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Play for free? Ummm….

This post falls under the heading ‘something I wanted to share but it will take more characters than Twitter will allow’.  I recently came across this:

Amanda Palmer Asks Musicians to Play for Free, Pisses Off Musicians

I can see both sides of the argument here.  Unfortunately, I see more of the musician’s side.  In the defense of Amanda Palmer, it sounds like she is trying to do something completely new, something she considers will be fun for everybody involved, and something that in essence flips a finger at a industry made to keep artists from making the kind of money people think they make.  She’s not trying to insult musicians, though I think her quote to the New York Times was a bit insensitive:

“If you could see the enthusiasm of these people, the argument would become invalid. They’re all incredibly happy to be here … If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where’s the problem?”  — Amanda Palmer, as reported by The New York Times

I can’t help but agree with the musicians, though.  It’s one thing if this were a one-time gig in a small venue, or if Amanda Palmer were a struggling musician herself.  She isn’t.  She’s a successful musician who was able to crowd-fund 1.1 million dollars, with some of those dollars probably coming from the same musicians she’s trying to coax into playing for her for free.  Unless I’m vastly mistaken, the events themselves are ticketed (i.e. not free), so there will be income for her and her group from that source, i.e.  the Kickstarter project isn’t the only source of funding.

Will she get her musicians?  Yes.  Is she lying about some musicians being “incredibly happy” to be there?  No, I’m sure they are very happy.  It could be that they are happy to be on stage at a big venue at all, or that they get to add “played with Amanda Palmer” to their resume, or they could be just doing it for a lark.  If I played an appropriate instrument I’d be rather tempted to take part in this, but I have another job.  I’m not trying to pay bills/etc. based on a musical career, and the people she is calling out to are freelance musicians.

Some of the said musicians make several good points in their comments, like Amy Vaillancourt-Sals:

“So, looking back at your ultra successful kickstarter and your request… Here you are, and you’ve raised over $1 million for your tour and album release. Here we are as musicians on foodstamps, maxing out their credit cards to keep the lights on, are hoping that we have enough money to pay next months rent, and have instruments that are in need of repair, need to be replaced, and even need to be insured. We are looking at you now and your request for musicians to come play with you for free, and most of us have even fallen in love with you and your music, and how do you think we’ll respond? We’re f*&king perplexed, agitated and disheartened, to put it mildly! What would you say to you if you were in our shoes? I have a pretty good guess…” — Amy Vaillancourt-Sals, quoted from Kotaku article linked above

Palmer has said that paying the musicians would cost her around $35,000, which she said is more than she can afford.  Really?  If she wants to make claims like that, she needs to back her words up with some serious proof.  The 1.1 million dollar Kickstarter aside, where is all the money going that is being made on the tour from ticket sales?  Her tour is spanning 30 cites.  That means on average she only has to dedicate $1,167 from ticket sales per venue to pay the musicians.  I looked up ticket prices for one of her shows at random (House of Blues San Diego), which shows that the ticket price for that venue is $32.  Granted ticket sales go to several different things, but that equates to approximately 37 tickets in a venue that seats 1,000.

I don’t know.  I think it boils down to this:  she is obviously getting paid for this.  Her regular band will be getting paid for this.  Everybody else involved will be getting paid for this (I really doubt the venue is letting her be there for free).  Why stiff the orchestra, even when there are people willing to do it for free?  There are people out there willing to go on the TV show Wipeout even though that’s not a very good idea (we may laugh, but some of those people get seriously hurt).  Why pay yourself but not the crowd-sourced performers, especially since said performers are risking being shunned by some of their fellows over what they are doing?

So yes, I think she should pay these performers more than just “beer and high fives”.  That, or prove why she can’t afford to pay them.  That would at least show that she understands that not everybody out there can afford to play gigs for free, especially with the economy as it is right now.  I’m happy for her success, but… yeah.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Sara | September 14, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I can’t get to Kotaku from work, so I don’t know if they linked to this, but: Here’s Amanda Palmer’s response.
    http://amandapalmer.tumblr.com/post/31502310905/an-open-letter-in-response-to-amy-re-musicians

    The original call for musicians is here:
    http://www.amandapalmer.net/blog/20120821/

    My impression is that the idea was at least halfway kind of an art stunt–putting together an opening act from whosever can be found in any given city on the spur of the moment. It’s… very Amanda Palmer, from what I have gathered, not because it’s *cheap* but because it’s impulsive and all about musical community and an indie flashmob kind of environment.

    As for where the money’s going, you’re not the first to wonder, and she’s done her explaining here:
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/amandapalmer/amanda-palmer-the-new-record-art-book-and-tour/posts/232020

    Short story: Making a record and touring to promote it is expensive business, and she never expected to take home one red cent of the Kickstarter money herself. It’s not lining her pocket. Kickstarter is a business funding mechanism, not a money-making machine. It’s not there to make money for her personally, it’s there to fund her venture, and that’s what she’s done with it.

    I’m not necessarily trying to defend her–I think this is a fuzzy one, especially for those of us who don’t have firsthand experience with either side of the argument, and while I don’t think Palmer *intended* to be all cheap-ass about it I also can easily see how it could be interpreted that way. Just bringing the other side of it into the discussion, is all.

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