Amanda Palmer is rewriting the script of business as usual for hosts of creatives in the newest iteration of connectedness. She has the artillery to deliver: 37,697 tweets have been shot off from her iPhone toward her army amassing 754,297 Twitter followers -- with new recruits growing steady at 1,000 per day. Her firepower is wide reaching and blends music, art, life, femininity, sexuality, comradeship, and fuck-the-status-quo sentiments all into one tangled conversation that is widely appealing and blatantly truthful. She occupies the space somewhere between our neighbor and our long lost cousin and is part of us all because she puts herself out there honestly and unfiltered. Her frustrations, her creativity, her insecurity, and her forward thinking all flow through the digital ether rip roaring from Twitter to Tumblr, from Facebook to her blog. She can divert her levees at will and fill other needed containers with energy a la Grand Theft Orchestra's iconic Kickstarter. And although her success is legendary, she keeps true to her mantra of no filter between her and her audience -- she wants others to see the inner workings of her success and to follow the trail she has blazed.
Palmer recently led my communication studies course via Skype and told my students how natural connecting with her fans has become for her, "I like being social. I like being on Twitter. For me blogging is fun. Signing for 300 fans at the end of the night is actually fun. I like talking to people. I like hugging people." Palmer readily acknowledges that her outgoingness is an attribute for her career. On the other side of the coin Palmer says, "If you are the type of artists who does not want the constant connection and you don't have a pretty clever team behind you it is pretty hard to go out there and make money."
Palmer is the queen of connecting and is often held up as the benchmark of Kickstarter achievement. Although she has had strong crowdfunding success she is explicit that Kickstarter is not always the musician's savior and should not be the first go to for career building aspirations. "You can't meet at a bar and say, let's start a band and let's Kickstarter a record and let's get everybody really excited about it on the Internet. It doesn't really work that way. You need to have your audience in the real, tangible world, then Kickstarter is your tool." Palmer continues and says, "if you are an artist, people have to already care about you, if they are going to help you. My advice always is: have your shit ready, and your crowd ready, and your fans ready, and Kickstarter is the tool to ask them to help you."
Palmer, in fact, only asked her fans to pony up $100,000 to fund her new Theatre Is Evil album and tour, but after seeing that figure multiply 11 times over she had a new set of trials and tribulations. Palmer says:
Kickstarter for me had its pros and cons, because it did kind of suck attention away from the record which was a bummer. It took a long, long time to build that album a Kickstarter and I was hoping it would be that big. I was thinking if we play everything just right, it would be really big and people would pay attention -- not just to my album, but to the new way of doing things. And in some ways, if I am the sacrificial lamb, and some people don't like it, I at least feel, at the end of the day, I am paving the way for other artists to think about this method. People are more likely when talking about crowdfunding, and saying they don't know if it will even work, might point to mine and say it worked for her so maybe it can work for us. And that makes me feel good -- that I might have opened the doors for other artists to use it. I think it is a great system.
Perhaps due to Palmer's readily connected nature she occasionally takes a step back and asks some hard hitting questions about our digital fervor. Palmer says, "Are we getting so sucked in, that we are missing the bigger point? This stuff has happened incredibly fast. It is amazing just in my lifetime I was in college without email, and I am only in my 30s that happened incredibly fast." Following that line of reasoning Palmer says she spends "more and more time wondering, for all the tools we have, and as fantastic as they are, what is the actual quality of our lives? If these things are supposed to be improving the quality of our lives, making everything happier and easier, at the end of the day are they really or are they just stressing us out because we feel we have so many people and things we need to be connected with that we are freaking out?"
We've Seen This Before
The new connected life of artists is similar to the changing of the musical guard with relation to the microphone and amplified sound. Palmer says:
The invention of the microphone changed everything. All of a sudden musicians had this tool of a microphone, which could transmit a voice if it was subtle, like Frank Sinatra or Billy Holiday, and the microphone allowed them to be successful. And the big, loud, overboard entertainers of the twenties and thirties who were over dramatic, went out of style. I feel the same thing is true with social media. The artists who are at an advantage, at least in indie music right now, are the artists who are able to grapple with the reality that labels don't have any money, that people aren't walking into stores buying CDs anymore, and if you want to make a living, connecting with your fans directly is one of the best ways of doing it.
Amanda Palmer is outlining the limits of our digital lives through her gumption and perseverance. At the end of the day she has the correct ownership: us.
Follow Jason Schmitt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jason_schmitt