Let The Artists Choose Wisely

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Whenever I went to a concert for a band I loved, I used to dream that the drummer would have a heart attack.
It was not a kind wish, but I could always see it in my mind: the drummer would be carried off stage at the They Might Be Giants show.  There would be some concern.  Then, because it was early in the show, John Flansburgh would call out plaintively: “Does anyone in the audience know all of our songs by heart on the drums?
This is why I always tried to be at the front of the crowd at shows.  So when that moment came – whether it was for They Might Be Giants, or Def Leppard, or the Circle Jerks – I could stride forward like a superhero and go, “Yes!  I know all of your drum tracks by heart, O band I love!”  And they would escort me onto the stage with a huzzah, as the crowd went wild, and they’d be nervous for a moment because they didn’t know how awesome I was, but then the opening riff of “Nobody Knows My Plan” would start up, a complex polyrhythm, and they’d see that I knew it totes well, and then wham.  I’d be legendary.
Afterwards, I’d have drinks with them back stage and they’d clap me on the back and then whenever they came to town they’d see me in the audience and go, “Hey, Ferrett!  It’s you!  Hey, audience, this guy played a show for us once!  Why don’t you come on up and do ‘Experimental Film’?”
Now, some of my musician friends had dreams where the drummer (or guitarist, or bass player) died, and the band said, “Hey, this is very sad, but we do need to continue the tour.  Why don’t you quit your shit job and hit the road with us full-time?”
I never hoped for death because hey, I wasn’t a monster.   I just wanted to jam with my heroes. But every last one of my musician friends had that dream.
And as it turned out, that actually happened once – God bless you, Thomas Scot Halpin, who got called up on stage with The Who in 1973 when Keith Moon passed out.  (Seriously, read the Wikipedia entry on that day – it’s the most amusing story you’ll read all day today.)  When my friends and I heard about Thomas’s great luck, we all envied him.  Getting to stand up there with your idols and be a part of it?  Awesome.
So it is with amusement that I note the criticism of Amanda Palmer, who has earned millions of dollars through Kickstarter and album sales, who is asking string and horn musicians to get on stage with her and play – gasp! – for free.
I’m not the biggest Amanda Palmer fan, but were I a fan, I’d be jumping at this like a shot, because it’d be fun.  Yes, there’s some valid points to be made about “musicians should be compensated”… but if I were a cello player, I’d look at most of the bands I like and go, “Man, I’m never going to get to jam with Rasputina,” and feel bad.  Yes, the musicians were paid, and that’s good, but if I ever wanted to be a part of that magic, then I’d be locked out.
What Amanda Palmer is offering is, well, fun. She’s offering the dream that I would have killed for as a young drummer.
And if it makes me happy, do I have to get paid?
And some call it exploitative, but it’s not the same as the writer-scams that permeate science fiction.  When someone offers to publish your work for free, they always – always –  claim that there’s a value for you in it, usually via dint of “exposure.”  “This will be good for your career!” they say.  “People will read it!”  Except people actually won’t, since the publishers who don’t pay anything usually fail to attract good writers, and they lie to try to get your efforts to earn money.
Amanda promises nothing but fun.  And that’s honest.  And fair.
Look, as a writer, I’ve written for free.  In fact, I did two months ago, when Nancy Fulda said, “Hey, I’m publishing a book with a lot of Nebula nominees in it, so we’ll have something to sign at the Nebulas.”  She didn’t offer cash, I didn’t take it.  When I got there, I paid to buy a bunch of books with my work in it, for fun. And I signed a lot of books, and it was a hoot, all without me earning a goddamned dime.
Admittedly, Nancy was not earning money off of this silly book… But even if she had, I probably would have joined in if it had seemed entertaining enough.  Because as an artist, I can do stuff for free if it seems enjoyable.  As a drummer, I’ve done free gigs for friends as favors, and let them walk away with the cash.  As a writer, I do cons for free, appearing on panels and yammering away (and I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really help sell my stories).  Certainly I’ve spent enough time blogging for free right now, with no advertising to pay for my bandwidth.  Why?
Because it’s fun.
Now, if Amanda was saying, “Oh, you should do this because it’ll lead to other gigs!” then I’d call bullshit.  Or if she was even trying to guilt her fans into to doing it, saying,, “San Antonio might get cancelled if one of you people doesn’t volunteer.”  But no; she’s pretty clear that even the people who refuse her are perfectly fine with her.  And you can talk about blah blah blah she’s a millionaire, but a) I suspect those millions look much slimmer after taxes and paying her core audience members and hotel stays, and b) if she wasn’t a ludicrously popular musician, then this wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to do.  I mean, honestly, if this was Tricia Talloway, unknown musician with little talent, asking people to learn songs they had never heard for free, then I bet she’d have very few takers.
Fact is, 95% of the people up on stage are fans who already know the music enough to want to go, and the other 5% felt like it would be a lark.  Same as, you know, flashmobbing or zombie runs or programming in open-source projects anything else like that.  As long as Amanda isn’t lying about what’s there, I have no problems with her asking.  And I have even fewer problems with people turning her down, because they think they should get paid.
Let the artists choose wisely, is my motto.


  1. Frelance
    Sep 15, 2012

    key passage: “Admittedly, Nancy was not earning money off of this “

    • TheFerrett
      Sep 16, 2012

      Incorrect. Key passage: “even if she had, I probably would have joined in if it had seemed entertaining enough…..As a writer, I do cons for free, appearing on panels and yammering away (and I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really help sell my stories).”
      I attend for-profit cons and do panels for free. Because it’s fun. If you’re telling me I should demand payment, then you’re effectively telling me how to spend my time and energy.

  2. Tom
    Sep 16, 2012

    You make a good point, Ferrett, that this offer was probably directed at people who already are fans and want nothing more than to play with Amanda Palmer.
    However, when Amanda was interviewed about this, she said she “couldn’t afford” the $35,000 necessary to pay the same musicians. It just makes her seem like a bit of a cheapskate and not willing to compensate musicians for their time, especially in light of her breaking records on Kickstarter. Shouldn’t she have budgeted for musicians in all of that $1.2 million?

    • TheFerrett
      Sep 16, 2012

      Who’s to say she hasn’t? As has been mentioned elsewhere, running a tour is a HUGE expense. She’s budgeded for it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/amandapalmer/amanda-palmer-the-new-record-art-book-and-tour/posts/232020
      The fact that she might want even more musicians on stage and not be able to afford them is not an absolute sign of cheapskatism.

      • Tom
        Sep 17, 2012

        That’s a fair point. She may not have meant to seem like a cheapskate, but her remarks could still be construed as cheapskatism.
        Might she have done well to choose her words more carefully in the interview where she stated the reason for this was because she couldn’t afford the extra players? Perhaps; she could have just as easily said that she wanted to give her musically inclined fans a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It may not have been true, but it comes across a little better than what she’s been quoted as saying.
        Which could then lead us into all sorts of other conversations about how celebrities are scrutinized more than the general public, and whether or not we should forgive celebrities as readily as we’d forgive a friend saying something that could be misconstrued.

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