Amanda Palmer, the musician best known for – depending on which crowd you run with – marrying Sandman creator and genre figurehead Neil Gaiman or raising more than a million dollars to fund the recording of her new album on Kickstarter, has found herself with another Internet controversy to struggle with: Whether or not musicians deserve payment for their work.
Considering that Palmer has successfully managed to take advantage of her vast online fanbase in order to fund her own work, this isn’t necessarily the most surprising issue for her to become involved in, but what is surprising is what side of the argument she falls on. Palmer, you see, was thinking more along the lines of it being okay for musicians playing on her tour for nothing more than… well, gratitude, apparently. “We will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make,” Palmer wrote last month when describing what the required horn and string sections could hope for in return for their talents.
Many took issue with this, understandably, whether they were musician unions, the president of the American Federation of Musicians, or musician and producer Steve Albini. Palmer initially responded by defending her request, but has since backed down (writing somewhat passive-aggressively that “i’m sad to realize that our creative intentions of crowd-sourcing – something that i’ve done for years, and which has always been an in-house collaboration between the musicians and the fans, never a matter of public debate or attack – are getting lost in the noise of this controversy”). Now, she says, all of the musicians will be paid for their work.
But what was interesting to see was an analysis of the situation from Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin: “When you crowdsource project funding, every single person that contributed, and every single fan that even just heard about the campaign and didn’t contribute—every single one of them feel like they own a little piece of you,” Jardin wrote. “That can be a good thing, and Palmer has certainly benefitted from that kind of mass intimacy. But any time that many strangers feels entitled to tell you how to do your work, shit like this is just gonna happen.”
That’s certainly true, but it feels like an overly simplistic approach to take to the subject. Yes, there will be some who use what happened here as an opportunity to go over whether or not Palmer has used her Kickstarter funds appropriately (Something that’s not necessarily a bad idea, bringing in some oversight to crowdfunded projects), but to use that as a way to dismiss concerns feels as glib as the “They think they own you, but they don’t” rationalization in the first place.
Weirdly, I think the crowdfunding aspect is confusing matters here – It brings an irony to the situation, definitely, but the majority of those speaking out against Palmer’s initial request weren’t doing so from a position of “You crowdfunded all that money, you can afford it,” but one of “It’s wrong to ask people to play for free.” They’re different subjects, and very different reactions – Instead of accusing Palmer of bring a hypocrite, they’re accusing her of doing something they see as morally wrong, as such. What Jardin seems to be doing is taking as much ownership interest in Palmer as she accuses the detractors of doing, but taking that in the other direction – something more positive and protective.
There’s definitely something to be said for the amount of possession people feel from crowdsourcing projects and artists, and it’s something separate from the traditional “fan” bias – But does such possessiveness undermine any objective consideration of the artist and their work? And if so, where does that leave crowdfunding as a process moving forward?
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