September 20, 2012


Amanda Palmer Agrees to Pay Guest Musicians: The Complete Story

Rick Kern
Rick Kern

Amanda Palmer announced today via her website that she will pay musicians who had previously volunteered to back her band for her upcoming Theatre Is Evil fall tour. The announcement followed a whirlwind of controversy, most of which had to do with Palmer’s request for volunteer musicians just three months after raising $1.2 million from a record-setting Kickstarter campaign. Donors to that campaign, as well as union members and working musicians, were outraged, and assumed, at best, fiscal mismanagement or, at worse, some sort of fraud or intentional deception.

Gawker’s Cord Jefferson investigated Palmer’s numbers, and they don’t look great. For instance, Palmer estimated 7,000 CDs and thank you cards would cost $105,000. When Jefferson called an Ottawa-based record and CD brokering company to check those figures, he found that 7,000 CDs with a 32-pages of line notes each would cost less than $9,000. Palmer did say she would use a “hardbound case,” which would run the cost up some, but, as Jefferson notes, “the difference between $9,000 and $105,000 seems astronomical.”

Palmer also said she was printing “art books,” which would cost $300. That is, as many musicians, including Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallet, noted, absurdly expensive.

But it wasn’t the numbers that created the controversy, at least not at first; what set it off was instead Palmer’s recent Tumblr post, which asked for horn and string players who wouldn’t mind being paid with beer, hugs, high-fives, and free merchandise. The reaction was immediate and harsh. The Seattle musicians union 76-493 criticized her on Twitter, and the American Federation of Musicians gave a statement to the New York Times. Chicago producer/musician and notorious grouch Steve Albini also weighed in, initially calling Palmer an "idiot" before recanting, and then writing that the Kickstarter cash was a "crazy moebius strip of waste." 

So now Palmer is in full damage control mode, or her version of it at least. In a long and rambling Tumblr post this morning, she said (sic): "my management team tweaked and reconfigured financials, pulling money from this and that other budget (mostly video) and moving it to the tour budget. 
all of the money we took out of those budgets is going to the crowd-sourced musicians fund. we are going to pay the volunteer musicians every night. even though they volunteered their time for beer, hugs, merch, free tickets, and love: we’ll now also hand them cash."

So everyone wins? But especially Palmer, who still got that $1.2 million.