Thursday, June 25, 2009

Amanda Palmer Hits Twitter Jackpot

Wow. No sooner do we report on an artist doing the DIY thing (see yesterday's piece on Erin McKeown), then we stumble across a tale that will probably go in the digital DIY storybook (not sure who publishes that).

Amanda Palmer (of Dresden Dolls and solo fame) is no stranger to the world of self-promotion and marketing. She’s also a big fan of Twitter — especially while touring — because of the direct line of communication it opens between she and her fans. Palmer has tweeted information on impromptu performances, secret gigs and press interviews that have resulted in thousands of people spontaneously turning up. Recently, Palmer took her Twitter addiction to new level and ended up netting $19,000 in a mere ten hours.

After putting out a tweet to the followers of a little subgroup she calls the Losers of Friday Night On Their Computers (Twitter hashtag #lofnotc), she soon had thousands of guests. At some point in the evening, she decided to Sharpie a t-shirt with the suggested slogan, “DON’T STAND UP FOR WHAT’S RIGHT, STAY IN FOR WHAT’S WRONG.” (Probably not presidential campaign material, but still kind of catchy.)

By the end of her anti-party (which also included comic writer/novelist/screenwriter Neil Gaiman and former teen star/geek icon Wil Wheaton), Palmer had grossed $11,000 in t-shirt sales via a hastily assembled website and PayPal. Over the next few days, Palmer pulled in an additional $8,000 from such Twitter stunts as a real-time auction and reservations to a private gig in a Boston recording studio. Total revenue for ten hours worth of tweets: $19,000.

Social technology is now a permanent part of the modern musician's arsenal. And, in some cases (like Palmer’s), it can turn into to "cash money" without the artist leaving her apartment.

You also may have heard about Palmer’s highly-public feud with her label, Roadrunner (which is distributed through Warner Music Group). It certainly could be argued that whatever investment the company made in Dresden Dolls and Palmer’s solo work had something to do with how she got those fans. Of course, compelling music and a strong live show surely played a big part.

Obviously, not every musician with a Twitter account is going to have this level of success. Still, it’s another example that a little gumption and creativity can pay dividends in the digital age.

To read more about Amanda's Twitter haul, check out her own play-by-play (via HypeBot.)


Jeremy said...

I’m going back and forth between admiring the creativity and being saddened by the disconcerting waste of it all. There are a lot of artists (musicians, writers, painters, etc.) producing good work who struggle to be paid a dime for their good work. (There are also many many more would-be artists who are not producing good work who nevertheless also seek to be paid, but that’s another story, sort of.)

It's true enough to point out that Palmer has a fan base that made this story possible, and therefore not something generalizable to the average “indie musician.” But to me there are larger questions with kind of depressing answers here, which have nothing to do with whether a more truly independent artist could do something similar.

One question: should even talented artists simply not expect to be paid for their art in the internet age? Answer: maybe so. (Palmer is in fact a genuinely talented musician, IMO.) And this may or may not be depressing per se, just an evolving fact of digital music life.

Another question: will financial success online be granted largely to musicians with the biggest egos and the least amount of social self-censoring? This one I'm kind of bummed about. Not every musician thinks enough of him/herself to believe that a design scribbled “in real-time” with a Sharpie is instantly worth $25 when printed on a t-shirt, after all. And I'm not sure I like knowing this about musicians whose music I like.

Final question: don't we all know, in our hearts, that that money could’ve gone to something with a bit more intrinsic value than what those t-shirt buyers got for their $25? We were already a society drastically oriented towards instant gratification, but Twitter represents a new apotheosis of instant-grat culture. I'm not sure this is an achievement to brag about.

FMC said...

Really great points, Jeremy.

This question is especially interesting:

"Will financial success online be granted largely to musicians with the biggest egos and the least amount of social self-censoring?"

It's one that is worth asking, considering many musicians, songwriters and composers may excel at their craft (writing, creating, recording and performing music), but could very well lack the enthusiasm or skills necessary to thrive in a hyper-socialized digital environment. (Heck, some may not be so hot at *meatspace* social interaction!)

And our noisy media environment sometimes means that the loudest, brashest and most persistent voices get heard. That said, creativity and expression is its own form of currency, but how to turn it into bankable returns is an ongoing question.

We feel like it's interesting to report on this stuff because a) it helps to establish some kind of record as we navigate this new terrain, and b) we're genuinely impressed with the resilience of artists — especially those who refuse to accept that they can't make whatever conditions work for them.

Once upon a time (and not long ago), an artist had to be lucky (and talented, as the theory held)to be heard by a label rep and begin a process of fairly cumbersome, scarcity-based procedures that would hopefully get said artist on the radio and selling in stores. Not an easy task, by any means, even with payola and industry consolidation.

Yet even then, there was DIY and artists who would use any tools at their disposal to get the word out — fanzines, tape trading networks, super-indie distro hubs. So this isn't exactly a new phenomenon, beyond the instantaneousness factor.

It's clear that Twitter represents a bit more than "a new apotheosis of instant-grat culture," as recent events in Iran have pointed out. It truly does keep a lot of people connected. And if those people feel like shelling out $25 for a sharpie t-shirt, well, unlike Iran, it's a free country.

So we'll keep pointing out these interesting little experiments while simultaneously trying to identify promising structures for artist compensation. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.