Hey Amanda, Can I Get My Dollar Back?

Dolla Dolla Bills, Y’all

I contributed to Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign because even though I don’t adore her music (I like a lot of singles, and have friends who see her in multiple cities, and was fortunate enough to see her show in NYC last year), I have a lot of respect and admiration for her as a hard-working performance artist who wanted to change the system. I wanted to play a small part in that change.

Today, I found out she’s allegedly refraining from paying fan musicians who have been invited to join her on stage during this tour. There is some controversy around whether this is a “controlled fan invasion” or “unpaid work.” @tomcollins76 quoted her to me on Twitter as saying, “If you really want to play music with me on stage, go for it…I just can’t pay you, it’s your choice.”

Will Ms. Palmer be playing for for free on these occasions? Or donating all ticket proceeds to charity? Or finding another way to put money in the pockets of performers invited to appear on her stage?

I didn’t support Amanda Palmer to support Amanda Palmer; I haven’t even downloaded my free digital copy of the album yet. I supported Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter because I believe the entertainment industry models have got to change. This – asking people to do what they love for free (plus beer and hugs) – is not a change in the industry model.

Thanks to Ozzy/@karohemd for use of the image.

Musicians – even if they’re fans, even if beer and hugs make them happy – should not be exploited by other professionals for no money.

Especially not by a musician who sold herself as being out to change the face of the music industry.

By not paying musicians who are appearing on stage at a professional, ticketed gig (and I’m not referring to GTO here, as they are getting paid – this is about the fans who are joining her on stage for free), Palmer is recycling the same old model. It wouldn’t stand in SAG, it wouldn’t stand in the Director’s Guild, and maybe it shouldn’t be what the revolutionary darling of the social music industry – and with over a million bucks fronted by backers, this is absolutely an industry, even if just the early days of one – encourages.

It’s definitely not what I signed up to support. The Kickstarter parties (pictured left, and thanks to both Ms. Palmer and @karohemd for getting it to me) were private fundraisers. These are, from what I understand, public concerts.

So while I think the video for WANT IT BACK was incredible work from a visionary artist, and I admire this small-businesswoman-gone-largescale for her chutzpah, I won’t be supporting further fundraising campains by Palmer. And this makes me a lot more cynical about supporting other Kickstarter campaigns by “known” artists looking to “change the system.”

It doesn’t matter if you want it back/You’ve given it away, you’ve given it away,” Palmer sings in WANT IT BACK, and when I heard her song I aligned the sentiment with the intimacy an artist reveals when they create for an audience; the metaphor of a crowd-sourced piece of work and the artist who created it.

Not so much, anymore.


Edit: Two pieces I highly recommend:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lJQjihCp1E (Amanda speaks near Harvard Square)



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46 responses to “Hey Amanda, Can I Get My Dollar Back?

  1. I don’t totally agree with boycotting Amanda over not paying volunteer fans. Musicians often like to jam, and there is a precedent at live events not to allow anyone onstage but the contracted artists, for security reasons. I see Amanda & crew as bucking that veil between performer and audience. The invitation to play with her may not have been thoroughly thought through, but at least she warned in advance that she wouldn’t be able to pay. No one pays the audience for singing along to their favorites, even when they stop to hear just the crowd singing along. This is not much stretch from that idea.

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      Hey Joanne – I guess my response to this is partly in NYPinTA’s comment below, and partly in Claudine’s.

    • From what I understand they have to show up for rehearsals and essentially audition… That’s a lot different from “getting on stage to jam.”

      • I get what you’re saying. When I worked at the Center for the Arts at UB, occasionally we’d get a professional act in that would request a specific type of local person/group to perform with them. We had to coordinate it on our end. School choirs, local dance groups, mostly “amateurs” of the genre of the artist – none paid, just the opportunity to perform in front of a large crowd (normal opening acts usually had their own fee, but this type of thing was done at the expense of the volunteer). They would also be asked to appear for sound checks and rehearsal hours before the performance.

        There’s definitely precedent for this, and it’s presented as an opportunity. I still don’t think it’s worth vilifying Amanda Palmer over.

        • However, did they get a set fee or did they get part of the gate? That is part of the problem for me.

          This is part of the paradox of being free of the record company. She is her own boss, but that means that her musicians are her employees. I would actually say that, as the boss, it would be more ethical for her to make sure her musicians (including the pickup ones) get paid from the gate first, then get her take. I don’t know what the legality of it is, but it seems fair.

          In other words, if she didn’t budget for the musicians, that’s her own tough luck.

          • Here’s what Dilbert’s CEO has to say about ethics. 😉


            If any business model applies to this situation, it might be the waiter/busboy tip distribution. Waiters have to give at least 10% of their tips to the busboy who helped them during the shift. (AFAIK, I was a backup cook in the early 1990’s and squabbles over tips sometimes ended up in the parking lot.)

            • Actually,the business model is pay your backup musicians or you don’t get them. Why is this so hard or people to understand?

              And frankly, Scott Adams is kind of a douhe for reasons that have nothing to do with business ethics.

  2. I’m not totally convinced that it is exploitation, though, as it is totally voluntary, and nobody is there that doesn’t want to be. Everyone is now pretty aware of the fact that if they do this they are not going to be paid- AP never tried to hide that in the original request. So, with all that out in the open, if nobody wanted to do it then nobody would show up to do it. People are clearly showing up, so maybe it’s something else. Maybe, as I think she mentioned in her webcast last night, it’s more about the music than the money for her and for them.

    You can see that this is the case by the fact that she’s put Theatre Is Evil out there for free (essentially; it’s on a pay-what-you-want scheme on her website, but there’s no minimum so you can download it for free). The fact that she encourages that (and has done so with a number of other singles and bits & pieces in the past) makes me feel that not everything has to be money-minded; maybe the change she wants in the face of the music industry is that it doesn’t have to be so much about the industry, and a little more about the music.

  3. By the same token you’ve just exploited me by using my image on your website without paying me a royalty fee. However, I don’t feel exploited because I’ve given you free use of my image of my own free will and because you’ve asked nicely and given me credit and I’m quite sure those artists and performers who join Amanda on the night feel the same.
    This is just a gut reaction, however, I do not know the legalities that apply to performances/concerts in the US. If there is a rule somewhere that at a ticketed event every performer on stage has a right to a fee, then you’re right, even if the performers are happy not getting paid.

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      Ah-hah, but I anticipated this. 😉

      First, I’d like to send you a paypal payment of a dollar. Can I use the address you signed off with?

      Second, I wasn’t, and am not, turning a profit with this blog entry. The paying, ticketed status of the events Palmer is holding make me very uncomfortable. by all means, perform for free and invite other performers. For example: in HAIKU OF THE LIVING DEAD, we asked writers to contribute, me and my fellow editor took a cut, and the rest will be donated to charity. We’ll make fixed-fees but then the rest goes to Doctors Without Borders.

      It’s not about what performers are happy with. It’s about upholding the ideals Palmer said she espoused, which made 1.2 million dollars’ worth of people support her record. Links below, also added to the blog entry.


      • Also, um, you’re credited, which is more than I believe AFP is offering. If she was offering to tweet the names of everyone she performed with and otherwise signal boosting them, that’d be something with a bit more potential value.

        • Rachel / @girl_onthego


        • I’m fine with how Rachel used my image as that was how it was agreed.
          What I’m saying is that a similar agreement was made between AFP and the people who perform with her.

        • “just had a great backstage chat with @jherekbischoff tonights string volunteers from @classicalrev DC. everybody highfives & gets it. happy.”

          Seems like a twitter signal boost to me.

          Also read something along the lines of jherek bischoff agreeing to play a show with them in return.

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      Also, again, thank you for your image. It’s beautiful.

      • You’re welcome and no payment necessary. The images from that set are published under a CC license meaning you can use them exactly in the way you did.
        The art show was really quite special, I’d never seen something like that before.

  4. I’m a bit confused. Working is one thing, but if the performing musicians are fans volunteering to play for fun with a musician they admire, why should they expect compensation? I mean, If I was to offer art or design for say, one of AFP’s companian books as a fan, I wouldn’t expect a paycheque unless she had engaged my services beforehand in a professional capacity. Aren’t these musicians basically making auditory fan art?

  5. Anyone, not just artists, should be compensated for their works, that’s true – but it asking a favour the same as a regular job? Is donating your own work self-exploitation? Should we close off all collaborations where there isn’t money involved for one part? I don’t think the issue here is so black and white as you make it out.
    Lots of people -amateurs, semipro and pro- work for free in their spare time because they choose to. Volunteers at fairs and events (where there’s much more money changing hands than at an Amanda Palmer gig) often don’t even get the free beer and the namecheck, just the satisfaction of a job well done. Heck, as an amateur photographer, I spent much more money setting up my exhibits than I’ve ever had in return, and I don’t regret it because I chose to.

    I don’t understand the symbolic compensation either. Actually, I think it’d make me feel worse if my contribution was treated as a regular job but severely underpaid, rather than a voluntary free contribution. After all, if everyone else is getting paid regular fare for the night, why should my regular work be worth only one dollar?
    Is it because, if you’re paid and have a contract, you can put it in your CV? Well, you can do it even if you’ve done it for free. It’s still experience, and it’s exposure (I can’t believe she won’t even name check the volunteer musicians on stage), and it’s a semi-famous name in your curriculum. It might not be a green bill, but it’s still worth.

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      It’s because Palmer herself has long been a proponent of offering some kind of monetary compensation to artists for the work they do, even if it’s incredibly low.

      • And merch and beer isn’t low payment? Last I checked, payment in goods was still legal, no matter how much we joke about it.

        And the fact remains, she’s not replacing the band with an unpaid army of faceless interns who have no choice but to be there. She’s asking fans who are proficient with an instrument if they want to play a couple of songs with her. If I knew how to play I’d do it in a minute, just like I would if she asked me to take photos of her or the concert. And I wouldn’t do it because I’m a slave to a flawed economic scheme, I’d do it because I like her and because it would be a hoot, and sometimes having fun is payment enough.

        • Rachel / @girl_onthego

          Merch and beer isn’t monetary compensation, from an artist who has spoken out repeatedly about the need for artists to demand monetary compensation.

        • A teetotalling musician might not see it that way…

          The problem is that SHE isn’t being paid in fun. She is getting money from the ticket sales, and she’s denying the pickup musicians that money.

          If you’re the head of a company (and let’s face it, she is now), you shouldn’t pay yourself first. That’s the not-fun part of being a capitalist – you get the money but you’re the one taking the risks.

          And if she’s not a capitalist – if, instead, she considers herself a socialist or something similar – she is even more indebted to her workers.

  6. Hey Rachel, I understand what you are saying. I told my cello teacher about the gig, in case she was interested just for networking, and she had a similar response. That a professional musician should know better than to not pay professional musicians for performing. Her use of the word “professional” is key here. I’m guessing that Amanda’s target is not professional musicians, but decent amateurs who might appreciate the opportunity to play for a larger crowd than they might manage on their own at the moment. When I think of it this way, I don’t think of it as exploitation, it’s more like an internship, or like when people give free haircuts to practice. The way the offer is phrased makes it self-selecting – only people who want this internship opportunity will apply. Good discussion!

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      Palmer’s blog post calls for “Professional-ish” musicians, and she goes on to warn off anyone who may not be up to the task – particularly because she’s asked for specific instruments in specific quantities, wants people to be available for rehearsal, etc. It’s not a “turn up and play” thing, it’s “turn up, learn a specific part, and perform with us to make the show a more enriched experience for everyone involved.”

      The internship comparison was one I talked over with some folks on Twitter last night. I’m still not comfortable because of a clause (often ignored) that interns aren’t meant to do “necessary work” (may not be the exact phrasing, but I can look it up if you’re interested). If she was literally at her gig and said, “Hey! We have a trumpet and a few string instruments, anybody in the crowd want to join in!” that would be less offensive, IMO.

      • Right, I was reminded of the wording “professional-ish” after my post, so the only thing I can hang my argument on is the”-ish”. I agree, I would prefer if in her capacity as a successful musician she provided earning opportunities for other musicians, and this seems like a missed opportunity. I guess that is the way it goes for the performing arts, sometimes people perform for little for the experience and exposure, but that doesn’t justify this model. So yes, I would have preferred if she had done something different.

  7. I’m not sure exploitation is the right word.

    If she had employed people to play at her gigs and refused or renegaded on payment, or in any other way mistreated them, I would absolutely agree with you. If she had hinted that she would pay, and then not lived up to it, or given less than expected, I would agree that she’s cynically exploiting people.

    But to make clear from the outset that it’s voluntary and unpaid – that no one is under any obligation to play whatsoever, but they can if they choose to do so…well, that’s not exploitation. If artists *understandably* feel they should get paid for their time (and let’s be clear, it is THEIR time to spend as THEY wish) then they simply don’t have to do it. Why should they if they aren’t getting paid? It’s completely fair enough.

    However, if they DO want to play, for whatever reason, that’s their choice. Perhaps some commenters on twitter are right and this is a class issue, and the rich people are volunteering their talents because they want to and because they can afford to. Or perhaps it isn’t; perhaps it’s someone unemployed who could really use the money but also would enjoy it and has the spare time available. As far as I’m aware, people weren’t being accepted or excluded from the stage due to personal wealth.

    Don’t get me wrong – I do think there is a link between people doing what they love and other people exploiting them for it. In many sectors, not just music. I just don’t think this is an example of it. Volunteers could be getting paid gigs instead if they’re available. Or practicing at home. Or busking. Or playing on stage for free. Or none of the above. It’s absolutely their choice what they want to do.

    Personally, I’m not rich, I’m unemployed and I don’t feel exploited by anyone when I do volunteer work when it’s something I enjoy and choose to do. I’m not sure the argument that only wealthy people can afford to volunteer their time makes a lot of sense when I’d be getting paid exactly the same volunteering by doing something I enjoy or sitting at home – nothing. As a practical economic choice, if you have a choice between paid work and playing for free, you should go with the paid work. But that doesn’t make Amanda unethical for not being the one to offer that paid work.

    I also don’t feel Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra are making money off of volunteers – the tickets have already been paid for, they don’t get any more money on top. People paid for Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra and if people didn’t want to play for free, that’s what they’d get and the show would go on.

    You can certainly argue that the addition of volunteers make shows *better* and that reflects well on the band in terms of status which will eventually translate into better reviews and financial gain. But if you’re arguing to that level of abstraction, then you could also argue the volunteers gain exposure from their contribution as well.

    I also disagree with the arguments that Amanda is being a hypocrite for on the one hand claiming the music industry as it exists now *is* exploitative – both financially and creatively, and then asking for volunteers at shows. She’s still holding her hat out and asking, but for people to play on stage with her if they want to. Which isn’t that much of a different principle than asking for money if people can afford it, or a place to stay if people have it, or for people to bring food if they can make it. She’s always done that, and it’s always been a two-way street – people help eachother.

    “This – asking people to do what they love for free (plus beer and hugs) – is not a change in the industry model.”

    No, it isn’t, because it has little to do with the industry model. And in fact, that kind of grass-roots artists-helping-other-artists play-if-you-want attitude is not disingenuous or inconsistant with Amanda Palmer, her street theatre background and someone who is willing to do things sponteneously and often gigs for free – something that is her choice and no one can really claim she is exploiting herself or the audience is exploiting her for doing it.

    So is it really a surprise when people turn round and are willing to play for free on stage at her gigs?

    I’m not saying artists shouldn’t get paid for their work – of course they should. Their work has value and they need to eat. But should they also get to volunteer their time and talents for free if they want to? Um…Yes? And who is anyone to gainsay them or say that’s wrong?

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      The class issue is really interesting here, because that came up in a discussion as well. “Perhaps some commenters on twitter are right and this is a class issue, and the rich people are volunteering their talents because they want to and because they can afford to.”

      I don’t think I see it exactly this way, but rather, maybe, as a disconnect between what money is and what money is perceived to be by people at a certain socio-economic level (and who knows what that level would be). One of the things I’ve always loved and respected about AFP is that she was adamant about artists being paid with some form of monetary compensation. $5 can help pay toward rent. A beer and a hug, not so much.

      I’m not going to debate the culture of her fanbase because I’m not an active member of it. I love the things she does with performance art and I love the way she manages her relationships with her fans. She’s a slick businesswoman. But for me, I’m turned off by what I perceive as a betrayal of ideals (as you pointed out in your comment, below), which is why as far as funding her future projects goes, I’m out.

  8. As an addition, I can’t help but be reminded of the initial kickstarter furor and associated criticisms. One of them being that the kickstarter model would inevitably give LESS control to artists, and make it a bit like a feudal patronage system as backers would get to have a say in, control or influence the outcome in some way after donating directly to the artist.

    I thought this was pretty silly, as no one pre-orders a record and then tries to tell the record company what they want out of it. They might complain they didn’t like the record after playing it, sure. But that’s not the same thing. Whether the money goes to the record company or the artist – the audiences creative control should remain the same; 0.

    Yet this feels a bit like what people are doing with this. There’s a kind of sense-of-entitlement about the whole kickstarter thing. I can understand why people might feel betrayed if they felt the values they were supporting were not being adhered to. But you pledged for a CD. Or a digital download. Or whatever – that’s really all you’re entitled to via the kickstarter contribution.

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      “I can understand why people might feel betrayed if they felt the values they were supporting were not being adhered to. ”

      Exactly. I felt I was supporting the values an artist had spoken out about over the course of her career. I don’t feel that this move is in line with those ideals. Therefore, I won’t invest in her in the future.

      • There was a *but* there 😛

        You felt that you were supporting her values when you contributed, and now feeling betrayed, you decide not to invest in her in future. That’s all fine, ofc…

        But I’m uncomfortable with the idea that she owes people adherence to whatever they thought they were contributing for, rather than what they *actually* pledged for ($1 for a digital download).

        And while I realize it might be tongue-in-cheek, the title of your blog suggests that because you gave her a dollar, she owes you something other than what you paid for.

        • I didn’t give her any money, but I feel that she is bound by goodwill and the social contract to treat people in her field with respect. For me, it’s really that simple – if she wants to be seen as an agent of positive, progressive change, she should pay for services rendered.

  9. The $1 you pledged on Kickstarter was to fund the release of her album. Amanda Palmer is obliged to deliver that, and has done. To use that dollar to hold her to account for subsequent, and unrelated, actions is absurd.

    If she had directly approached people to play for her, then said well, actually, I cannot pay you, then your argument may be valid. But she didn’t. She crowd-sourced musicians to play for free. If they wanted to get paid, they wouldn’t have responded. She has done this before with bass players and always tweeted their details and her thanks. By all accounts, the opportunity to play such a gig has been seen as payment enough.

    Incidentally, you sourced the live photo from Ozzy in EXACTLY the same way, via Amanda’s twitter feed. (The stock photo I think you mentioned you found from a Google image search.) When you were called on this, you offered to pay $1 for it. This may have been to try and keep the moral high ground, but seems to have cheapened the whole deal. Imagine if you played the gig as a volunteer, then Amanda gave you a penny for your services, as you suggest she should. Whether or not you are turning a profit from this blog entry is irrelevant. Whether or not she is turning a profit from the gig is also irrelevant. In both cases the deal was clear beforehand.

    Can you explain your HAIKU OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario? Are you saying that writers contributed for free, you took your cut, and whatever was left over will be given to charity?

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      I’ll refer you to the discussion that took place between myself and Ozzy elsewhere in the comments re: your question about that.

      Before I used the photo he let me know it was available under creative commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/) which means that not turning a profit on the blog entry is absolutely *not* irrelevant. He provided me with details of the license under which his work was available and I agreed to comply with the license.

      The offer of $1? It was something that had been sitting uncomfortably with me despite the license, which dictates material is free, and yeah, I don’t like to ask people to do things I’m not willing to do in return.

      You can read more about HAIKU over here (rlbrody.com/2012/05/28/call-for-submissions-zombie-haiku/); that’s the call for work that was posted and it contains the details. The biggest difference, IMO, was that instead of raising ten times our funding goal from people who had bought into our philosophy of working, my co-editor and I .networked among our friends and twitter followers to put together a funny book we enjoyed, that would teach us about the process of putting together a collaborative anthology, and that we could use to raise some money for a charity.

      I’ve said it on twitter a few times, but I’ll say it again here – I think there’s a difference between no payment and charitable donations being made. To bring it back, if Palmer were to say, “I’ll make a donation to X charity in the names of the musicians involved,” even that would signal a truer alignment with the ideals she’s spoken about than the way she’s gone about it.

      “Are you saying that writers contributed for free, you took your cut, and whatever was left over will be given to charity?”

      At this point we’ve made $15 total. I get $5 of that, my co-editor gets $5, and the charity gets $5. When my co-editor and I hit our cap, everything going forward goes to charity.

      If you want more information on the kinds of projects I’ve done in the past, you can also look at “HOT MESS: speculative fiction about climate change” (I edited for free, all authors receive an even cut, with illustrators/designers capping out at fixed amounts), or the upcoming ANY OBJECTIONS short play competition I’m working with for GLASGAY 2012. Token financial compensation is being given to everyone associated with that project, which is being funded by an outside organization.

    • But as someone who is supposed to be at the vanguard of alternative means of producing music, it comes off as really, really unfortunate, if not downright unethical.

      If she wants to be a successful businesswoman instead of a contracted employee of a record company, she needs to be accountable for her business practices. In other words, if she didn’t budget for the musicians, that’s her tough luck.

  10. After reading AP’s blog post, she reminds of me of William Shatner and his relationship with money from his fans (besides selling his kidney stone on eBay, he charges $80 for autograph). Unlike AP, WS knows not to clang his oversized brass balls in public.

  11. At first when I heard about this I thought it was more along the lines of, “hey, I’m touring and if you’re at the show and want to jump onstage that’d be cool” and I didn’t understand why everyone was so upset. If any band that was touring did the same the local musician/fan would be thrilled to hop up there and jam for free. But now after seeing that it was a posted plea with pre-tour contact info and a need for additional musicians for some songs on her part then, yeah, not cool. Either figure out a way to tour with what you need to get the sound you want or don’t perform those songs.

  12. Rachel / @girl_onthego

    Yeah, that was the thing – the blog entry reads like a HELP WANTED ad, which is fine, but that makes it a gig and it should be paid. But yeah.

    Also, thank you again for asking me about the comment – everything had locked up into the spam filter, and I couldn’t believe so few people had something to say!

  13. From Amanda’s blog today…

    “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.)

    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.

    i hope this does two things: i hope it makes the volunteers surprised and happy (they’ll be getting some dough they had no idea was coming) and i also hope it makes our family circle feel good about speaking out.”

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