A frequent refrain in the music industry is that the future is not about selling CDs, but about creating relationship between musicians and fans. If it's true, musician Amanda Palmer is a good case study. One half of the band The Dresden Dolls, she explains that she raised $19,000 from her fans on Twitter in just 10 hours.
RICK KARR: One musician whose who’s had no trouble creating relationships with her fans is Amanda Palmer. She’s one-half of the band The Dresden Dolls, and their music’s been described as Brechtian punk cabaret.
[AMANDA PALMER SINGING, MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Palmer’s a former street performer who’s apparently got a knack for monetizing her fans’ passion. One Friday night earlier this year, Palmer says she was bored, and so she accidentally started a tee-shirt project with her fans on Twitter. Just two hours of work earned her a whopping 11,000 dollars. It’s just one of the many ways Palmer has made a living by tapping into her fans’ goodwill. The key, Palmer says, is trying out lots of different ways of making money.
AMANDA PALMER: Everyone has to stop thinking there is an answer. The answer is, there’s an infinite number of answers.
RICK KARR: You've done some fairly unusual things to raise some money from your fans.
AMANDA PALMER: I've done free webcasts in which I've auctioned off props from the videos that I've shot and handwritten song lyrics and weird stuff from my apartment. People have bid hundreds and hundreds of dollars on this stuff. But a lot of it is not even really so much about the stuff itself as it is about their willingness to, to connect with me and support me. And I've also done a lot of sort of flash mob shows using Twitter and my blog to get a bunch of people in a public space, and literally put a hat out and said, I gave you this show for free, I'm really glad you came. If you can afford to give me some money, do it. If you’re too poor, don't.
RICK KARR: I get the feeling, though, that you may have gotten some flak for this, ‘cause you wrote a blog post in September that was titled Why I am Not Afraid to Take Your Money. [LAUGHS]
[PALMER LAUGHS] Artists have always asked their fans for money. I mean, you know, records came out in the '80s, they were effectively asking you to pay the 10 bucks or whatever it cost to buy the vinyl record.
AMANDA PALMER: I think what’s important to point out, that it was never the artists asking. It was Tower Records or the anonymous record label. It was never Madonna putting her hand out, saying, here’s my record, give me the money. You know, people kind of don't like it. They want their artists and their musicians to be these sort of like pure beings who are like holed up in garrets wearing scarves and like painting and strumming their guitars and howling in pain, and like some product gets mysteriously delivered and then somebody else who doesn't mind dealing with the money goes out with the hat. Now, that you can make music directly available to your fans, I think it’s also time to destroy the myth that artists shouldn't ask for money.
RICK KARR: Surely, there've got to be some downsides to this, though. I mean, nobody’s going to give you half a million dollars up front to go into the studio and make your record, right? Come on. You’re making it sound like it’s a perfect scenario.
[OVERTALK/BOTH AT ONCE]
AMANDA PALMER: Yeah, sure.
RICK KARR: But it can't be.
AMANDA PALMER: No, no, no, no, this - it’s definitely not ideal. And one of the advantages that I certainly had with my band, The Dresden Dolls, was that we signed back when it was sort of like the last wave of, you know, here’s a bunch of money to make a record. But, an album can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, with a gazillion people behind it or, you know, someone can pick up a guitar and record it into their Macintosh for zero dollars. But if that person recording their guitar into their Mac and putting it up online sings about something that connects with millions of people, nobody will care what the medium was. All they'll know is that they heard a song that made them cry and they want to hear it again.
RICK KARR: People who are fans of yours are truly fanatical. Can every artist expect to tap into their fan base’s goodwill the way that you have?
AMANDA PALMER: I think the answer is, no, not necessarily. I'm really, really lucky I have the kind of fan base who will sort of play around with me and try different experiments. But, hopefully, once we set up a few things that work, it might be easier for an artist who isn't quite as outspoken or as exhibitionist to say, well, you know, this worked for Amanda and her fans and, you know, and I'm willing to try it. That’s what a lot of bands are doing right now, Radiohead, definitely, and Nine Inch Nails. They were willing to put their music out there pretty much for free and say, we're going to let you, the fan, set the price. I think it just, it just sort of made it acceptable.
RICK KARR: You may be the only optimistic person we've talked to -
[PALMER LAUGHS] - in the entire music business ‘cause everybody cites ten years ago the industry was selling 13.5 billion dollars worth of records, last year they only sold 8 billion. And we've heard people say that the live touring industry is collapsing because it’s consolidated to the point where it’s just unsustainable anymore. And yet, you’re sitting here and you’re saying – you sound really optimistic.
AMANDA PALMER: People don't love music any less. There might be a lot less money out there in the industry, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the fact that the live industry is tanking to a certain degree means that ticket prices are now going to be reasonable. As far as the music is concerned, maybe it ups the ante. If you’re a teenager with a dream of being a rock star, maybe you'll really think about why. Were you doing this to be rich and famous or [LAUGHS] are you doing this because you really love music and you want to connect with people, and you'll do it even if it just means you make a living wage? If that’s true, I'm - you know, I'm a fan [LAUGHS] of the new system.
RICK KARR: Amanda Palmer, thanks a lot for coming in to talk to us.
AMANDA PALMER: You’re so welcome.
RICK KARR: Amanda Palmer is a musician, a blogger, an artist and a member of the band The Dresden Dolls.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] That’s it for this week’s special show on the music biz. Brooke and Bob, thank you so much for lending me this hour. It’s been a blast. On the Media this week was produced by Jamie York and Mark Phillips, with help from Mike Vuolo and Nazanin Rafsanjani, and with more help from James Hawver and Dan Mauzy, and edited by – Brooke. We had technical direction from Jennifer Munson and more engineering help from Zach Marsh. Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone will be back next week. I'm Rick Karr.