Artist Spotlight: Amanda Palmer
WHO IS AMANDA F*CKING PALMER?
In a time when more and more artists are getting inventive with how they fund their music careers because tours can be pulled at a moment’s notice and vinyl-pressing plants are backed up with orders that they are struggling to fill, it is interesting to look at how much has changed in the industry in the past decade. Because even though it feels like something has been taken away from the music industry as of late, the reality is that it is evolving with our times. It is up to us to make sure that it has a place to thrive in the future scenes.
It is even more interesting to take note of the artists that stood at the vanguard of pioneering change in their careers. No artist did that better than the anachronistically sensational, cabaret punk, singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer. She is often known for her edgy tracks, baroque style, unashamedly bold opinions, finding empathy for the wrong people and stripping off for artistic purposes.
Opinions on her, and her music, are often polarized, but there’s no denying that her lyrics have become lifelines to many of her adoring fans across the globe. Boldly, her last album, There Will Be No Intermission, explored rape, abortion, and death with no holds barred. She even included a monologue of a digital exchange between her and a young boy that reached out to her for help after being sexually abused by his father, ending the conversation on “Be strong and somewhere some dumb rock-star truly loves you.”
There Will Be No Intermission was as beautiful as it was brutal for the way the piano-led soundscapes delved deep into the darkest experiences a person could go through. Yet, Palmer’s work never comes across as sad and sallow — they’re far too theatrical in flair for that. Take, for example, the time she ended up in the feminist ghetto (her words not mine) for creating an ‘upbeat’ song about rape and abortion in the style of the Beach Boys instead of singing it in a sad minor key.
In 2012, Amanda Palmer raked in plenty of controversy along with the $1 million+ for her Kickstarter album Theatre is Evil. Though she made history by creating the first crowdfunded album to pull in over $1 million, her critics were eager to dub her phenomenal success as anything but an important landmark in history.
Many were quick to brand her as a crowdfunding capitalist; they even questioned why she couldn’t use her husband, Neil Gaiman’s, money given that he isn’t short of a dollar or two. They attempted to do the math in the hope of pointing to the fact that Amanda Palmer had extorted her fans simply by asking for the money directly instead of telling her fans to go out and purchase an album put out by a record label.
After her band, The Dresden Dolls, split from their record label, Roadrunner Records, she was keen to cut out the profiteering middleman from the equation and take back control over her music and career. For her, being creative was so much more than hoping to see album sales soar; it was about connecting with her fans. Which was something she learned working as a living statue before she could make a living as a musician. She saw the value in connection more than she ever saw the value in money; that was always just a token of transaction. Amanda Palmer’s success in the crowdfunding world proves that when a fan purchases a gig ticket, a piece of merch, or an album, the transaction isn’t one-sided; they do it because they gain something themselves.
At the time of writing this article, Amanda Palmer’s patron count on Patreon stood at just over 12,000. Her fans can choose to pay as little as £1 a month for several perks, such as exclusive posts and pre-sale gig tickets, or they can pay up to £191.50 for all the merch they can ask for, plus free guestlist tickets. Of course, not every artist has an army of fans at their disposal that are happy to pay for patronage, but Patreon now boasts over 6 million active patreons who are lining the pockets of 210,000 creators. Palmer definitely started something, as much as critics clambered their poisoned tongues to finish it.
From her time in the industry, she picked up on other artists’ hesitancy and fear when it came to putting themselves in the marketplace instead of hiding behind a big record label. Artists can create the most innovative works of art, but what use is it if they stumble at the final hurdle of asking their fans for help to carry on creating.
For artists feeling that kind of anxiety in this slightly dystopic age, her book The Art of Asking, and her TED Talk on the same subject, is the perfect introduction to the concept of letting corporate control slip from the big record collectors and the gatekeeping music industry figures that want to share the sourness of their existence with the bile that they spill at the expense of undeserving artists.
Although Amanda Palmer has been fairly limited in what she has been able to achieve creatively during the lockdowns, given that she has been holed up in an Air B&B in New Zealand where she got stranded mid-way through a tour in 2020, she hasn’t faltered on her mission to hold society accountable. In October 2021, she teamed up with Reb Fountain to create a mash-up of Nirvana’s infamous single, Rape Me, and Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. The purpose of the Patreon-funded single and video was to shed light on the creepy, beyond belief lyrics in Robin Thicke’s single, Blurred Lines. Thicke is guilty of plenty more than a few questionable lyrics. During the filming of the music video, he sexually assaulted one of the models during the shoot. And yet, the world continues to tear holes in Palmer and her career — it is only a matter of time before people try to cancel her on Twitter again.