Amanda Palmer's Wrong Note

Flickr photo byToGa WanderingsEverybody knows what a clinker sounds like. We've all played them. On stage, the question is whether the musician recovers and makes it look like part of the solo, or lets it shake them so much that the audience figures out something went wrong. Audiences are very astute, but performers often don't give them enough credit. If a performer becomes complacent in their relationship with the audience, then the performance will fall flat.

When I first heard about Amanda Palmer's call for "volunteer" musicians, I wondered how long it would take before the plan backfired. I thought that the push-back would come from musicians' unions. How ironic, I thought, would it be for labor to attempt to protect their membership from management’s attempts to hire workers willing to accept nothing in return for their services, when in this case the employer is taking the lead (and succeeding) in creating new ways for musicians to finance their endeavors.

I was wrong.

The real irony is that Palmer's call for volunteer musicians was met with resistance from the musicians themselves.

Amanda Palmer, million-dollar-raising DIY Kickstarter campaigner, musical provocateur and master community-builder thought that she was appealing to her fans by asking them to take a role in her performance. Somehow she missed the point. Such a big part of the Amanda Palmer story is about how she, formerly signed to a major-label record deal, cast off her contractual "chains" and struck out on her own to prove that DIY can be a sustainable model for the future of the music business. Her success was part of that message. Given that success, she should have considered that her call to have volunteer musicians join her Grand Theft Orchestra would come across as tone deaf. She fought to earn money as an independent musician, and then created the perception she was denying other musicians/fans the right to earn money for themselves!

Musicians are most successful when they connect directly with their fans and understand that they embody qualities their fans aspire to. Amanda Palmer built her image on the idea that she broke free from the system, took control, and harnessed the power of her fanbase for "good". Her misstep threatens that image (and her ability to capitalize on it). While she’s trying to explain her position, it's entirely up to her to show she hasn’t become complacent and do the work required to recover her relationship with her audience.