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The kickstart millionaire singer who won’t pay her musicians

Amanda Palmer raised $1 million on Kickstart for her next musical project and promptly stripped off in celebration.

So far, so good. But on tour with her Grand Theft Orchestra, she’s asking professional musicians to play for free.¬†Professional-ish, she calls it.

Thus far, no good.

Amanda can afford to pay. Her partner and online cheerleader is the successful writer Neil Gaiman. He, too, likes to get paid.

Theft is wrong. The tour needs to be stopped. Unfollow Amanda and Neil, unfriend them, don’t go the concerts, shun them until they are prepared to acknowledge that music has value.

UPDATE: Here‘s Amanda’s explanation.

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  1. There is a difference between asking musicians to play for free and not paying musicians-your title is misleading and sensationalist. While I don’t agree with asking professional musicians to play for free (I am sure the sound,lighting,wardrobe, catering crew etc don’t work for free) she is entitled to use musicians who work for free if they are happy with this arrangement. Of course, any professional worth their salt would not work for free, so the standard of player she uses may reflect the salary offered. She may be using amateur or student players. Your title should be “The kickstart millionaire who DOESN’T pay her musicians.” “Won’t” implies a refusal.

    • That is plain wrong. Not paying for music devalues the art and encourages others to view it as worthless. It is immoral, unethical, anti-art. No difference here between don’t and won’t.

      • So if the RPO do a schools concert and give the tickets away, they are devaluing the art?
        If an amateur string quartet gets together and performs for free for the love of the music and to play it to an audience, they are immoral, and unethical?
        A family around the piano in days of yore singing “songs their grandmother taught them”, who haven’t paid for the music, have friends over who aren’t paying to hear it, and who aren’t paid themselves, are somehow complicit in the demise of music and contributing to the sense of worthlessness, rather than actually being promoters of it?

        I’ll agree that perhaps the players in this situation should be paid – I suspect there is more to it that we are being told, though – but I can’t agree with such a broad generalisation that music that doesn’t cost money isn’t worthwhile.

        • The scenarios you’ve described are completely different from the scenario where someone is putting on a tour **for profit** & wanting people to play music on that tour for free, while she earns money for it.


          • Exactly. Which is why I can’t agree with such a generic statement. Different situations require assessing on their own merits.

      • Andrew Stewart says:

        Tell that to members of the BBC Symphony Chorus for their (unpaid) work at the Proms.

    • Actually, she DOES pay her musicians, she already has. They’ve also invested the money raised through Kickstarter in a great album and extensive tour. That’s why she’s NOT a millionaire – the money was used to pay, among other things, the artists who contributed to making her project happen.

      She is asking fans who also happen to be musicians to volunteer to join her on the stage – as extras. Which to me sounds like a great opportunity for an amateur musician anywhere.

      This “article” implies she’s hiring musicians ans refusing to pay them the wages they were promised.

    • Why did she get kickstarter money if this was just a non-profit venture? This is a gray area in which she might lead musicians to think this a non-profit venture and using their good will to profit from them. I don’t believe any work should be free and if your intentions are really honorable you should pay you musicians and be transparent and open about the amount of money you have for this venture.

  2. Gary Carpenter says:

    There’s a difference between amateur music making (as in amateur – one who loves) and professional and if the school charged for the tickets but then refused to pay for the RPO, that would indeed be immoral. Anon’s reverse example is specious. There is no correlation whatsoever between monetary and artistic worth but if you are hired to do a job, you should be paid whether that be cleaning out the sewers or being engaged – as opposed to choosing – to play in a string quartet.

    • Right. So if there’s a tour on, and there’s a call for volunteer musicians to pay for no fee, and some folks volunteer to play… what’s wrong with that?
      I can think of hardened unionised pros who would happily play for free if they were asked by a major rock star who was their idol, for example – is that wrong, too?

      I’m willing to agree that on the face of it, it looks as though there is an unpalatable situation here. However, I cannot agree with blanket assertions that it “must” be wrong. It’s already clear in the space of a few comments that we would agree that different situations call for a different response. Without knowing the ins and outs of this one, it’s not possible to fairly cast judgement. Rushing to denounce it on the basis of some perceived all-encompassing rule is daft.

      • I can’t think of hardened unionized pros who would do that … once they understood that by taking a job for free they were effectively undercutting other pros and making it harder for them to make a fair wage.

        This is basically asking for scabs. This sort of working is scabbing, and the kind of thing that is done as a vanity project for amateurs who don’t have to use their music to pay their bills. It’s the sort of thing that Romney and Ryan are in love with — removing the minimum wage requirements so that people who “choose” to work for starvation wages can do so, and drive wages down for everyone else. For a bunch of people who supposedly love to pat themselves on the back for their progressive cred, this type of argument is preposterous. And it exposes the limousine fauxgressive for what they really are: right-wing me-first Republicans who just like to smoke pot and watch porn.

        It also makes me wonder if all of those working-class people who hate progressives and don’t trust them might not sense that this eff-you-if-you-need-to-actually-earn-your-money attitude is at the heart of all their look-at-me bullsh*t breast-beating.

        Basically, I can think of lots of hardened unionized musicians who might fantasize about playing with their favorite rock bands for free. But I can think of NONE who would actually do it.

        • Janis,
          Try looking at many orchestral musicians – unionized pros to the core who wouldn’t give a conductor, producer (or frequently audience!) a mere few seconds over the allotted time, insist on taking breaks, rehearsals and sessions to the dot (and never want to give back any time they themselves waste or take up by returning late…).
          Yet the same hard-nosed musicians will often be found playing in chamber ensembles outside their orchestral life for free, or low fees. They will often rehearse for free, and play for the ‘day fee’, rather than something more reflective of the value of the time they put into it – because they have a salary and can afford to give up, to volunteer their time in service to playing the chamber music they love.

          Would you accuse these players of taking the jobs of full-time chamber players, or driving down chamber music concert fees – scabs playing chamber music as a vanity project so they feel better about their inner-section orchestral life? By your own argument, they surely are.
          But what a sad world we would live in if somebody were to dictate what others could and couldn’t do with their own time!

  3. I don’t see anything wrong with what she is asking/offering and she is willing to pay them – just not in cash:
    “we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily [...].” Sounds like a good time to be had by all and a bit of free publicity for some folks who like to jam.

    Om Shanti,

  4. Stephen Carpenter says:

    Stop monetizing art. If you have a cult following and you raise a bunch of money, that’s a demonstration of the ability (art?) of raising money. If you use your artistic talent (that’s “art likeness”) to do that, the end result is that you raised the money. I’m not exactly sure where the line is between self-promotion and art. Artist should not starve for their art. The workman (person) is worthy of his/er hire. If it is about art, then that has a value and if there is hire to produce that art (a collaboration for sure), then fees are attached. Amateurs can and do their work from the point of love. So do professionals. the difference, the professionals have made a life choice to do their craft and continually hone their skills. And, yes, contrary to popular public opinion, society benefits positively from that in deep and resounding ways. Here’s the test, I think. What would the performer’s show look like without the orchestra.Art is really about performing without a net. So what does that million dollars really represent? I’m a bit suspicious of the answer.

  5. Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    The picture says everything I need to know about this person.

  6. This is a much more complex issue than it might seem like. Of course musicians should be paid for their time, and I agree that not doing so when you can afford to do so contributes to a culture of devaluation, but there are a few other factors worth considering.

    A million seems like a lot of money, but it’s not as if that’s all sitting in her personal bank account waiting to get spent. Most of that is going to go to paying touring expenses, marketing and publicity – on and on.

    However, even accounting for $900,000 in other expenses (booking fees for 30ish locations at about $10k each, tour staff for two months, personal room and board, and little pocket change and profit) and figuring that she’s asking for about 240 musicians (8ish people at 30ish stops), that still leaves around $400 a person. Not exactly a big payout, but probably a little more satisfying than a high five. Now add in the fact that these aren’t free shows – fans pay money for tickets that at the very least offset the cost of the venue somewhat, and it gets even less defensible. Granted, we don’t know all the budget details, but it doesn’t look great.

    I will say that, as a working composer who often puts together (much, much lower-budget) new music events, asking musicians to play in passion projects for free is not at all unheard of, even in musician-run groups (Classical Revolution, for instance), and I can see exactly how this would seem like a good idea for a low-overhead tour. There is a world of difference between volunteering your time for a project you like and getting paid peanuts for a job that sucks. Sometimes, yes, it is better to get a sincere thank-you from a person you respect than $50 for two days of work. The thank-you says “I wish I could pay you, but I can’t” while the $50 says “your time is worth exactly this much.”

    It’s also worth keeping in mind that putting out a call for volunteers for a fun gig will get you a completely different kind of musician than posting for a paying position. If they show up for free, you can assume that they like your music, dig your style, and want to be a part of what you’re doing, while I can say from experience that for the right price a gigging musician will take pretty much any job regardless of how much they hate it. A small thing, but worth putting in the equation.

    The sticky wicket here is that she isn’t a nonprofit organization, the concerts aren’t free, and, when you start doing the math, it does look like she could afford to pay people a decent wage.

    She’s made a mistake, but she’s not the devil, and I’m sure she’ll get more than enough negative publicity to make up for it.

    • Add in international travel, visas, kit transport, some insurance, not to mention the bottomless pit that is PR and advertising, and you soon hit the million mark.

      It’s worth noting that she seems to have a core band, who one assumes are being paid.
      All this fuss is about a very polite and nicely put request for volunteers to enlarge that band, to join in and have some fun. Not much wrong with that, I’d say.
      As I have noted elsewhere, high-level amateurs will pay money to peruse their hobby and for performance opportunities; she’s offering this for free. Can’t see much wrong with that myself. She is not asking professionals to play for free, nor contracting them and then refusing to pay: it is a very clear offer, and any player is free to take it or leave it. I can’t believe that anyone here would really advocate that before I can volunteer my time, they should have a say as to whether I should be allowed to! So why all the fuss?

      • “Add in international travel, visas, kit transport, some insurance, not to mention the bottomless pit that is PR and advertising, and you soon hit the million mark.”

        Because those people aren’t willing to work for nothing. And they aren’t undermined by scabs who are willing to do so as a vanity lark.

        • Oh! honestly. So amateur orchestras and ensembles shouldn’t be allowed to play concerts for paying public? What about youth orchestras? Should the NYO be banned from asking punters to pay for tickets, because their costs are undercutting professionals? What about conservatoire students? Many conservatoires have strong audience bases, who, without that provision of low-labout-cost music would go elsewhere and pay higher prices to see pros… the students undercut them. Is that bad?

          The bottom line in music is that without substantial external funding, professionals can’t be paid. If the Arts Council aren’t willing to put more money into Amanda’s tour, then either it doesn’t happen as her artistic vision sees it (so an audience is denied the pleasure, the musicians she is paying are denied the work, and the volunteers are denied the experience); or it happens with a few volunteers.
          Or you treble the ticket price to try and pay all the muss, but no-one shows up. Hummm.

          Would you also outlaw church group “working parties” meeting on a Sunday afternoon to volunteer to weed the cemetery, or clear the village green on the basis that that does professional gardeners and groundstaff out of a job?

  7. Graf Nugent says:

    Far more disturbing I find the uncommented, smooth passage of the neo-nouns ‘unfollow’ and unfriend’ into the English language. I suppose someone said the same about ‘undo’ at some stage in history‚Ķ

    No idea who this woman is. No desire to know, either.

  8. Everyone is blowing this up into too big of a deal. As a musician, I will honestly tell you that there are some gigs that I don’t get paid for. It’s because they ask if I would like to volunteer. I volunteer because I want to share my talent. It also gets me more gigs a well. She didn’t lie to them and tell them they were going to be paid, she asked if they would like to volunteer their time. No one was twisting their arms to say yes, they could have said no. But they CHOSE to donate their time and talent. There is nothing wrong with that. This article is shameful.

    • Once again, this sounds like the traditional neoconservative argument against the minimum wage — if people chooooooose to work for nothing or starvation wages, then Is That So Wrong? I hate to tell you this, but putting a floor on wages is one of the vital parts of a functioning economy in ALL sectors. It’s not just a matter of your personal choice, Mitt.

      It’s a canned neocon argument to cast this sort of thing as a “personal choice” issue where workers “choose” to work for next to nothing or nothing at all, because otherwise the poor beleaguered employer wouldn’t be able to afford to sell their product (to whom is the next question, if no one is being paid a decent wage).

      Your actions extend further out into the world than your own skin, I’m sorry to tell you. Acknowledging this is part of maturity.

      It never fails to amaze me how people who support Occupy (as Palmer does) and who love to call themselves progressive (as many gigging musicians do) plummet off the same side of the fence on labor issues as Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney the minute they are reminded that their own choices also matter.

      I won’t call your attitude shameful. But it is selfish, childish, and far enough right to qualify you for Paul Ryan’s present position.

  9. Good lord! Flashing for her donors – how redneck can you get? If that isn’t enough to make musicians recoil from her in disgust, I don’t know what is.

    I must disagree with Mr. Lebrecht. Professional musicians, as free individuals with free choice, should have the right to decide if they want remuneration for their services or not.

    That’s not to say that they shouldn’t exercise such generosity rarely and for causes more worthy than supporting a – insert your own word(s) here – like Amanda Palmer.

    Who is she, btw.?

  10. maggie Pate Duffey says:

    Young lady, I cannot express how disappointed I am in your blowing this time in your life AND most importantly, for all of those people you had the ability to influence. SICK. I AM PISSED. Not only have you blown your sacred rite as a female, but more importantly as a muse, and spokesperson for your time. What a fucking waste. Whaat are you going to do about it? I firstly, suggest showing the respect to your “players” to pay them for their time and talent. That would be a starting block …. from there…I don’t have the educational degrees or background to help you. REMEMBER,///// COMMON HUMAN CURTOSY… I assure you this hard lesson will pay off it you listen. Maggie

    • Maggie, this diatribe makes no sense.
      Reading the call for musicians, it appears that she IS paying her core band. She is asking for volunteers to join her to enlarge the ensemble. Anything wrong with that?

      Plenty of high-level amateur and semi-pro players will PAY money themselves to an organisation (be that a local amateur choir, a course-based outfit like London’s Rehearsal Orchestra, or whatever) to have the opportunity to play music they enjoy, often with some professionals leading sections, offering advice, conducting… etc., and to make a performance often for paying ticket holders.
      What’s so different about that and about this? Or do you wish to call in to question the whole idea of amateur musicians paying to enjoy their hobby?

      Re-read Amanda Palmer’s call for musicians. She isn’t asking for professionals to donate their time to a good cause, she is asking for musicians of a “professional-ish standard” – which is the best way to ask for high-level am.s. – to volunteer because they might have a good time and enjoy themselves. Not so terrible, eh?

      • Re-read the disagreements. By abolishing pay for musicians in certain markets — which is what this amounts to, don’t kid yourself — she is driving down pay for people who do not have to rely on their music to pay their bills. Not so innocuous, eh?

      • “who do not have to” == “who do have to”

      • Anon,

        You are apparently new to the music world so let me fill you in on the way things work. Lots of headlining acts tour with a core group of musicians and fill-in-the-blanks with local talent. This saves money on travel expenses, but still guarantees a full sound with professional talent. In the last several years, I’ve performed with any number of these touring groups: Peter Gabriel, AR Rahman, Marco Antonio Solis, touring Broadway productions, you name it. They contact a local contractor through that city’s union office, the contractor hires musicians, a rehearsal happens, show goes down, we get paid, we pay bills. This is the way professionals work.

        Now, Amanda Palmer may say she’s asking for “professional-ish” musicians, but she’s asking for resumes and rehearsals. She’s asking for professional quality but doesn’t want to pay. She’s paying everyone else–the lighting guys, the sound guys, the venues, why doesn’t she ask for volunteers for those positions? Because no one would do it. But her business model depends on the naivete of people actually believing her when she asserts she doesn’t have the money for extra musicians or that having paid musicians would make them clock-watchers and not love what they do (yes, she’s insinuated that). I get paid a lot and yet I still love what I do.

        This brings me back to other touring ensembles–what Janis says is absolutely correct. If Amanda Palmer’s business model succeeds, what’s to stop the next Peter Gabriel tour or Mannheim Steamroller tour from using volunteers? What effect would that have on freelance professionals? I find this “pay everyone but the musicians” attitude that prevails reprehensible.

        • Nothing is currently stopping any other tour from using volunteers, and I see no problem with it.
          When a tour wishes to guarantee a certain level of quality, they will pay. Amanda wishes to guarantee a level of quality for her technical crew and her core band: she pays.
          Numerous theatre companies tour on tiny budgets, and have effectively volunteers manning the lighting, sound, stage crew: people do do it.

          I’m glad you are paid and still love what you do. Sadly, this is not the case across the music (and I’m sure other) business. Take, for example, the iTunes Festival concert with Boccelli a few nights ago. The “British Philharmonic” (who they?) were hardly upper-level ‘professional’ in standard, were paid (extremely well, I should imagine, given the concert was being broadcast and they are in the UK), and hardly seemed to be enjoying it. The volunteers on the night – the Crouch End Festival Chorus – seemed to enjoy being there more, one imagines wouldn’t have been paid (individually, possibly a donation was made to choir funds or something), and sung decently.

          Are you saying that a chorus like the Crouch End, or the BBC Philharmonic chorus, or BBC Symphony shouldn’t be allowed to sing at an orchestral concert unless they are paid?
          And has the “effect” you infer would happen from not paying musicians in some circumstances actually happened in real life? Choruses aren’t paid, yet the orchestras all still are. The presence of volunteers doesn’t seem to have made much odds to the pros, in real life.

  11. Please let that be permanent marker.

    • Probably not. With her obvious union-busting sympathies, the next thing we’re going to see scrawled across those things is “Romney/Ryan 2012.”

  12. Victoria Clarke says:

    She looks almost as classy as KJ

  13. I was wondering when this would hit Arts Journal. Thank you – I agree this is hypocrisy and moral relativism at its finest. Let me relate a story that those of you in the non-profit arts word may have heard about. In Minnesota, we have a Legacy Amendment that provides funding through state sales tax to the arts. A good chunk of our arts funding went to public libraries. Neil Gaiman was paid $34,000 to spend an afternoon at the Stillwater Public Library. He has a history of supporting libraries and librarians so you can imagine the collective gasp across the state when he collected a paycheck that is more than most artists make in a year for a couple of hours work. As an arts administrator and advocate I and my colleagues cringed, but we had to defend the decision – artists deserve to be paid. Needless to say, this caused quite a big controversy in the state around funding for the arts. Gaiman responded by donating the payment to some charity (not back to the library) and no doubt he received a lovely tax credit for his donation. The donation isn’t the point – the point is he got paid, because he is not about to work for free. Amanda Palmer, his wife, raised 1.2 million on KickStarter – a million more than the original 200K she was trying to raise to produce her commercial independent album. The musicians she is asking for are string and horns (instruments that require years of training) not kazoos and ukeleles for a jam onstage, but to play specific arrangements that require said musician to travel, rehearse and perform – with no compensation. Oh, and according to her they better know how to play. The amount she is quoting to be able to hire these musicians is approximately $34,000 – ironic. To offer trained amateurs and professionals to be paid in beer and high fives is patronizing at best and opportunistic at worst. However, Ms. Palmer does charge actual money for her shows – Ticketmaster unfortunately is not accepting beer and hugs as payment for tickets. She and her husband have a large following online and they are both doubling down on this “business” model, a model that they themselves would scoff at. AFM has an online petition – please show your support to artists everywhere and let people know this is not okay.

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