Amanda Palmer is about to release a book called “The Art of Asking” which came out of her TED talk which in large part came from her experience of raising over a million dollars to make an album via a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. I follow Palmer on Twitter so I’ve seen her agonising over the process of making the book for many months so my first reaction to the “it’s done, here’s the cover” posts was “well, that must be a relief”.
Straight after that was the thought “here comes the hate”. Anyone in the public eye attracts hate. As soon as you have something someone else doesn’t (talent, success, money) you get jealousy and hate directed at you. Amanda Palmer is a personality type that can (and often does) polarise people and both the pro- and anti-Palmer crowds can be zealous to a degree that seems quite out of scale for what she does. She has said plenty of things I don’t agree with but I’m definitely in the “pro” camp.
I was aware of her band The Dresden Dolls and her solo work, I liked the music although I never bought any of it. Then a few years ago The Dresden Dolls did a reunion tour and when they were in Melbourne I helped video the show. It was one of the most amazing live experiences I’ve ever had and I definitely counted myself a fan after that.
A little later, Palmer decided to use the Kickstarter platform to crowdfund a new album. The project was insanely successful – she set a target of $100,000 and ended up raising nearly twelve times that amount. It’s still the most successful music-based Kickstarter and it attracted a huge amount of attention. While her fanbase was hugely excited by the project (made obvious when the target was reached within a couple of hours) the backlash came quickly with a lot of people seeming to think this was some sort of scam.
I didn’t support the Kickstarter (I ended up buying a physical copy of the album later) but the negativity made me quite angry because it combined two of my least favourite things – jealousy and ignorance. I’ll never get over people saying crowdfunding is some sort of a scam, when someone well known does it they are somehow tricking their fans into giving them money. The pure ignorance required to make this comment is staggering.
Palmer’s campaign had a diverse range of rewards at different levels, starting with a $1 pledge got you a digital download of the album. How the hell do you call something a scam when a supporter can get the album for $1? The thing with crowdfunding campaigns is contributors are told what they will get for their money AHEAD OF TIME! Nobody is forcing anyone to contribute. People see something they want and think the cost is acceptable. That’s it. The only way it could be a scam is if the campaign doesn’t deliver what they promised. And that certainly wasn’t the case with Palmer.
I saw some criticisms when she gave a breakdown of where the money would go from people saying her figures for costs were “extravagant”. My first response would be fuck you, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Trying to compare an arts-related project to a bog standard commercial CD release is ridiculous. The bitterness and jealousy fairly dripped from the writing of these people. I imagine they are very unpleasant to be around in general.
My second response is those assertions of extravagance are completely irrelevant. That way of looking at the project is completely backwards! Supporters didn’t pledge on the proviso “you will only make x % profit from this transaction”. They saw an offer, agreed with the price and went for it. It wouldn’t matter if Palmer was lying through her teeth and pocketed 90% of the money in pure profit. Supporters got what they paid for and were happy. End of story. Unless your story is that you’re a bitter “journalist” who has never created any original artistic work and is insanely jealous of people who can do things you can’t. That story will never end.
I’m not going to link to any criticism of Palmer’s campaign (I don’t feel like giving them the attention) but there were a lot of jealous nobodies and some particularly clueless well-known somebodies who piled on. The twin themes of (unacknowledged) jealousy and wilful ignorance ran through all of the criticisms. Seeing the backlash made me think of that saying beloved by mothers everywhere that has more recently become quite popular on the internet: “this is why we can’t have nice things”. I’ll never stop being amazed at human capacity to see the negative in any good thing that happens.
I’ve never actually run a crowdfunding campaign myself although I’ve considered it and I might do it in the future if I think I have a compelling project. In short, I’ve never asked people online for money at all. In the early years of YouTube there was a rash of what was called “e-begging”. Essentially, this was YouTubers asking their viewers for money in a way that meant (in most cases) the contributors got nothing out of it apart from feeling they helped someone they liked.
While nobody forced anyone to give money in these cases either, there were definitely some scams pulled and e-begging was a pretty accurate term for what was happening. Amanda Palmer’s “Art of Asking” story goes right back to when she was a human statue street performer and carries right through her music career to the Kickstarter campaign and beyond. It isn’t as though she’s perfect or even handled the Kickstarter aftermath perfectly – probably her worst mistake was not realising how perceptions had changed about her standard practice of inviting local musicians to join in on shows without paying them. But when I think about the wave of hate that is almost inevitably coming with the release of the book, I feel more than a little sick.
A lot of people don’t seem to realise that I’m essentially an idealist. I like to see people do good/creative things and try to look for positives in successful ventures even if I don’t like them myself. I wish more people would look at someone else’s success and think “they proved it’s possible” rather than “why did that rubbish succeed when nobody supports what I want to do?” I hope I get proved wrong about this but I don’t think I will be. For those people who have a thing against Amanda Palmer, I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong in your grievances (she’s human and has human failings), but surely there’s a more deserving target for your hatred. I just wish people could be better.