SXSW: Amanda Palmer Talks Crowd-Sourcing Backlash, the Spoils of Social Media

Amanda Palmer PR 2013 P
Shervin Lainez

"I would be disappointed if PJ Harvey started tweeting all the time,” says the singer who raised over $1 million on Kickstarter and is the 1,712th most followed user on Twitter.

Amanda Palmer was not only the subject of a South By Southwest panel -- title: "The Anatomy of Amanda Fucking Palmer: An Inside Look" -- she also moderated the discussion of the crowd-sourced, fan-integrated business model she's been perfecting over the past few years. Palmer was joined by Cooking Vinyl’s Martin Goldschmidt, Kickstarter’s Kendel Ratley, Topspin’s Nicole St. Jean, and Girlie Action’s Vickie Starr and Eric Sussman to talk about the impact and success of her recent Kickstarter campaign, which raised $1,192,793 from 24,883 fans last May.

“Basically why we’re here is to tell you how we did it and to answer questions,” Palmer told the packed room at the Austin Convention Center. “It’s great if you can raise a lot of money but how do you do it?”

Although many of the audience members appeared to be diehard Palmer fans, the musician took the time to explain her musical background, explaining how she ended up creating her own release strategy after being signed with Roadrunner Records for two albums when she was in the Dresden Dolls. Palmer noted that she’s had seven different management and team configurations over the course of her career, leading up to her current system that involves Girlie Action as her label, management and publicity firm. Starr noted that Girlie Action “essentially see ourselves staffing [Palmer’s] business.”

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The primary focus of the panel, however, was Palmer’s infamous Kickstarter campaign for her album Theater Is Evil, for which Palmer drew some criticism for raising over a million dollars and then asking musicians to perform for free. Starr broke down the numerical mechanics of this endeavor, noting that fans may have underestimated exactly how much things cost. As it turns out, the shipping and handling costs (worldwide) for the presold albums (25,000 of the 85,000 sold in total as of now) amounted to $240,000. Shipping an individual album package to Australia, for example, cost a stiff $85. “It’s important to point out that we made the shipping free for all over the world,” Palmer said. “That turned out to be not such a good idea.”

These monetary concerns have not quite been resolved, it seems. Goldschmidt, whose label was responsible for the release of the album following the campaign, was unable to answer just what Cooking Vinyl got out of the deal. “We got the deal wrong because we didn’t participate in the income of it, but that’s by the by,” he said. “I justify our place in the food chain on this because we released the record in [30-plus] countries.”

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When asked by a fan what she would do differently in light of the Kickstarter backlash, Palmer said she felt the criticism wasn’t actually about her raising money to make an album. “After I publicly made a lot of money, musicians unions and some musician people were very upset that I would continue to ask my fans to come do stuff for free because I was rich,” Palmer responded. “I don’t think that was about the Kickstarter. I think that was about my image. [My] TED talk doesn’t totally address it but those are bigger ethical questions about when I appeared all of a sudden to have a lot of money -- which was ironic because I didn’t -- about how work is valued. And you need to let the artist make those decisions. The musicians get to make those decisions.”

The ideas brought up in the panel all ultimately tied back to the fans -- many of whom crowded into the room and offered a standing ovation when Palmer closed the hour-long talk with a rendition of her song "Ukulele Anthem." Starr noted that Palmer is currently ranked as the 1,712th most followed user on Twitter (Justin Bieber is No. 1), however Palmer has tweeted 42,362 times as of March 12, 2013. The musician engages more actively with fans than her more popular counterparts, Starr said, noting that Bieber has tweeted only 21,000 times.

Palmer did point out, however, that her method is exactly that, her own. Artists need to find what works for them and the culture around, she noted. “I would personally be kind of disappointed if PJ Harvey started tweeting all the time,” Palmer said. “I'd be like, 'Oh, it's just so not PJ Harvey.' My big concern, and it's a legitimate concern, people bring it up and I don't know the answer, in the age of the social artist and crowd-funding, what about PJ? Is she going to be OK if she's not going to be able to robustly DIY it? Will she have the right team around her? Is it going to be a harder future for the artists who aren't able to roll up their sleeves and do all this stuff that me and all my hyper-social friends are doing successfully? I don't know.”

Twitter: @THRMusic