It’s no secret that punk cabaret performer Amanda Palmer is an outspoken sort.
This is after all the same artist that protested against the writer of a misogynistic article about Palmer’s fondness for getting nude, by stripping down live on stage.
But as anyone who attended her keynote speech at the Brisbane-based conference BIGSOUND this year, or viewed her TED Talk ‘The Art of Asking’ can attest, there’s much more to Palmer than just shock tactics.
One of the major successes of the crowdfunding boom, with her Kickstarter project for her latest record Theatre Is Evil raising approximately $1.2 million from around 25,000 backers, Palmer is well-versed in the grammar of a new DIY form of musical finance, which means that when she’s decrying the efforts of larger musical companies, it’s worth listening.
Palmer has joined the chorus of high-profile musicians – including Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, and a union of musicians from Spotify’s native Sweden – in voicing concerns that emerging digital platforms aren’t enough to support emerging artists and new music, pocketing profits while failing to re-invest in the very creators that provide them with their content.
“iTunes, Apple, Spotify, Google, whatever… all of the people who are profiting off the artists from the small level to the huge levels aren’t really feeding very much back into the creation of new content,” says the 37-year-old songwriter.
The comments come from an artist roundtable at the Virgin Disruptors event in London, with the former Dresden Doll in discussion with fellow music figures Zoe Keating, Imogen Heap, will.i.am, and Justin Beiber’s manager Scooter Braun, as Digital Music News reports. “Wouldn’t it seem that the place that’s making the lion’s share of the profit should also be putting money back into the creation of content to have a healthy ecosystem?”
During the debate, which was streamed live over the internet, Palmer highlights the lack of creative investment by Spotify, Apple, et al. as “one of the largest problems” facing artists in the industry today, and one that is “possibly un-fixable.”
“As bad and clunky as the major label system was, you still had a constant influx of capital back from those giant, sometimes soul-sucking systems, back into content creation,” adds Palmer, who shirked the major label system after a messy two-year long battle with Roadrunner Records that concluded in 2010.
Palmer adds that her views “aren’t nearly as extreme as David Byrne’s,” in reference to his biting editorial piece for The Guardian on how the internet is “sucking out creative content from the world,” but Palmer concedes that the Talking Heads frontman “does bring up the giant question of where is the capital going to come from to make art?”
“People might think it’s crazy for me to say that, because you can crowdfund, you can – there’s a lot of things you can do. But wouldn’t it seem that the place that’s making the lion’s share of the profit should also be putting money back into the creation of content to have a healthy ecosystem?” quizzes the singer.
In a follow-up interview with Virgin, Palmer offered another side to the debate, describing how technology can also enable artists to create content on their own terms.
Spotify or even iTunes comes out and says ‘OK, well you have no control and we’ve decided what we’re gonna pay you and it’s this’, the artists sort of goes ‘well, what am I gonna say, no!?’ – well in the case of Thom Yorke, he say’s ‘no’ – but what would be really useful now is a kind-of coalition of all artists and musicians and content creators, who are facing these problems, to have some kind of power and voice,” says Palmer.
Additionally, Palmer believes that technology, “the internet especially” will enable creative types to find and connect with their audience in new ways, with an “emerging middle class of musicians who aren’t superstars like Prince or Madonna, but aren’t so poor that they have to have day jobs.” The music maverick could very much be describing her own career.
Amanda Palmer is returning to Australia next January as part of the lineup for Sydney Festival 2014, playing a show at the Spiegletent in Hyde Park, following on from her national tour last month with her band The Grand Theft Orchestra, Palmer’s first appearance Down Under since cancelling her Aussie tour and Mona Foma appearance late last year.