[Edit: To clarify; as of this writing, there is a substantive amount of press being generated by Amanda Palmer’s decision to solicit local volunteer musicians to accompany her live shows for free (as in beer, merch and good vibes). Having read Ms. Palmer’s reply, I have reconsidered some of my earlier comments and updated them below.]
Well… I might as well get this out of the way.
I think the whole Amanda Palmer trip about not paying musicians who play with her is silly.
There’s also no real story here.
Hiring a regional back up band is nothing new. Chuck Berry did it for most of his carer, and I understand that Robert from Williard Grant Conspiracy did it as well. Though they (and other people I’ve heard of who hired regional back up bands as well) actually paid those players money.
Getting people to play for free is nothing new. Promoter’s and labels who don’t want to spend money have been doing it to professional and amateur musicians forever.
(The irony of an independent musician (who was formerly on a big label) that made a big stink about labels taking advantage of artists, then turning around and doing the same to other artists is not lost on me however.)
Again, there’s really no news here.
Musicians that weren’t going to see her before, still aren’t going.
Fans that love her continue to love her.
Players (and non-players) who think it would be awesome to get up on stage with Amanda will do so.
I had different views about this when I posted it initially, but outside of the rancor this has raised, it’s just a decision that will become a vehicle that promotes Amanda Palmer by getting people to talk about her. (By the way, I do have a much more in-depth essay about this in my new book, Selling It Versus Selling Out – it’s worth checking out if you haven’t done so already!)
What I do find to be incredibly eye-opening, is the number of forum posts from non-musicians who all have strong opinions about musicians who want to get paid, and asking why those musicians are being so uptight, entitled and/or needy. Or posts from people who don’t play an instrument and don’t make any kind of art, who somehow have a lot of say about art, and those trying to make a living doing it.
For the record, all opinions are not equal.
The internet will give you the impression that they are, but they aren’t.
There are basically informed opinions, wrongly informed opinions and uninformed opinions and while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they do not (and should not) equate in terms of validity.
Informed vs Uninformed Opinions
Let’s say I’m hiking with my friends and we come across a snake. One of my friends, who knows nothing at all about snakes and is more than a little immature, says to me that it would make a great gag to pick up the harmless small snake crawling near us off the ground and throw it at someone. At the same time, another one of my friends, who happens to be a zoologist, tells me that he recognizes the snake as a highly poisonous one and advises me to stay away from it.
Which opinion do you think I’m going to listen to about handling the snake?
Yes both people are entitled to their opinions, but for me there is more validity in the opinion of the person who knows what the Hell they’re talking about.
Wrongly informed opinions
The internet is full of people who dispense data guised as wisdom.
People who have “informed” opinions because they read or heard something somewhere.
Forums are filled with these people. Jokers who fill up pages of forum space talking about the merits and detriments of various products only to find that they don’t own any of them, but are just speculating based on ad copy and product specifications.
Wrongly informed opinions are even more detrimental to making an informed decision, because, like most conspiracy theories, they have at least a grain of truth that their logical architecture is based on. That truth is what typically passes the smell test, “does it smell like bs to you?” and leads to the, “if a is to be and b is to c then a is to z” logic that often comes about from this.
Opinions aren’t facts and shouldn’t be treated the same way.
The Lesson Story
I believe that I’ve related this story once before, but I relate it again as I didn’t find it right away and it’s relevant to this idea.
I once had a person respond in a really combative way to a teaching ad I put up on Craigslist.
(BTW – I know CL works like gang busters for some people, but it never worked out for me. I think this is largely because while my lessons are a bargain in terms of what a student can learn, they’re not cheap. And CL guitar lessons seem to be ALL about the cheap.)
Getting back to the story, he demanded to know how much of my time was spent teaching, and whether I was a real full-time musician. I responded to his e-mail as tactfully as I could, addressing my credentials and trying to determine what I wanted to learn. He responded with a lengthy e-mail that included demands for justifying my price because, “I only want to study with the best.” and he needed to figure out if I am “the best”.
Now the “best” anything, in terms of artistic expression, is a term that makes me uncomfortable. I do happen to be the best teacher in the Scott Collins teaching method and style. In that style and method of teaching, you wont find anyone who teaches better than me. Now, am I the best teacher for you? I don’t know. I have been for some students, but I can’t line up 30 people and say, “I’m better than all those people” because I am only the best at what I do and conveying information to people in my manner.
Despite being really put off by his approach, I pushed the topic a bit and asked about his current skill set and what he was trying to do. He explained that he was not a guitarist, but that he was planning on buying a guitar soon. While he didn’t play any other instruments, he was going to play guitar because he had really long fingers and knew that he could play it very well in a short period of time. Hence his need for the best teacher, because he needed someone who would help him unleash the awesome untapped divine talent that had been bestowed to him in his teens.
In other words, I spent 45 minutes writing thoughtful carefully worded responses intended to clarify, but ultimately justifying my skill set to a completely ignorant person who knew nothing about guitar and didn’t even play, but had a LOT of strong opinions about what I did.
Save yourself some time and energy.
As musicians, it’s common to get worked up over people’s opinions about what we do.
I’m not saying that all listeners are uninformed. I’ve had people who happened to have listened to a lot of music deeply offer really insightful observations to me about what they liked or didn’t like about various things. They didn’t know jargon, but they knew what they were talking about in terms of conveying their aesthetic.
What I am saying is that if the opinion you’re listening to (or more likely reading) is uninformed, that engaging that opinion is generally a time-suck. You can try to inform the person expressing the opinion, which takes time (and the right person willing to listen to other opinions) or you can walk away.
It’s easy to get entangled into flamed threads or comment sections to contribute an opinion, but if you’re trying to explain to a non-musician why musicians should be compensated. You’re wasting time that’s better spent making a good piece of art to sell to them instead.
Thanks for reading!
p.s. I’ve mentioned it before, but that Indie Musician Wake Up Call Kindle book is a cheap $1.99 insight into some of the issues covered here ; )
I’ve been writing a piece on pretty much the same thing. Back in the day, the words that you heard or read were by people in the know; now anyone with a phone can opine at will. Great article by the way.