In the past few hours, two friends – C.C. Chapman and Justin Cambria - who both know I have written and spoken about rocker Amanda Palmer alerted me to a dustup around how the rock star is putting together bands for her tour.
On her blog, Amanda writes WANTED: HORN-Y AND STRING-Y VOLUNTEERS FOR THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA TOUR!!!!
Now there is an active discussion on Amanda's blog with nearly 200 comments as I write this, many negative. The people who are critical say that Amanda must pay her musicians and that it is not fair to ask people to play for free. Mainstream media has picked up on the story including this from the New York Times Rockers Playing for Beer: Fair Play? and from prefix Amanda Palmer 'Can't Afford' To Pay Her Backup Band.
New business models in the music business
I'm with Amanda on this one.
Because she specifically says "volunteers," it is perfectly clear what she is looking for. In other words, it is not a bait and switch of some kind. Importantly, this request was a post on her personal blog so she can tap her fan base – it wasn’t posted on a musicians' site or another outside forum.
Whenever new business models emerge, the people who work within the established system recoil in horror. That happened to me over the past decade as I talked up new ways to market products and services on the Web. Many traditional agency people hated the ideas and told me so, mocking that you can reach people on the Web for free.
The entrenched powers that be in the music business actively resist change. They shut down Napster. They sue kids who download music. To this day, many record labels forbid YouTube distribution of music which is crazy because having your song on YouTube is, as Bob Lefsetz says, "the new radio."
Amanda constantly pushes new models such as firing her label and self-funding her latest album via Kickstarter. She offers downloads of her new album Theatre is Evil on a pay what you want basis. Traditional record labels hate this stuff.
With change comes opportunity
Journalism is another example of new business models evolving where the entrenched fight change. I write for free for the Huffington Post. I do this because by posting on HuffPo, I can reach a new audience. Many old guard media folks hate this. They say journalists should be paid. They say I am not a valid writer because I have no formal training. Guilty. So don't read me on HuffPo then. You don't have to read this blog. I'm cool with that.
Here's another important point: As models change, new opportunities emerge. For example, I've talked about the tremendous opportunity that journalists have working for companies outside mainstream media. Professional journalists can apply their skills at organizations of all kinds to create content. Companies as diverse as as Eloqua, Boeing, Inova Health System , and HSBC have all hired full-time journalists. For a professional journalist, as one door closes a little another opens wide.
As music models change, musicians should look to the positive, not the negative. Isn't it cool that you can make a website, blog, or YouTube channel for free to promote your music? That opportunity didn't exist a few years ago.
Sure you're not getting paid for Amanda’s gig. But it is your choice to play or not. Should you be an up and coming player, you can have some fun, get a credit, score some stage photos, and publish a YouTube video of the whole thing. You can then spread these via social media to gain exposure. For free.
This is a controversial topic that’s playing out right now in real-time. What do you think?