5 Reasons Why Amanda Palmer Should Pay Her Volunteer Musicians

The cult singer-songwriter has come under fire for compensating her crowd sourced live band with free beer and hugs. Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

Jude Domski / Getty Images
1.

She’s Wrong About Her Critics
Amanda Palmer rightly points out in a blog post that a lot of people are scared about the crumbling record industry and a tanking economy, but she doesn’t seem to grasp that despite her good intentions, she’s become a symbol for a new way for musicians to get screwed over. No one is mad at her for crowd sourcing local musicians – that’s pretty cool, and not too different from the tradition of touring artists picking up players for gigs. People are upset because she’s not paying her “Grand Theft Orchestra,” and is essentially running her tour like an office staffed mainly with interns.

2.

There’s No Reason Not To Pay The Band
Palmer told the New York Times that the cost of paying all of the horn and string players would’ve come out to around $35,000 for the entire tour. This seems like a lot, but she’s hardly some dirt-poor amateur. The singer recently brought in nearly $1.2 million to fund her latest album, Theater Is Evil, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that some cash from that project could have funded her tour. (Could have, that is: She posted a breakdown of how the money was actually spent here.) Also, tickets for the gigs in question run an average of $23 each, and bands that charge less than that manage to pay each of the players, plus roadies and tour managers and other basic costs of doing business as a touring band. Her fans are obviously quite eager to support her; she could have always raised the ticket prices in order to compensate the guest players.

3.

She’s Circumventing Unions
Professional horn and string players are typically conservatory-trained members of unions with clearly defined wage scales. Even if the fans who are playing with Palmer at these gigs are having a blast, they are still undermining the hard and noble work of unions that protect classical musicians.

4.

She’s Taking Advantage Of Enthusiasm
Palmer notes that she has played many shows, particularly at the start of her career, for free, for fun, and for exposure. That’s all well and good, but why is she using this as an excuse not to compensate the musicians she is playing with on this tour? Having fun and gaining exposure are valid reasons to perform, but shouldn’t Palmer be more sensitive to the experiences of struggling musicians?

5.

It Sets A Bad Precedent
“If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where’s the problem?,” Palmer asks in the New York Times article about her tour. It’s a good point, and it highlights the important point that she’s not making anyone work for free, and the guest musicians are glad to volunteer their time and effort. But if this model for touring becomes more popular, it opens the door for widespread exploitation of musicians, and drives down a sense of value attached to musicians performing live. Music industry pundits like to point out that if artists can’t make money off recorded music, they can still potentially make money by playing live. Is it actually a good and progressive idea to support a model that keeps musicians from getting paid for that too?

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