Amanda Palmer Writes on Business of Music, Touring at a Loss: 'Don't Talk About Your Risks'

Amanda Palmer
Rebecca McGivney

"The mostly-unspoken rule that artists aren’t supposed to talk about their businesses reveals plenty about how we tend to think of 'art' and 'business' as mutually exclusive," writes Amanda Palmer in an op-ed for the Guardian, describing the double standards about what artists are allowed to say about their finances without criticism. 

"Megastars can flaunt their tour revenue and album sales when they reach the millions," she continues, "but you won’t see Lady Gaga, former London School of Economics student Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd or the management behind any of these artists chatting openly about the more painful moments behind their massive paydays."

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Palmer's article called "Art is a business – and, yes, artists have to make difficult, honest business decisions" comes following a wake of responses to a blog post on the website Medium by one half of the the indie duo Pomplamoose, Jack Conte, detailing the loss incurred on a recent tour. Some of those were compassionate, while many were harshly critical of the band's lavish spending. 

"The critics are partially correct," writes Palmer, explaining this may not be how some other bands would decide to tour but it is how Pomplamoose chose to do it: "at a loss, and as an investment."

If there was any naiveté in the post, she continues, "it wasn’t in how the band spent their money but rather in his assumption that a compassionate universe was ready to accept his transparency as an important contribution to the music information economy instead of a mercenary gimmick promoting his own cause."

Palmer goes on to tell of her former band the Dresden Dolls' tour supporting Nine Inch Nails in 2005, where they were paid $500 a show and lost money renting a bus and hiring a driver and sound guy. But it was worth it. She writes, "Risk-based investing exists everywhere but the arts (and, one could argue, in the non-profit world), where it is considered absolutely déclassé. In the tech industry – and the restaurant industry, or any industry, really – it is considered necessary to spend, experiment, fail, struggle, borrow capital and ultimately find a healthy balance between expenditure and income. Wired’s Erika Hall recently even wrote of the tech world that “Somewhere along the way, it got to be uncool to reduce one’s risk of failure."

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Meanwhile, in the days following her now-famous million-dollar Kickstarter campaign, Palmer has been criticized for such things as for not paying volunteer musicians. The irony, she points out, is the many of the same people criticizing Pomplamoose for spending too much will do the same for her not spending enough. 

"The backlash (Amanda, pay your volunteers! Jack, don’t pay your band!) is laughable, but it speaks volumes about the double standards with which the world tackles the music industry," she writes, in closing. "You’re damned if you play by the rules, and you’re damned if you find a creative way to thwart them. We – Taylor Swift, Trent Reznor, Zoe Keating, Pomplamoose, U2, Radiohead, me – are all just trying to find a way to create and monetize our creations at the same time.

"And if there are going to be a million new paths to sustainability for a million different artists, we’d best stop bickering amongst ourselves about the validity of each and every path these artists are stumbling down – or at least step out of the way if we can’t lend a hand."