My Thoughts on Amanda Palmer and Musicians Playing for Free

In the last couple of days I have seen many people posting about the recent controversy involving Amanda Palmer.

On August 21st, Amanda put out a call for volunteer musicians to join her and her band-mates on stage in every city of her tour. She offers to pay them in beer, t-shirts and hugs.

Several news outlets such as Prefix and Digital Music News have published articles either bashing this practice or talking about how people are bashing this practice in light of the huge amount of money she raised using Kickstarter. There are some pretty harsh replies in the comments.

But when I read the articles, I was not outraged. I didn’t see the fault in this request.

I thought from the headlines that I would be upset. After all, I am a musician who has had to play plenty of shows for no pay. Instead I was given the meager compensation of being allowed to operate a merchandise table, sometimes only during my set. I was even asked to play a show this past summer at a very large convention where my perks were so non-existent, I was not even privileged enough to be able to attend the convention!

Needless to say, I turned that one down.

I am lucky that my fans are generous and I usually make enough to cover gas and tolls, and can stash a little away for my next big equipment purchase (I am so close to getting new monitor speakers for the studio!!!)

I get the outrage though. I get that musicians are insulted that somehow people expect them to perform for free while everyone else involved in a production gets paid. I am not sure how or when this started, but it seems pretty common these days.

In fact, a former band-mate of mine, who has a new band and is playing regular (paid) gigs, recently posted a response he wrote to a request for his band to play for free. I might have clapped after reading it. I certainly shared it with anyone who would read it. This is what he posted on his facebook page:

Got an e-mail asking The StraightJackets to play a corporate affair…for free. They promised us “exposure” via their website and videos posted on YouTube that would be far more valuable.

Oh, by the way, they wanted us to bring the PA, too!

My response:

Thanks for contacting The StraightJackets.

Corporate shows start at $1500. Outside shows cost $1000 more because of the added PA necessary.

We will add your event to our calendar which gets THOUSANDS of hits and will add videos from the show to our video page giving you incredible exposure for your product. Literally millions of hits per month. You will have more clients than you have product for. That will more than offset the fee we charge to play for your event.

What…you don’t think that the exposure is worth the money?

Neither do we.

But, we are glad to provide you with this exposure since you have asked us to rehearse until we are good enough to be in demand, buy a full PA big enough to handle an outdoor event, travel to your event, set up our PA, play for your event and entertain your clients and friends, tear down, and load out our gear for you…all for free. I guess you are also wanting us to be skilled, talented, and professional, also for free.


You don’t give your pools away for free and we don’t give our music away for free, especially to corporations. You will be paying someone to pick up the garbage for your event, the least you can do is pay the musicians, too.

Good luck on your upcoming venture.


So yeah, if this email got me all riled up, you would think I would be outraged by Amanda Palmer, right? Nope. Why? Because if I was reading Amanda Palmer’s blog, it would be because I was a huge fan. And if one of my favorite musicians gave me the chance to play with her on stage in my home town, I would take it without a thought. Beer, a t-shirt, and a hug as payment? Bonus.

She has a paid band backing her up. This call for volunteers is a way to incorporate her fans into her art. It is something she is known for. There is a reason she has a HUGE following and can do spontaneous shows and pack the place.

The controversy apparently arose from the fact that she raised a huge amount of money from Kickstarter. They wonder if she has all this cash, why can’t she pay these musicians?

I think people are missing the point.

Yeah, she did raise over a million dollars from Kickstarter, but since she breaks down where that money is going in her blog it is clear to see that this money is allocated to her amazing Kickstarter rewards and to creating and distributing the album. It has nothing to do with whether or not she has money left over to pay musicians; she IS paying her touring band. Instead, it is about her fans having a once-in-a-lifetime experience to become a part of her show rather than just watching it from afar.

So yes, I think musicians should be paid, but sometimes you take a freebie because it is something that is so cool, you just can’t pass it up. It might even lead to a future paying gig. There is a big difference between being asked to be the main entertainment for a private party and asking if any fans would like to be a part of their favorite musician’s show.

So you just keep doing what you are doing, Amanda Palmer.

***UPDATE*** (9/20/2012)

Digital Music News posted an article yesterday called Amanda Palmer Agrees to Pay Guest Musicians. The article quotes the blog, but does NOT post a link to it. I always like to read things in their entity, so I searched for it on my own, and now you can read it for yourself.

While searching, I also located a blog from September 14th that further explains Amanda’s personal experiences with volunteering or having to pay her own way, and the benefits she received from it.  For example, I learned about an experience she had with her former band:

“…sometimes even paying for my own travel for the privilege of playing with my idols. (the dresden dolls lost a lot of money in order to travel around opening up for nine inch nails. and good lord, were we grateful to lose that money…it won us a huge bunch of fans).”

Amanda makes many, many good points about how different things work for different artists, no matter how famous or how obscure. I really recommend reading it!

My opinion on the matter still remains that there are situations in which I volunteer my time, and others in which I do not. I guess it depends on whether or not I feel I am being taken advantage of, or if perhaps I am gaining some sort of advantage (even if small) for doing so. Only good can come of her decision to pay these musicians, but I still do not fault her for asking for volunteers. After all, I am in the middle of recording a CD at the moment, and where would I be if I didn’t have musician friends who were willing to work for peanuts?! The good will comes back around, my friends.


9 Comments on “My Thoughts on Amanda Palmer and Musicians Playing for Free”

  1. Steve says:

    Wow, very well said!

  2. I really don’t get the uproar over this, it’s almost like they’re attempting to find something to attack her for. She has a backing band she pays. She had an incredibly successful, well-publicized Kickstarter campaign. She wants to give fans a unique, fun opportunity that nearly no other artist is providing. I think that’s awesome and a great way to generate even more enthusiasm among her fans. It’s not like the old days of Chuck Berry coming to town, hiring a local band to back him, and then having his manager stiff them as much as possible – it’s a musician giving her fans a wonderful opportunity.

  3. Terry says:

    If she were doing it to incorporate fans, that would be one thing, but she’s hiring players for the NY show. So I guess the extra instruments are somewhat important to her, and not just a way to give back to her audience.
    Someone mentioned that this is “cheapness dressed up to be generosity” or something like that.

    • MandalaSongs says:

      She is asking for extra players at all the shows, not just the NY show. I think they are important to her, as you pointed out, but I also think that it is a way to incorporate the fans. Also, I do not believe they are being asked to play for the entire show – just a few songs.

      They way I look at it is this: no one is being forced to play for no pay. If it sounds fun (and who wouldn’t want to play on stage with someone they admire) then the fans who can actually play instruments get the chance of a lifetime. Each city stop will be an opportunity for different fans to join in with her paid touring band. I think it is a cool idea.

      Obviously, not everyone agrees with this, and I thank you for posting your opinion. No matter what side one takes, I do not think she is the villain some people in the media are making her out to be.

  4. Steve says:

    It’s nice that she’s paying the volunteer performers but I have two bits of “wisdom” for the voices of outrage out there: “put up or shut up” and “mind your own beeswax.”
    For the first, some of the most vocal critics did not support the Kickstarter, have not purchased Amanda’s works, and many weren’t even familiar with her works before this controversy (by their own admission). Who the heck are you then to tell someone how to spend other people’s money?? Now if all of her KS supporters complained… that would be something different. And if those supporters are now not going to get as awesome a video as what they had hoped for because people who were happy to play for “free” ended up being paid… well is THAT fair?
    Which brings me to my second point. Why should YOU care what sort of compensation someone else thinks is fair?? The very idea offends me. I know what my time and talents are worth, I won’t accept less for them. Nor would any of the volunteer musicians. Mandala mentioned that nobody was twisting their arm to play and that’s a good point. If you love the idea of playing with someone so much that you’d do it for free (or for minimal compensation), then you will. If you don’t, then you’ll ask for more. Guess what folks, that’s how a free-market economy works. The employer then either pays you more, find someone of similar talents who likes the job/pay enough to take it, or hires someone with lower qualifications. It’s worked that way for a VERY long time. Why are people getting in a huff about it now? Are lots of people bored or is this just the “thing to be upset about” of the week? I seriously wonder….

    • MandalaSongs says:

      Interesting point you make: “Why are people getting in a huff about it now? Are lots of people bored or is this just the “thing to be upset about” of the week? I seriously wonder….”

      Also, I had not really thought about the outrage affecting what the Kickstarter folks paid for. Amanda did say in her blog that the funds came from her video budget. I hope this does not impact the Kickstarter rewards for the sake of those who donated. I also noticed that some of the most vocal folks admitted they had not heard of her, so they obviously are not Kickstarter backers.

    • Achilleas says:

      a) The argument would be valid if we were talking about actual payment

      b) There is no free market economy in the real world, every big corporation in the West is subsidized -or bailed out when it goes bust-, if you want to find an authentic form of free market you should head to Somalia, check out

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