In part 1 of this article, singer/Kickstarter superstar Amanda Palmer talks about why she believes a pay-what-you-want "patronage" model is the way forward for the music business, the changing relationship between artists and fans, the future role of records labels, and more. Here, in part 2, Palmer talks about how the ways promoting her tours have changed, the enormous difficulties in fulfilling her fans’ Kickstarter orders, the morality of running your own business, and even more.
Amanda Palmer is hardly your average musician. The multi-faceted artist and former co-leader of Dresden Dolls has a groundbreakingly hands-on relationship with her business affairs and, via social media, with her fans. Last year those fans pledged $1.2 million in a Kickstarter campaign for her latest project, Theatre Is Evil, which included an album, a book and concerts. The album got a traditional release in September and debuted at #10 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
She's also no small provocateur. As some people have started reacting to the free culture espoused by Lawrence Lessig in the 2000s -- books such as Free Ride by Robert Levine and Freeloading by Chris Ruen, and the Trichordist blog by David Lowery -- Palmer sees free culture intertwined with a patronage system that's enabled by technologies like social media and platforms like Kickstarter. Make your music available and create a relationship with fans and they will support you.
"I see everybody arguing about what the value of music should be instead of what I think the bigger conversation is," she tells Billboard.biz, "which is that music has value, it's subjective and we're moving to a new era where the audience is taking more responsibility for supporting artists at whatever level."
Palmer says these themes will be probably be featured on February 27 in her presentation at TED2013 in Long Beach, California, although she admits she hasn't written it yet. Her conversation with Billboard.biz touched on those and other topics for the future music business: the role of the record label, the Internet's impact on tour promotion and the dangers of the independent artist assuming the role of customer service representative.
We've talked only about recorded music so far, but you've included your tour and concerts in your Kickstarter campaign. You've reached out to your fans on Twitter for live concerts. How has your relationship with fans online changed how you approach live music, and do you think live music is in need of the same kind of overhaul that recorded music is?
The funny thing is my interaction with my fans hasn't so much changed the way I book live music, but it's definitely changed the way I promote it. I'm very excited to see what I can do because I think the possibilities of using the Internet and statistics of where people are and the ability to let people request me and pull me to certain parts of the globe, I'm really excited to do those things. I love the idea of reaching out to my fan base and saying, "OK, guys, I'm going to go on tour wherever you want. You have to vote with your money. I'm going to do the equivalent of Kickstarting a tour and if I come to your city your credit card gets charged and that ticket is valid and if I don't you don't have to pay." Those systems exist and that's very exciting but I haven't been using them. I'm still using my wonderful, trusted booking agent, Matt Hickey at High Road [Touring]. We book the gigs in the rooms we need to book them and the promoter either does or doesn't do its job of promoting them.
But luckily nowadays I'm not totally at the mercy of the local promoter to get the word out about my shows because my reach and my fans' reach locally is probably, at this point in most cities, more powerful than what the promoter is able to do. I have the majority them converted on my Twitter feed and on my network. It used to be that my email list would be the all-powerful signal. Now I still send out emails blasts when I have a tour but I'm pretty sure that Twitter has squashed my email list in terms of what's most powerful. Mainly because when my fans on Twitter start talking about my show they're all local.
If I'm going to Oklahoma City to play a show and I've got 400 Twitter followers in Oklahoma City, all of whom have between 50 and 5,000 themselves, they all need to chat about my show and the fact that they've got tickets for a couple of days for every single person in town who might know Amanda Palmer to just be aware of the fact I'm coming to town. Anyone who wants a ticket can Google a ticket and get a ticket. Their individual signal boost is like gold in terms of who they are who they are reaching on my behalf. That's fantastic.
On the Kickstarter campaign, where are you on the timeline? The album is out. Where are you in terms of the physical products and the obligations?
The only obligations on our side are the house parties. I haven't delivered the two $10,000 packages yet. We told the fans that we would take about 18 months to fulfill all of those things. All of the physical packaging has gone out. As my long-suffering management and Amanda Palmer house cult [can attest], it can be really hard to reach those last straggling people who forgot to fill out their Kickstarter survey, and then they moved to the U.K., and then their package got held up in customs. I think it's really, really important that we stay totally engaged until we've ferreted out every last person who didn't get their vinyl or CD.
My maniacal focus on customer service drives my team crazy. It also makes the fans very happy because they know they can Twitter me directly and I will pass off their problem to the right arm of the system to make sure they get what they need. This is one of the problems with artists being so in bed with their fans and so totally involved with the business side of things: It makes the work almost never-ending. If the work of making 25,000 customers satisfied wasn't already difficult, because of course it is, can you imagine back in the '90s if I had gone into Strawberries and bought a Talking Heads CD and it happened to be scratched and I could tweet David Byrne, "Hey, dude, I bought this CD and it was scratched," and he could actually say, "Huh, were anybody else's CDs scratched?" and 5,000 people wrote back, "Yes"?
All of a sudden there was recourse. Back in the day if you had a defective record, maybe if you bought it from a friendly record store you could bring it back, but probably you were just f---ed. Nowadays you can go directly to the artist, and if the artist is the kind of person who's listening, the artist can go and make the manufacturer's life hell and the distributor's life hell and their management's life hell by saying, "You guys need to deal with it." There are a lot of problems; ask anyone who runs a small business. You make a "thing" and you're going to have problems with the "thing." Nowadays all of those little warts and problems and issues are coming to light because people have a platform through which to voice their satisfaction. They can air it out right in front of the artist and right in front of all the other fans. You as the artist better be invested in fixing it, because if you're not and you're D.I.Y. and you're running your own business and you're just ignoring all these people, then you're an asshole.