by: Michael Shields
Amanda Palmer’s endeavor to change the music business through an active connection with her supporters meets some resistance….
This time would be most constructively spent discussing the gem of an album which is Amanda Palmer’s ((& The Grand Theft Orchestra)) ‘Theatre is Evil’. Nothing would make me happier than to put you onto a record that is easily one of the years best, crafted by one of the industry’s most interesting acts. I would love to discuss the powerful opening tracks that are ‘Smile’ and ‘The Killing Type’ ((A contender for track of the year, 2012)). I would like little more than to examine an album that would most easily, and simply, be described as honest. Few tracks are as beautiful and heartbreaking as ‘Grown Man Cry’, ‘Trout Heart Replica’ and ‘The Bed Song’, and these poignant intimate songs are seemed flawlessly with large impact pulsating cabaret punk hits such as ‘Do it with a Rockstar’, ‘Lost’, and ‘Massachusetts Avenue’. I want to delve into all this, dig deep into these songs as Amanda ((Amanda Palmer is the former Dresden Doll front-woman, FYI.)) has dug deep herself, and created her best album to date, an album that is the by-product of one of the largest Kickstarter campaigns ever ((She raised a whopping 1.2 million dollars!!!)). But that will have to wait for another time.
There are more pressing issues to discuss at this point because Amanda has drawn some criticism for the ways in which she is conducting herself and her business (Brace for some back-story). Besides triumphantly sourcing the money for her album through her supporters on Kickstarter she is “crowd sourcing” a string quartet and horn section for her current tour in support of the album, and this is rubbing some the wrong way. The most vocal of these agitated souls is a man by the name of Steve Albini. Steve is a veteran producer and the current front-man of a band I favor called Shellac ((Steve Albini was also a member of Big Black and has done notable in-studio work with Nirvana, Slint, Sparklehorse, and PJ Harvey amongst others)) who disapproves of Amanda’s methods, stating:
“A new music business paradigm, if it is worth anything, should strive to be free of exploitation and be honest about its motives….”
“Nobody’s an idiot ((He misspoke and called Amanda an idiot in a recent discussion)) ……some ways of conducting business are just uglier and more exploitative than others.”
With a heated debate such as this I feel the need to weigh in; throw my hat into the ring so to speak. It is few and far between when we see someone, in reaction to today’s music industry woes, develop a completely new business model, and it is not surprising that it has drawn some ire ((Especially from Steve Albini who has acted as the “indie police” before chastising Sonic Youth for joining a major label- Geffen – in 1990)). But, after far too many hours in thought about the subject, I cannot help but ask….
What’s the big deal?
I believe Amanda may be receiving much of this criticism because she raised 1.2 million and then follows that act of charity by asking for professionals in each city she tours to play with her only to be compensated in “beer and hugs”. She is on record saying she cannot afford to pay these musicians as it would cost upwards of $35,000. I understand how this could be viewed poorly after so many have given to her artistic cause….but who are we to spend her money? What do we know of the album’s expenses paired with the tours? I believe we begin to walk a fine line of privacy infringement and jealousy when we begin to re-allocate Ms. Palmer’s funds in the way we deem fit.
I admit I do understand Steve’s argument in many ways, and the one point that I think is the most important is that this does have the possibility to set a bad precedent. This is potentially a big deal. I am an ardent supporter of artists being rewarded for their talents and work, and I suppose Steve Albini is making this point on behalf of touring musicians and their livelihood. This makes sense. But, after looking into the situation as thoroughly as the Internet allows, I have to give Amanda a pass on this one.
The truth is Amanda pays her touring band and her crew. This is fact. Beyond this, the musicians solicited to work for essentially no wage are not of the caliber of the New York Philharmonic, they are mostly there to enjoy themselves and play music with an act they respect, and therein lies the beauty. Many would love to play with their favorite musician; in fact I would go so far as to say I would actually pay for the opportunity. How is a bouquet of people jamming at a concert such a bad thing? How is audience involvement to this degree a problem? Life experiences are not always about being paid and Amanda is offering just that – and unforgettable life experience. She is basically asking “Does anyone out there want to sit in with us?” So much beauty has been born out of that simple question…..
I am positive that Steve Albini is FAR more in tune with the problems facing the music industry than I am, particularly independent and niche acts. But I am positive that Amanda Palmer isn’t responsible for the eroding demand for recorded music, or the eroding demand for albums in whole. I am sure that she hasn’t championed the right of consumers to acquire high quality music at little or no cost through file sharing. And, I am sure that she isn’t behind the dominance of the quick-buck “mega-acts” owning the airwaves today – in fact she is the direct antithesis of such acts. It just seems to me that she is just actively looking for a solution, and including her fans on a journey into undiscovered country with this ground-breaking process. She is using technology to reach people and making some money for her art through this connection. This does not come off as exploitative or even ugly…..it appears to be rather….genius.