Amanda Palmer, the often scantily clad popstrel performer who raised $1.2m from fans on Kickstarter to finance a tour, has yielded to criticism and agreed to pay her backing musicians in a recognised convertible currency - rather than embraces, T-shirts and beer.
Palmer, whose most noteworthy achievement in many eyes is being married to writer Neil Gaiman, advertised for "professional-ish horns and strings" players to accompany her on stage for her ongoing tour, but offered only "beer and hugs" as compensation for their labour.
Palmer raised a hefty seven figure pile of cash on Kickstarter to bankroll a "record, art book and tour" with her sci-fi writer spouse, so she's not short of the ready. Gaiman's name naturally raised her profile with comic book fans.
Everyone got paid for their work: producers, manufacturing and distribution companies, graphic artists, two full-time staff, designers, printers and publicists, Kickstarter and Amazon – everyone, in fact, except the people she could get away with not paying: the backing musicians.
An informed estimate from musician and songwriter David Lowery suggested that revenues from playing 1,200-capacity venues gross between $30,000 and $60,000 per night, which is more than the $2,300 to $3,500 required to pay an eight-piece horn and string section at union rates. Other estimates suggest a four piece would not have cost her much more than $500 per night. Either way, real money was on the table.
“It's cheapness repainted as generosity, and it's gross,” producer and industry critic Steve Albini told music paper The Stool Pigeon.
My management team tweaked and reconfigured financials, pulling money from this and that other budget (mostly video) and moving it to the tour budget. All of the money we took out of those budgets is going to the crowd-sourced musicians fund. we are going to pay the volunteer musicians every night. Even though they volunteered their time for beer, hugs, merch, free tickets, and love: we’ll now also hand them cash.
The weblog BoingBoing, which has relentlessly promoted Palmer and championed her in contrast to the old exploitative music industry, only acknowledged Palmer’s change of heart grudgingly. The blog's readers are backing Albini’s ethical position, however. The most popular comment on the story notes: “She also skimmed $250,000 off the top and inflated all her costs... It's a business, she is making money doing it. This ‘oh it's art you can ask for free shit’ attitude is bullshit.”
Lowery, while urging Palmer to pay her musicians, was more sympathetic. Artists have the right to conduct their finances as they please, he argued, suggesting that Palmer had failed to make the mental transition from struggling artist to a successful one; she was now the employer.
Nevertheless, Palmer initially thought she could get away with not paying her fellow artists. And the ideologues who support her see nothing wrong with that. ®