Crowdsourcing or Exploitation? Amanda Palmer's Search For Volunteer Musicians

Warning: These videos aren't exactly safe for work. View at your risk, preferably at home with the shades drawn.

Amanda Palmer is learning that Biggie was right: More money does in fact equal more problems.

A while back Palmer created a Kickstarter project for her new album and tour. Her thousands of fans came together to donate, and the end result was a project that had $1 million to its name.

Whether she knew it at the time or not, the reality is that money is a blessing and a curse. While it allows her to work as an independent musician away from the corporate music landscape, it also allows people to use that money as a weapon when she makes unpopular decisions.

This is how "Amanda Palmer crowdsources musicians for upcoming tour" becomes "Millionaire wants backing band to play for free."

The facts are these:

1. Amanda Palmer made $1 million to fund her album and tour, among other things.

2. Amanda Palmer wrote a blog seeking volunteers in the various cities her tour is hitting to compliment her touring band. These "professional-ish" musicians would be paid in beer, high-fives, merch, and/or thank yous.

3. People got really upset with this request.

The core of the argument against Palmer is that she is exploiting these musicians who sign up to perform with her, and by not paying these string and horn players a fare wage she's no different than the corporate music labels she hates so much. In the words of the Musicians Association of Seattle, "Hugs don't pay rent."*

(*For more on the arguments against Palmer, I direct you to this blog and this petition. And if you're curious as to what Steve Albini thinks I can link you to that too.)

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I don't have a dog in this fight. I'm not a musician, professional or otherwise. Other than the three years I spent playing baritone in middle school, at which I was awful, I've never learned to play anything. I've also never listened to a single song written by Amanda Palmer; truth be told, I usually confuse her for Emilie Autumn.

That said, having spent an afternoon reading dozens of articles, blogs and open letters on the subject I have a few things to say to both parties.

An Open Letter to the Musicans Out There Who Are Really Mad About This:


Let me start off with where I agree with you: it is kind of fucked up that a for-profit artist would ask for musicians to play for free. You've invested tons of time in to perfecting your craft to get to a "professional-ish" level and your time is valuable. You have lives, families, mortagages, car payments, debt, and Christmas presents to buy. Hugs won't pay for any of those.

That said you could stand to be a little less histrionic about things.

It's one thing to be upset; it's another thing to argue that what she's doing is the latest in a series of injustices that extends back to sharecropping and indentured servitude. It's a lot easier for those on the outside to see where you're coming from when you're not relating her to something that's close to slavery.

And stop looking down on the musicians that have decided to work with Palmer. Just because you think they're being exploited doesn't mean they are. Some people are living well enough that investing the time to be part of these shows is something they can do without worry. Just because your situation is different doesn't make those people victims or naïve.

I'll end this with the following reminder courtesy of Unwoman, who wrote this for All Shook Down, our San Fran sister blog: "Amanda Palmer is not a support system for struggling classical musicians."

An Open Letter to Amanda Palmer:

Dear Amanda Palmer:

I've read the defense you wrote on your blog in response to the backlash. I thought you made some really interesting points and I learned a lot about you.

That said, it's hard to believe this isn't about money. Would it have been so hard to work just a little bit of cash into the touring budget for these musicians? Maybe you wouldn't have been able to pay them scale, but at least you could have said, "We can't offer you much but we hope we can make it worth your time."

Honestly I'm not too bothered by this because I think you're right: "Anyone is allowed to crowdsource a musician." If people are willing to donate their time to your cause, who am I to judge them?

What does concern me is that fact that you admit in certain markets you are paying musicians. You've budgeted money so that in certain markets you have "tried-and-true" people on stage with you.

Shouldn't you be treating all markets, and by extension all fans, the same? Shouldn't the goal be to have the best show possible no matter where you play? Shouldn't you put the same amount of money, time, energy in to every stop of the tour? How do you decide which fans get which show? Is there a formula? Will you be putting a sign up that reads "this is a B-market show, so don't expect real musicians"?

Listen, I'm not saying you're a bad person. I'm not even saying that you're greedy. I'm just saying that maybe you spend a little money on a PR person who reads your blogs before you post them.

Hell, I'll do it for you. I might even do it for free.

Amanda Palmer plays Tuesday night at Fitzgerald's, with what we assume will be some of the best crowdsourced musicians Houston has to offer.

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