Congratulations to Amanda Palmer. In the past week her record debuted at #10 on Billboard's Top 200 Chart, and she announced on her blog that she had decided to pay her (previously) volunteer musicians. It turns out that she is even going to pay those who already volunteered.
I wrote about this debacle a couple of days ago. I argued that, given the amazing success of her Kickstarter campaign, her request for volunteer musicians would actually be perceived as insulting to them. Despite Palmer’s prowess at motivating fans through social media marketing, she made a tremendous misstep by not recognizing this in advance. She admitted as much on her blog:
the fact that we all have access to each other and CAN discuss this stuff in realtime is what has MADE my success possible, even if it means i’m tied to the stake every once in a while. i’ll take it.
For me, the story remains an important cautionary tale for musicians (and for marketers in general): Be aware of how your audience hears your message, as opposed to what you think you said to them.
I'm happy that she decided to pay her musicians, but I actually think her original intent was misconstrued. Amanda Palmer is the queen of crowdsourcing. In fact, she has used her skills so well and has such a rapport with her fans that she thought inviting them to join her band on stage would be a great way to connect. She was going to pay them in social currency. What she found out is that social currency wasn’t going to be enough.
(I'll tell you though, if one of my hero bands put out the word for volunteers to play backup, I'd grab my horn and come running.)
The bottom line here is that Palmer was trying to celebrate the community she created with her fans. I don't think she was trying to be a union-buster or underpay professionals. All she wanted was to reward her fans by letting them take part in the activity that they all revel in. Unfortunately, she found out too late how her request was viewed.
Lastly, I was at first very excited to see the conversations that erupted from this. Musicians provide a valuable service, and should be able to price that service as they see fit. I'm not advocating that musicians work for free. However, if they decide that the circumstances warrant their working for free--or in exchange for something else--so be it; that’s a decision they should be allowed to make without coercion. Unfortunately, much of this conversation devolved into name-calling. I believe robust debate is necessary for the music business to find a sustainable future. What isn't needed is the vitriol.