Amanda Palmer don’t need no stinkin’ label

Amanda Palmer, sometimes of the Dresden Dolls and sometimes her own sweet (?) independent self, has long been an enthusiastic proponent and exemplar of how to use the internet to connect with her audience. She’s got over 17,000 followers on Twitter, and writes a blog in which she’s profoundly personal (in keeping with her musical identity), and now she’s on a campaign to get her record label to drop her because they don’t understand the connection the internet has enabled her to create with her fans.

In an open letter to her label, she explains why:

i had to EXPLAIN to the so-called “head of digital media” of roadrunner australia WHAT TWITTER WAS. and his brush-off that “it hasn’t caught on here yet” was ABSURD because the next day i twittered that i was doing an impromptu gathering in a public park and 12 hours later, 150 underage fans – who couldn’t attend the show – showed up to get their records signed.

no manager knew! i didn’t even warn or tell her! no agents! no security! no venue! we were in a fucking public park! life is becoming awesome.

also interesting: i brought a troupe of back-up actors/dancers on the tour (we were only playing 300-1000 seaters) and had no money to pay them, so we passed the hat into the crowd every night. each performer walked from each show with about $200 in cash. the fans TOOK CARE OF THEM. they brought us dinner every night, gave us places to sleep. (i couldn’t afford to put up that many people in hotels).

all sans label, all using email and twitter. the fans followed the adventure. they LOVED HELPING.

There are two points here.

First, she no longer needs the label to reach her fans. In fact, she can reach her fans more effectively than they can.

Second, she’s doing what I talked about in my talk at MIDEM — creating a social-exchange relationship with her fans in which they choose to give her (and her performers) not just their attention, but also their money, because they want to. They know intuitively that it is the right thing to do.

It’s not about them feeling guilty if they don’t. It’s about them understanding that she has given of herself to them, and that if they want to keep that relationship in balance, they should give back to her. That’s how loving relationships work. Attention and money are two ways they can repay her for the music, the attention, and the loving that she gives them.

This is what a morality-based relationship between artist and fan looks like.

Comments (7) to “Amanda Palmer don’t need no stinkin’ label”

  1. Hi Nancy! I love amanda and the dresden dolls, saw them in boston in 2004 it was amazing! her new solo album is also very nice! i´ve been watching her blog and twitts and I think this campaign means that most of the labels doesn´t know how to use social media..

  2. I’m so glad to see you covering the Amanda Palmer phenomenon. And I really like your estimate of it — be true to to others, and they will be true to you.

  3. Brilliant — she might be the most accurate example of someone leveraging online fandom that I’ve come across. Still, she’s surely achieved this status though the usual channels of label etc. though surely?

  4. I love Amanda Palmer but was very happy when someone finally pointed out one small chink in her armor.

  5. It’s great that she’s doing what she’s doing, but without the major label support that Roadrunner gave to the Dresden Dolls, very few people know who she is, and what she’s doing now is simply not possible. There’s a major piece missing from articles like this, and that’s how are unknown artist without label (major or indie) support going to get their career to this kind of level.

  6. I like the idea of the social-exchange relationship. Myself and a colleague (Gordon Fletcher) are writing up some stuff on our SingStar study at the moment and it struck me that there’s a kind of social-exchange going off at the ‘SingStar’ parties we engage with – someone provides the console/games/venue – others bring food and drink. This kind of emulates the more formal economic exchange in karaoke venues – you buy drinks/you get to sing. I’m being lazy here, but if you’ve published anything viz your social-exchange argument could you point me to it :O) Thanks, Ben.

  7. Hi Ben —

    Nice to see you here!

    Right now this is all I’ve officially written on this:

    But Robert Burnett and I are slicking it up for a paper at ICA’s Affective Audiences preconference, so hopefully it’ll be out in a more citable form eventually.