Amanda Palmer on being criticized for enlisting fans to perform and paying them in beers, hugs

Categories: Profiles

Shervin Lainez

Update 9/20/12: Local string quartet Per Vita is slated to back Amanda Palmer this Friday at the Gothic Theater. The group reached out to Palmer immediately when she put out the initial call, knowing full well that it was volunteer only.

"We didn't care at all," says Laena McDonald. "We play a lot of different events, but the majority are classical. We fight to get paid what we're worth, though it's always a struggle with how little people value musicians. That said. I don't think it's about Amanda Palmer not valuing the volunteers' time/skill; it's a completely different thing. It's an opportunity to have fun and do something different. We love what we do, but always welcome opportunities to have fun on the side."

That in mind, McDonald and company considered it a bonus when they found out earlier this week that they'll indeed be getting paid for their efforts. Although McDonald declines to reveal how much her and the other musicians are getting paid, she says that, "Considering that we are only playing for a couple of songs, it's more than enough, especially since we are just doing it for the fun of it."

She also notes that Palmer offered her and her crews free tickets to the show, "in case the controversy had pissed us off and we didn't want to participate anymore," she concludes, adding, "I thought that was pretty cool of them."

Keep reading for our full interview with Amanda Palmer.

See also:
- 9/21/12: Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra at the Gothic Theatre
- Amanda Palmer pens Dear John letter to Roadrunner
- For the Dresden Dolls, home is where the art is

Posted 9/14/12: Over the past few days, Amanda Palmer has come caught a lot of flak for the call she put out to fans to perform with her at stops on her current tour in support of her new album, Theatre is Evil (funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised over a million dollars), and then offering to pay them in beer, hugs, high fives and merchandise. Steve Albini scoffed at Palmer's efforts on his Electrical Audio message board, asserting that any artist who relies on their audience for assistance is professing to being an idiot, inferior to the likes of GG Allin. Palmer responded to the whole thing yesterday by posting an open letter on her blog. We caught up with her earlier this afternoon and she talked more about the situation, giving us her take and how she feels about her detractors.

Westword: That whole thing is kind of crazy the way it's blown up.

Amanda Palmer: I posted a long blog about it yesterday. I had a fantastic experience yesterday at NPR, and if ever there was a group a people who understand my position on this kind of stuff, it's the people at public radio who deeply understand the strange and flexible connection between art and money and communications.

I don't know how much you've followed it, but I ran into this girl Emily White, whose story I had been following a few months ago because she found herself in the same position I'm finding myself now. She became the poster child for a huge cultural battle. She was an intern at NPR who posted this blog about how she didn't own any music, and then someone else turned around and wrote that other letter.

And I thought, "Here we are, two human beings, who, you know, were going about our merry way and sort of sharing ourselves and speaking our truth, and all of the sudden we find ourselves as kind of human punching bags in the middle of a big cultural debate, and the cultural debate is deep and wide and very scary. Symphonies close, and governments' arts funding vanishes, and musicians who aren't as improvisational as most of my rock and roll friends, find themselves find themselves terrified of where their next paycheck is coming from.

And this is nerve I believe we have hit, which is what we're doing -- what we've always done -- we're in the long rock tradition. We play for each other for free all the time. That's the way we roll, and any rock musician who says, "I will not walk on stage without getting paid," you'll just get a look of extreme mystification from the other rock musicians in the room. It's just not the way we do business.

However, when you come up against union musicians and classical musicians, they have a different philosophy. And I don't think it's an incorrect philosophy, but you're seeing a collision of two worlds, and I just happen to be standing on the center line.

The one thing I do have to say about this is it's always very interesting being Amanda Palmer because every time I find myself embroiled in controversy I learn a little bit more about myself. I learn a little bit more about the world. I learn a little bit more about what people hold dear and what people fear, and I always appreciate it, even if it's difficult. I feel as if... I think if my life were easy it wouldn't be as interesting.

I also feel I never expected this to be part of the job. I find myself constantly mediating a cultural conversation, and I really enjoy doing that, even if means people attack me personally, even it means people say mean things about me. I'd rather be at a party where everyone's throwing at shit at each other than in an empty room. That rings true because that reflects my attitude toward life in general.

How do deal with the haters and people saying mean things about you? Does it bother you at all, or do you just shrug it off?

I don't think I'd be human if the personal attacks didn't bother me, but I always try to look one level deeper and ask myself what's really behind the attack. And I take all of the trolls and all of the hate and all of the comments, and I puzzle piece them together and try to figure out what the picture is.

The picture that I see right now is the musicians and artists, especially mature professional ones, are very afraid right now of what is happening because we're in a recession; giant musical infrastructures are collapsing and everyone is afraid. That's usually what sparks the hatred. In the case of Emily White, the same thing. It was musicians and industry people fearing for their livelihood, and when people are afraid, they start acting weird. That's what I pick up on.

You seem to have made it work without dealing with the machine, which I would imagine that other people would try to pick up on that as well.

Well, they do. The nice thing about it for every handful of haters there's devotion of supporters, and it's been beautiful and inspiring to see my fans and my fellow musicians -- professional and amateur -- writing up a storm and posting their own blogs about their experiences. People who have cooked food for me sharing their experiences about why they did it and why they volunteered and why they enjoy giving their time and energy for free, and watching my community speak up is inspiring because it reminds me that we are a force.

The new school way of doing things is totally legitimate. It's clearly going to piss some people off, but we're a very strong grassroots faction, and we're articulate, and we are compassionate. The things that I love most about my fanbase is that they don't flame back. They follow my lead, and they try to keep the conversation very compassionate and open, instead of fighting back with their middle fingers up.

Location Info


Gothic Theatre

3263 S. Broadway, Englewood, CO

Category: Music

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Everyone has a right to ask for a freebie - most street corners are filled with people asking for a hand out (they are often referred to as beggars or homeless ... but perhaps they are simply folks who have fallen on tough times like Amanda.)


What would be really cool is if the clubs stopped charging a fee to listen to live music. Why not just give out free drinks too? It's fun! Giving things away for free is fun! We should all do it, do it for free, including the lawyers and doctors and plumbers and bankers and especially school teachers - we could all use a lot more fun around here these days! Besides, when has making money ever been fun?


Boycott Amanda Palmer! Don't go to her shows. Don't buy her music (maybe you can just steal it online). Her arrogant attitude of asking musicians to play for free (or beer and hugs) is the type of thing that has killed local live music and working musicians.

Boycott Amanda Palmer!


This is a whole lot of self-absorbed dreck. As the AV Club mentioned, she was fine hiring musicians to play in New York, because, you know, New York. The rest of you flyover scrubs get hugs!


If her fans feel good about paying this wealthy individual more than a million dollars to make an album--money which, as Albini pointed out via her "where it went" explanation, was evidently hilariously ill-managed--via Kickstarter and are likewise fine with donating their time and efforts for beer and hugs, well, good on 'em.


I think it's a fucking insult. But then, I can buy my own beer.

Darrel Gill
Darrel Gill

I don't know who she is.... But honestly for most musicians, It's all bartering and giving from the heart for no name music types such as myself. I speak from experience. I have never made a dime for contributing my time, effort, and talent to other members of the music family. I do however have all the friends, love, and beer I'm needing. I'm okay with that. Money is nice but it isn't everything.


We are playing with her at the Denver show... they've changed things since this blew up.


We ARE getting paid. But whether we were or not, we don't mind. Sometimes you have to do things because they're fun, and that doesn't happen very often.


 @PerVita Which is, of course, totally fine and understandable. I have no problem with people making that choice; if it's worth it to you, then have fun.


My issue was with the disingenuous nature of her argument, as well as the not-particularly-subtextual notion that, as an artist, she was being somehow victimized. (Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing helpfully carried that water yesterday.)


Don't launch a campaign to have your fans pay you to make an album, hand-wave the particulars of where the money went (she skimmed about a quarter of a mil right of the top, for instance) and then act stunned when public opinion wonders why you couldn't come up 35 grand to pay *every* musician on your tour. Not just the ones in the big important cities.


Good on her for making the change. But it sure doesn't sound like she gets why that change needed to be made.

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