Why Amanda Palmer Sucks.

by Erin Craig on September 14, 2012

Rarely does something get me angry or move me enough to start writing about it. Writing more than 140 characters at a time, that is.

That changed this week, when I heard about Amanda Palmer and her current tour – she’s asking for “professional-ish horns and strings for EVERY CITY to hop up on stage with us for a couple of tunes”. For free. And part of the kicker, for me, is that this is the same Amanda Palmer who just raised over a million dollars on her last Kickstarter campaign. Apparently, she can’t afford the $35,000 it would cost to pay professionals to play for the whole tour. Somehow that math seems a little bit fuzzy to me.

I’m angry about this for a whole bunch of reasons.

1. Amanda Palmer, you are devaluing the skills and training of professional musicians.

The argument is being made that if Amanda Palmer asks people to come play her shows for free, it’s her problem if she gets a crappy band, and it’s each individual musician’s problem if s/he chooses to take a free gig.

Here’s the thing. Amanda Palmer is kind of famous. With that kind of fame, people look up to you, and whether you like it or not, you set an example and a precedent for those not as famous as you. So as soon as Amanda Palmer – Kickstarter millionaire and famous rock star – asks musicians to play for free, and suffers no consequences, this sort of thing starts to happen: “Well, if Amanda Palmer can get volunteer musicians on her gig, then why shouldn’t I?” After a bit of this, everyone expects musicians to work for free. Pros won’t do it, so hobbyists start to take over the music industry, bringing down the quality of live and recorded music that is produced, and those who have trained, practiced, and dedicated their lives to being great at their instruments are left out in the cold.

I’m a member of the musicians’ union, or the AFM. I pay my union dues and am choosy about the gigs I take because it’s important to me that musicians can continue to make a living wage playing music. The AFM exists so this Amanda Palmer crap doesn’t happen to us, and it works the best the more members and voices it has – it’s a union, for goodness sakes, you know how they work. I’m saddened that the people who are choosing to play for Amanda Palmer don’t seem to understand that their choice affects the rest of us working musicians, too.

2. Amanda Palmer, you’re kind of a hypocrite.

Some internet fact-checking person was smart enough to dig up this previous blog post by Amanda Palmer. In it, she rants about how hard it is to be a poor starving artist and trying to make money. And I quote: “artists need to make money to eat and to continue to make art.”

Yeah, Amanda, they really do! And I’m super happy that you understand! So now that you are in a position to be able to help more artists pay their bills, just like many people once helped you do the same, you’re choosing not to do it? Kind of wishy-washy in your values, there. Kind of lame. Kind of makes you a terrible person in my book.

Artists have to help each other out. It goes both ways – asking for help when you need it most, and giving help when you’re on the top and have the resources. Amanda Palmer wants us to think she’s still on the bottom. It’s upsetting that she wants us to believe that big of a lie.

3. Amanda Palmer, asking fans for favours is not the same as asking your buddies.

In this blog post, Amanda Palmer makes the comparison that asking fans to volunteer their time and talents for her shows is the same as when she and her buddies jam on each others sets, or when she took a free opening slot for Nine Inch Nails…

Nope. There’s a big difference between doing a favour for your friends – your equals in terms of fame, ability, influence – and asking your fans, who are nowhere near your equals. I’ve done musical favours for my buddies lots, and I ask things of my musical buddies sometimes, and that will continue. But the people who ask me, and the people who I ask, we’re equals, and we know it, and that’s why it works. That’s why it works between Amanda Palmer and her buddies, Ronald Reagan and Nine Inch Nails. Nobody’s being taken advantage of in that situation – no pressure, no exploitation. Not so with her call for a volunteer orchestra.

People volunteer for lots of things all the time, and it’s good to volunteer. But – as many people commenting on her blog post have said – with volunteering comes a code of ethics, a set of rules in place for the people who recruit volunteers. It’s there so that the volunteers don’t end up being exploited, and so that organizations can’t just recruit more volunteers to take the place of paid staff – which is exactly what Amanda Palmer’s doing.

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I’m starting to think that this whole thing was orchestrated as a publicity stunt. I’d never head of Amanda Palmer until this whole not-paying-your-band thing started to make the rounds on Twitter, and hey, now I’m blogging about her. Seems to me that’s exactly what she intended, especially since she seems to be so gung-ho about new ways to actually be profitable in the music industry. Good for her… I just wish she’d share some of those profits with the musicians that are going to help her make them.

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UPDATE: after the entire internet angrily blogged at her, Amanda Palmer has apparently changed her tune. The musicians she originally recruited to play for free are now being paid, and the musicians who played for free before are being paid retroactively. (She doesn’t say how much, but I guess that’s not really our business. I hope it’s somewhere close to scale, but I guess I’ll never know!) Whether it was a true change of heart on her part, or simply a shrewd PR move, it doesn’t really matter to me. The musicians are being compensated, and that’s what counts.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

D September 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Great post! My only possible explanation for the dissonance between her old blog post and her latest stance is that she doesn’t consider the side musicians to be artists – just day laborers.

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Olav Rokne September 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Well… that sucks. That’s really lame of Amanda Palmer.

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Ash September 29, 2012 at 11:23 am

Lame post
I think it’s fine to ask for volunteers, if they wated to get paid, then they shouldn’t VOLUNTEER. She wanted to get fans involved in the actual show and give local artists something to boost their resume. Who gives a crap?
Yay for all the volunteers that are now getting paid after they had signed up or already played with no intention of being paid.
Get the stick out of your ass.

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rochelle April 7, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Ash, you are the lame one. Amanda Palmer is an awful, talentless hypocrite. Paying musicians matters and as I recall, Palmer moaned about not being paid and being called fat and ugly but when it comes time for her to act responsibly, she can’t be bothered. Amanda Palmer is a greedy, pathetic loser. Scientology deserves her and probably makes up most of her audience.

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Peggy Sue October 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Amanda Palmer is a liar. She lied about the million dollars. She’s lied about her Sea Org family. Now she’s lying about where the money went to ($300.00 per accompanying book, over $100,000.00 for thank you cards. ) Palmer is a pathological liar and is deeply untalented. 80% of her Twitter followers are fake. There is no million dollars. She is verbally trying to money launder something that never existed.

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fairly March 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm

The Kickstarter campaign is just another Scientology scam. Most of the donations were huge and none of them can be tracked or verified. Amanda Palmer is from a Sea Org family. Her Uncle Doug and sells fixtures under contract to the Sea Orgs. Her husband, Neil Gaiman and his entire family are high ranking Scientologists. Gaiman gave the cult half a million in 2010 through his company, The Blank Corp.

Billboard indicates that over 90% of (Amanda Palmer’s) 23,000+ units “sold” (which propelled her to #10 on their chart) came from digital downloads.EVERY person who ordered ANYTHING from her Kickstarter – 24,883 people — received a download code which, when you really look at it, indicates that not even all of the Kickstarter contributors bothered with downloading her album — and that in effect, for all of her controversy and promotion (by her and her husband), she actually didn’t get all of her fans to gin up her pre-ordered estimate and only sold some 1,700 ‘new” albums she and her team hadn’t already factored into her unit movement.

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Delia September 9, 2013 at 1:52 am

Funny, because $35,000.00 s exactly what Neil gaiman gave Scientology in donations in 2009,. Palmer and gaiman’s money goes to the cult.

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Rob December 1, 2013 at 11:34 pm

insufferable. Down in Tasmania we have to worship amanda palmer and the violent femmes. It’s the law.

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TC March 16, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I recently gave a past-expiration listen to “Who Killed Laura P-” oops. She sounded akin to an arctic seal caught in a poacher’s jaw trap whilst trying to replicate the songbooks of Sparks or even Queen.

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