“I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, ‘How do we make people pay for music?’ What if we started asking, ‘How do we let people pay for music?'”

Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer

Alternative rocker Amanda Palmer talked about the lessons learned as a street performer during her TED Talk in February. Palmer says her experiences as a living statue taught her a lot about economics, the music business, and what it meant to be an artist. While standing on a box, people would yell at her from passing cars: “Get a job!”

“And I’d be, like, ‘This is my job.'” said Palmer. “But it hurt, because it made me fear that I was somehow doing something un-joblike and unfair, shameful.” Creative people dare to differ, challenge traditions, bend the rules. Their need for independence and innovativeness often exposes them to failure, criticism and embarrassment. But when struck with inspiration, it’s their passion, their strong emotional connections, that re-enforces their personal fortitude. They’re driven to ignore people who’re incapable of understanding their far-reaching motives, their purpose. As Palmer gained ground as a musician, she took a big risk.

“I decide I’m just going to give away my music for free online whenever possible … and I’m going to encourage torrenting, downloading, sharing, but I’m going to ask for help, because I saw it work on the street. So I fought my way off my label and for my next project with my new band, the Grand Theft Orchestra, I turned to crowdfunding, and I fell into those thousands of connections that I’d made, and I asked my crowd to catch me. And the goal was $100,000. My fans backed me at nearly $1.2 million, which was the biggest music crowdfunding project to date.”

“I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It’s kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists. They don’t want to ask for things. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable.

“For most of human history, musicians, artists, they’ve been part of the community, connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the Internet and the content that we’re freely able to share on it are taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough. So a lot of people are confused by the idea of no hard sticker price. They see it as an unpredictable risk, but the things I’ve done, the Kickstarter, the street, the doorbell, I don’t see these things as risk. I see them as trust. Now, the online tools to make the exchange as easy and as instinctive as the street, they’re getting there. But the perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other and give and receive fearlessly, but, more important, to ask without shame.”

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