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“There’s a f***ing zeitgeist going on with what’s happening in terms of art and crowd-funding right now,” states singer Amanda Palmer. “Everyone is getting inspired!” Last year Palmer — musician, poet, all-out wild child — leveraged her social media network to raise the money she needed for her latest album, book and tour. Palmer, who has used Kickstarter before, was surprised by the amount she managed to raise — a record-breaking figure of US$1 192 793 from 24 883 fans — that’s almost US$50 per person.
The album, Theatre is Evil, was released in September 2012 and has sold 85 000 albums globally in six months, including the 25 000 it sold through Kickstarter. Palmer and the team behind her social music success spoke at SXSW 2013 — as a perfect example of the crossover between Interactive and Music, and the opportunities for convergence the conference aims to encourage.
Palmer, together with the team behind the feat — Cooking Vinyl’s Martin Goldschmidt, Kickstarter’s Kendel Ratley, Topspin’s Nicole St Jean and Girlie Action’s Vickie Starr and Eric Sussman — explained the success behind her story, as a way of possibly inspiring others to follow suit.
As a musician, Palmer has managed to work out a deal that satisfies both her and those she works with in a way that helps her retain creative freedom but helps her distribute her music across the world. Palmer was signed to Roadrunner Records for two albums when she was with the Dresden Dolls, but got out of the deal when it wasn’t working out for her anymore. After having seven different management and team set-ups over the course of her career, she know has one that involves Girlie Action as her label, management and publicity company.
“It’s a very simple model and it creates a strong partnership rather than a traditional, confrontational record company model,” said Goldschmidt, whose company distributes her albums overseas — copies of her new record were shipped free to places as far away as Australia as part of her Kickstarter promise. Over the years, Palmer has used social media and the internet to build a loyal fan-base, who were there to answer her call when she needed to raise the money for her latest endeavour. “People want to help,” she said. “Fans want to buy music and art.” It was this network that she tapped into. Starr noted that Palmer is currently ranked as the 1 712th most-followed user on Twitter (Justin Bieber is number one), but that she engages more actively with her fans than her more popular counterparts. As of 12 March 2013, Palmer had tweeted 42 362 times, while the Beebs had only tweeted 21 000 times.
But Palmer doesn’t believe being socially active is for everyone and she acknowledged that it may not suit the personality of some artists. “I would be disappointed if PJ Harvey started tweeting all the time because it’s just not her style,” said the singer, pointing out, that her method is exactly that, her own. “Artists need to find what works for them and the culture around, she noted.
“My big concern, and it’s a legitimate concern, people bring it up and I don’t know the answer, in the age of the social artist and crowd-funding, what about PJ? Is she going to be OK if she’s not going to be able to robustly DIY it? Will she have the right team around her? Is it going to be a harder future for the artists who aren’t able to roll up their sleeves and do all this stuff that me and all my hyper-social friends are doing successfully? I don’t know.”
Palmer believes this could have ramifications for fans: “I hope we don’t lose the PJ Harveys and the Jeff Mangums and the Elliott Smiths, and the people you would never expect to get out and wave their own flag and blog and tweet and be super social. Their music is amazing and necessary,” she added.