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Playing with Amanda

by Paul Rapp on October 4, 2012

It’s time to talk, once again, about musician Amanda Palmer. A couple of weeks ago, she posted a notice that she was looking for a couple of musicians to play a couple of songs with her band at each stop of her upcoming tour, a couple horns and a couple strings. She wasn’t looking for pros; she was looking for fans who could play at a basic level. She’d pay the fan-musicians with “hugs, beer, and merch,” sort of a dream-come-true for an Amanda Palmer fan. This would be a dream come true for almost any fan of almost any musician. Palmer’s done this on previous tours, and everybody was happy with the arrangement. If you’re not familiar with Amanda Palmer, this is all part of her rather remarkable practice of including her fans in her world, something that’s included extraordinary use of social media and remarkably effective fan-funding of her projects.

But this time she’s getting skewered for it. Her crime? That she raised a staggering $1.2 million dollars on Kickstarter to fund her new album. She was looking to raise $200,000, but her fans wouldn’t be denied the opportunity to support her.

So, musicians, writers, all kinds of people are going batshit crazy over the temerity of the “millionaire” Ms. Palmer asking musicians to play for free. I’ve been following this casually, and have read only a couple of the more pointed criticisms. Probably the most ridiculous is one that popped up yesterday on the New Yorker website, an article by someone named Joshua Clover titled “Amanda Palmer’s Accidental Experiment With Real Communism.” It’s kind of like Lowery II, except weirder.

Clover starts out on the wrong foot, declaring that Palmer “raised a spectacular sum on Kickstarter to fund her new album and then neglected to pay the musicians who toured with her,” which is just flat wrong. Palmer has a touring band and I would imagine she pays them well. What she was doing was having volunteer fans play on a couple songs with her. I expect better from the New Yorker.

Then he goes on and on, using words like “hypocrisy,” “unjust,” “social justice,” and describes her Kickstarter contributors as “investors” who have taken an “ownership share of her work,” which is utter nonsense. Palmer offered various premiums to contributors, including the recording, merch, and on the upper levels, private concerts. And there’s no reports that she hasn’t delivered.

Then Clover gets all labor-theory on us, invoking the Occupy movement, even Chuck Berry’s “ill use of local musicians” (Berry famously uses pick-up bands for his gigs, and I know many who’ve played with him and were thrilled to do it and none that weren’t; money wasn’t even a consideration). Huh? Then there’s talk about outsourcing to Bangalore, and the horrors of user-contributors online (which Clover refers to as “unpaid labor”), how things like “Palmer’s hustle” and “cynical scheme” carry a vague promise of future employment, and no employment if you don’t volunteer, the devaluation of music (yawn), “what is the fate of art after private property is done away with?,” “workers sharing in the wealth for practicing their craft,” and “investors and owners deserve[ing] returns on their equity.”

Holy god in a suitcase, lighten the hell up! While a lot of the anti-Palmer snark out there reeks of crawfish-in-a-barrel jealousy, this New Yorker piece is redolent of ignorance and perhaps a few too many advanced degrees. Palmer has capitulated and agreed to pay her fan-musicians for the unforgettable couple of hours they’ll spend with her (not that the fan-musicians asked to be paid). I wish she hadn’t.

Here’s an update on my last column [“The Money Shot,” Sept. 20] about the flood of copyright-troll porn-download lawsuits in the federal court system. Just yesterday a federal judge in Boston essentially reversed a decision he made a year ago that it was OK to group dozens, even hundreds, of alleged porn downloaders in one lawsuit. Stating, “this court is concerned that the joinder mechanism is being manipulated to facilitate a low-cost, low-risk revenue model for the adult film companies,” the court ordered the case severed as to all but poor John Doe number one. If the porn attorney wants to move forward, he’ll have to sue each John Doe individually, with a $350 filing fee for each one, and bear all of the attendant administrative and legal costs in bringing a bunch of lawsuits instead of just one. While individual lawsuits in situations like this aren’t unheard of, they’re much less profitable, if they’re profitable at all. We’re hoping that this sad and bizarre episode of legal abuse is nearing its end.

In related news, my blog version of “The Money Shot” was required reading this week for a Harvard class on Internet law. To say I’m honored would be an understatement.