Amanda Palmer

Photo: Courtesy of Amanda Palmer (Palmer); Getty Image (Tip Jar). Illustration by Gluekit.

Amount requested on Kickstarter to fund her 2012 album: $100,000
Amount received: $1.2 million
Number of views of her TED talk on the subject: 2.9 million
Lesson: Artists should be shameless.

Amanda Palmer has done a lot of things since 2008—her punk cabaret band the Dresden Dolls went on hiatus, reunited, went on hiatus again, and reunited again; she released her first solo album; she played hundreds of shows; she wrote a song attacking the Daily Mail and a poem identifying with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But she’s probably best known for crowd­sourcing to fund her 2012 album, enlisting volunteer musicians to join her onstage during her tour, then getting attacked for taking advantage of them. (Steve Albini called her “an idiot,” and he was one of the civil ones.) Undeterred, Palmer gave a TED talk, embracing the role of spokeswoman for tip-jar economics.

You turned to Kickstarter at first mostly out of frustration with your record company, right?
Every musician I know who’s running their own business knows that there are pitfalls in every system—major labels, indie labels, total DIY. But I was just so sick of wasting my time arguing with people. I figured it was a bigger waste to keep having those arguments than to take server-crash calls in the middle of the night.

And crowdfunding is not a new system. The Internet is just making it a lot faster and easier. Because of that, you’re seeing a surging middle class of artists.

A lot of folks who worry about crowdfunding worry about that middle class—they say it’s great for people whose names are already made, harder for everybody else.
That’s because the thousands of artists who are only making a few thousand dollars on Kickstarter aren’t getting any of the fucking press.

That’s probably part of the reason people flipped on you.
I could write a book about that. Funny enough, I am writing a book about that.

People are okay with any exchange as long as there’s money changing hands—they almost don’t even care what direction it’s going in. But as soon as you’re dealing in the currencies of faith and trust and community, you will get people yelling.

But you’ve said it’s important to see crowdfunding as a business.
You have to look at it the way you would look at any small business. Crowdfunding isn’t charity. It’s about the supply and demand of art. A lot of artists are terrified to put a value on their own work. They’re more than happy to let others do it, because the idea of putting a value on their own work feels somehow unholy.

And how do you get past that?
You fucking deal with it. No—I take that back. But the more you actually communicate with the people who are benefiting from your art, the less guilty you feel about asking for the help you need. With crowdfunding, you can really start to feel your job as an artist is a service position. You don’t see yourself as some special, exempt human being, you see yourself as being someone who has something concrete to offer.

Amanda Palmer