Amanda Palmer has always been one for drama. From the dark theatricality of her alt-rock-meets-cabaret group Dresden Dolls to the artsy flourish of her eyebrows, Palmer has always been a one-woman show.
Recently Palmer has been going under fire for her using musicians without compensating them. Palmer started a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her new album. Her original goal was $100,000, but a month later, she became the first musician to top the million-dollar mark on Kickstarter. She raised more than $1 million, but still put out a call for volunteer string and brass players to join her backing band, the Grand Theft Orchestra. Compensation will include free drinks and merchandise and the appreciation of Ms. Palmer. So basically, nothing. This choice has obviously caused a lot of controversy.
Many people, including producer Steve Albini and musician Amy Vaillancourt-Sals, have criticized Palmer for asking for volunteers after raising so much money from the Kickstarter. Albini has even gone so far as to call Palmer an “idiot,” although he later apologized. Kind of. Palmer has finally responded with an open letter addressing all these concerns. She argued, “You have to let artists make their own decisions about how they share their talent and time.” She also said in a response to the New York Times, “If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians onstage are happy, where’s the problem?” The issue certainly has its complications. Obscure musicians frequently have to play for free—they may do it as a favor, or they may do it for exposure. And these musicians definitely have a choice in the matter. Many of them, being Palmer fans, are pleased by the opportunity. But at the same time, this alienates professional musicians who need payment for their art. It’s a tricky situation, and it looks like the drama isn’t dying down.