd-Funding, Quick & Dirty Meetings

Since Kevin Wortis joined Girlie Action two years ago, there’s been a lot of action for one girl in particular – Amanda Palmer. Wortis heads label services for the former Dresden Dolls singer and other artists on NYC-based Girlie Action, and he played a part in orchestrating her landmark crowd-funding project with Kickstarter, one which netted $1.2 million. 

Prior to joining NY-based Girlie Action in early 2011, Wortis, a 22-year-music industry veteran had worked as a booking agent, artist manager and label head before co-founding label services company World's Fair.  He signed and authored marketing campaigns for Rough Trade, Daptone, Play It Again Sam, Fabric, Dandy Warhols, Lady Sovereign, J Dilla and the Secret Machines. He has also served as President of Rock Steady, where he worked with emerging artists like Best Coast.

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BILLBOARD.BIZ: With Amanda Palmer tagged as the million dollar fan-funded artist, has that proved a distraction?
KEVIN WORTIS: No. It was a huge success. Wildly exciting. And it proved the validity of the platform -- that’s what’s amazing about it. It allows all of us to take a look at this and say this can really work, in lieu of a label if that’s what an artist wants to do. In fact, Amanda’s really not that big an artist. She has an incredibly deep relationship with her fans but there are artists who are significantly bigger, who could raise five or ten times that, if they chose to go down that route. It’s pretty exciting and it’s something artists who don’t want to be on labels -- and labels -- have to look at. It’s proof of concept and not a distraction at all.

If there are artists who can build 5-to-10 times Amanda’s numbers, when are we going to start seeing that kind of action?
With Amanda, we did about 24,000 backers worldwide and they averaged about $54 each – 24,000, that’s not a lot. If the Flaming Lips did it or Radiohead came back and did it, or one of 150 bands did that who have significantly bigger fanbases and equally-robust conversations with fans, how can it not happen? It makes sense for labels. Labels put up a huge amount of capital and they wait 90 days or six months, until it comes back. With crowd-funding, you can see all that money before the record is released. I can’t imagine why it won’t happen.

There was some negatively around Amanda’s campaign, certainly in terms of the sum raised and how it was used. How did you handle that?
Amanda will talk about everything: every dollar she spends to every feeling she has. That’s not authentic for every artist; not every artist wants to do that.

There was a time when artists were behind a curtain. That’s been pulled away, and the audience can peer behind. Do some artists still need that curtain of mystique?
That’s all about respect and privacy. Some artists don’t want to have anything to do with fans, personally. They can’t look anyone in the eye. That’s okay, that’s who they are. Everyone is different. When MTV started, we all thought, “holy shit, now everyone has to look good, they all have to act, do all these other things and not just write songs.” Now with social media, they have to be pithy in 140 characters or less, smart, witty, communicative and that’s the new criteria.

What do you hope to get from MIDEM?
I am mostly here meeting with people I currently work with but don’t see very often because they’re Europe-based. That’s really what my days are filled with. It’s a great place to meet people from all around the world who you work with. You get to meet everyone quick and dirty, have a drink. Mostly it’s about meeting folks you already know.