I have just finished Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. Now I didn’t really know much about her. I’d heard Coin-Operated Boy but hadn’t realised it was her band, I had heard about the Kickstarter campaign, and that was about it. But I really enjoyed the book. A lot. So much so I want to read it again, which is something that doesn’t happen often. Part of the reason is I think this is a really great book for artists. Amanda talks about making her art, funding her art and her relationship with her audience in great detail and it’s fascinating, and opened up a lot of questions for me.
As an actor we often start out doing work for free. The shows or films are independent and don’t have a lot of money, we need the experience and exposure, and so we do the work. From other points of view, we are actively discouraged to work for free. That our talent, and work, should be valued and you need to put a price on it early. Then once further in the industry there are talks of being paid properly for your work. By properly I mean industry standard. We have rates that are set that should be adhered to. Along with compensation for anything else that might be incurred like travel, accommodation, and food allowance when away from home.
As you might have guessed, Amanda doesn’t live by these rules. But she does however, have to deal with the ebb and flow of money. And unluckily for her, she has whole bunch of people commenting on whether she’s doing it right. In her view, money evens out. You get a bit, then you get lot, and you get by with enough to do what you want. Her art doesn’t have a set price. Particularly with the accessibility of music, artists are forced to find ways to get their music out. She often puts it up and her audience dictates the price. She is currently using Patreon where patrons pledge to give artists a certain amount every time a product is delivered. It’s an interesting concept.
The thing about Amanda is she has an interesting relationship with her audience/fanbase. She is more like a friend than a performer. She does performances at house parties, she and sometimes her band or fellow artists, stay with fans. She’s had fans bring food backstage. There is open dialogues of giving and receiving between her and her audience. What they deliver is often tangible: food, accommodation, transport. What she delivers is less tangible: her talent, a relationship, her time. These things are hard to put a price on and that’s why people get uncomfortable with it.
It all forced me to think about how I choose work, about my relationship to audience, even the amount I ask from people and what I give in return. Big, big questions which I am glad I am asking. I thoroughly recommend the book.