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.

Sorry.

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.

Stuart

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.

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I Am Up To My Eyeballs in Projects and Papers

Sorry for the lack of posts. It is mid-term time. Though… my midterm project for my video class was due in week 4. (I guess that professor is confused when it comes to math: the half-way mark of 11 weeks is 5.5.)

But anyway… now I am swamped. I am overwhelmed. I have a list next to me with 9 things on it due Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

Here, I will give you an funny performance video to watch from my tour last Fall with Snidget. This is perfect example of me being me. I am a ham and not afraid to make a fool of myself.

Enjoy “Witherwings serenades a Barnes and Noble in Texas with ‘Malfoy.'”


Mini-Tour Wrap-up

Sorry for the delayed post. Coming home from the road only to jump right back into classes, homework and mid-term preperation delayed just about everything in my life not related to school. Which… is going well, by the way. My Audio 101 class is about 2/3 Math and 1/3 Biology, but I am learning some really cool stuff that already has me thinking about what I need to adjust in my home studio. That, however, is an entirely different post altogether.

So the mini-tour which got nick-named the “minotaur” was blast. I really loved being on the road with Hawthorn and Holly. They even thought my reckless driving antics were funny rather than scary, so I expect more road trips to be in our collective future.

No tour is complete with out some road-side stops, and this was no exception. The peach stand dudes in Georgia asked us to contribute to their college fund, and we sang for free peaches. Now THAT is Fair Trade.

We even got to romp around in Universal’s City Walk the morning after our Orlando show. Wish we could have stayed longer, but we live for the open road, man.

But the most amazing thing for me was getting to play with my old band-mates in Orlando. Susie, Vick and Stuart joined me on stage and played MY songs. I was in Susie’s band, SusieCool and the Coolottes, for seven years. They taught me everything I know about live performances and how to be a seamless songwriting team. It could have been really stressful showing up and hearing their rendition of my songs for the first time while ON STAGE, but I had faith in these people. I know NO ONE more professional and knowledgeable than this trio, and they came through as I knew they would. So much so, that when I got ahead of the music on “In Defense of Ginny Weasley” due to the lack of (working) monitors, they caught right up to me in 2 bars.

Here is the only video clip I have at the moment. I will get more posted ASAP.

Thanks to everyone who came out to a show, bought a CD or shirt, or contributed to our gas fund. I met some really cool people and it makes me want to hit the road again as soon as possible!

Wrockers and Wizarding Life folks at the show in Orlando. Photo by Kevin Young.


In Which I Organinze My Brain For Tour

There is so much to do before this mini-tour! It went from a full-fledged tour to a mini tour becasue I decided to go back to school. This school stuff is getting in the way of getting ready for tour! *phsaw* Priorities! 😉

So I am making a to do list for the next few days:

  • Oil change and official recording of mileage. (Hey you, self-employed musicians! Are you aware that July 1st was the start of the increased rate you get back for mileage on your taxes? Get your car’s miles documented ASAP!)
  • Make sure all four bands are on board for the proposed show itinerary. (ie. order of bands and the idea of playing two sets rather than one long one.)
  • Check in with my band for Saturday’s show (I am SO SO SO excited to be playing with a full band!!!)
  • Double check that the chords the guitar player figured out are, in fact, the correct chords.
  • Make sure everyone got and looked at the chords for the other songs.
  • Pull out that awesome new Zoom H4n Handy Recorder (Check! Woot!) and see if/how it works to record ambient sound while running my keyboard directly into it. I would really like to be able to record Saturday’s show. Recording directly from the sound board and being able to capture audience reaction would be fantastic! (…but only if I can control levels. Need to find a manual on-line.)
  • Call the Taste to find when they want us to sound check. The restaurant part of the place is open all day. The art show portion of our event starts at 7, but the concert doesn’t start until 9.
  • I need to communicate this to all the musicians. *side note: THANK GOD for smart phones. I have been doing so much of this communication (emails, facebook messages etc.) on the train to and from school.*
  • Figure out what the heck I am going to wear. I hate this part. I can never just find something at the store when nothing I own seems to be working out. At least I know I am going to wear the sparkley new bracelet I bought a few weeks ago JUST for Sat’s show 🙂 I feel no pressure when deciding what to wear for house concerts or library shows, but  involve a stage, lights etc – and now I gotta glam it up.
  • Email reminders to my professors that I will not be in class on Monday. I am glad they find my excuse acceptable, but there will be consequences for missing material. I hope my hard work the rest of the quarter makes up for it.
  • Make sure the ipod is loaded up for all the shows. As for Saturday, organize the parts of my set not being played on piano or by the band. I have already made several versions of set lists. I guess I either need to pick one or load all of them onto the ipod.
  • Back-up my ipod. It is sometimes acts flaky – like starting the song 15 seconds in. *grrr*
  • Create a wrock play-list for intermission. Get permission from those bands.
  • Find/borrow/purchase a FUNCTIONAL car charger!!!
  • Organize my merchandise.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Okay. Is that it?!?


Upcoming Shows and New Merchandise

It is amazing how much time I have been spending everyday doing something relating to my music business.

Several Portland, Oregon DJs have expressed interest in my Mandala at Twilight music and I have been re-mixing many of the tracks to be better suited for club play. My albums tend to be mixed vocal-heavy, and that just does not translate as well to the dance floor. I have had to retrain my ear to mix the songs so that the bass and percussion are a little higher than normal to sound corectly mixed when played in a club.

Next, I have been spending many, many back-breaking (okay, maybe back-irritating) hours making new Witherwings t-shirts.  Each is hand made and I love them. I found a really great silver fabric paint that is opaque and looks good on dark shirts. The holographic glitter has these shirts making rainbows in the sun. They are a dream.

Why the new merch? Well I have a couple of big shows coming up and I wanted to have something new for my fans. In just over a week I will be performing in Bethlehem, Pensylvania at an event called Incendio 2011. Twenty two bands confirmed over two days. It is going to be some much fun. I have seen pics of the performance space and I am really excited about it.  June 10th and 11th (I perform as Witherwings on day 2.) Here is a link with more info: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=206457176033637 I performed at this event last year and I really recommended you check it out if you can!

I am also organizing a HUGE event in Orlando scheduled for July 23rd. It is going to be a very unique night in that it will be a combined art show and rock concert. The details are almost ready to be announced, so save the date if you are anywhere near Central Florida mid-July! There will be a show in North Carolina the night before on the 22nd, and I will get you those details as soon as I have them.

Want more details about upcoming shows? Want a shirt? Want a CD or a digital download? All you can ever want to know and more can be found at: http://mandalasongs.com/index

Okay, off to clean glitter off my dog. It is everywhere.


What am I Thinking!?!?! (My Plans for This Blog)

2011 is going to be quite the year for changes.  I started this year with one of the biggest changes one can make: I moved. Moving from small-town Ohio to the major metropolis of Washington D.C. is just one example of the way things are going to get all turned upside down this year.

I am doing some major soul-searching on the direction of my music career.  What is next for me?

My mac book died. That means my I-am-totally-happy-in-my-comfort-zone studio died with it.  I am about to get really uncomfortable and attempt to put together a new studio in this lovely new house that runs on… Linux. What have I gotten myself into?

Another tour is in the works and this year, it will be a Summer tour. Again, I will be hitting the road with my friend Grace aka Snidget. Last Fall was fun, profitable and a dream come true and I am really looking forward to hitting the road again.

So what can you expect from this blog? An in-depth look into how I plan to wade through all this stuff and all the highs and lows that come with change.

If you are a fan of my music, you will get a glimpse behind the scenes as to how it all comes together.  If you are a musician or just a serious music enthusiast, maybe you will learn something as you watch me figure this all out.  Maybe you are a Linux pro and have recorded countless albums using 64 Studio or some such software and you will be keeping me sane as I attempt not to throw the computer monitor across the room.

I have a lot in store for 2011 and I see this being a very interesting journey. I hope you come along for the ride!