It’s the middle of July in Manchester, and it’s TOO hot. For us Brits, anyway. Amanda Palmer seems pretty nonplussed by the weather though. “It’s so hot in here”, I say on entry to her dressing room, met with a hug. “Is it?” she asks. Already in her stage clothes for the Manchester Ritz date of her tour with the Grand Theft Orchestra, Amanda sets to work on a large bowl of fruit and a handful of vitamins; her Twitter page always visible on her laptop behind her. Suddenly a track begins playing. “What’s that?” she asks, swivelling round to her computer to furiously delete all her (MANY) browser tabs. It’s almost comforting to see that she relies on the internet as much as we lesser humans do. In fact, you could say her fans rely on HER to rely on it.
“My fans aren’t [needy]. Well, not specifically needy, I don’t know what they’d do if I disappeared for a year”, she ponders. It’s not something they need worry about. Amanda enjoys her global Twitter presence as much as her almost 900k followers (damn!). Her virtual closeness with her technological generation of fans is astounding, where does she find the time?! Or the motivation?
“I love fuckin’ talkin’ to people, that is true,” she confesses, “Twitter’s been a godsend for my life as a touring musician. I don’t know if it’s been much of a godsend for my emotional life in general, sometimes I worry about it, sometimes I worry I’m too attached to the high of love. But I try not to question it very much, and marrying Neil [Gaiman, her husband and brilliant author] was really interesting too because he’s got a similar sort of – co-dependent’s not the right word – a similar sort of intense relationship with his own relationship with his fans if that makes sense, as do I. And he loves to be loved the same way I do, and he goes to Twitter for stimulation and acceptance and you know ego-stroking the exact same way I do. And us watching each other is actually one of the most helpful things that happened because being next to each other, being able to look at ourselves in the mirror of the other one has been enlightening, because we’re REALLY similar, we’re able to see ourselves in the other, the good and bad. We often fantasise about going totally offline, for 3 or 6 months, just to reboot and reset and remember what it was like to be artists who were more part artist, less part communicator, because we pretty much both communicate full time now, and we both have the sense that maybe that’s kind of eaten away some of the fundamental structures of our art-making brains. Hard to say. I think we’re all just really fucked right now because these tools are all so new, in the course of human history, which has been a long time, we’ve never been able to be this connected with everybody, and it’s incredibly tantalising. I think it’s a lot like smoking; we just don’t really know what the fallout is we just know it’s really enjoyable to do all the time, so we’ll find out as we go along what the Twitter cancer is.”
Whether or not the Twitter virus becomes terminal, at the moment it is a lifeline for some, and for Amanda. She uses it to connect with her fanbase, to bounce ideas off them, or simply to reply or retweet to their praise of her most recent gig. She also helps her followers, retweeting their efforts to find friends to go to her gigs with, or sell tickets.
It’s this kind of social media (“marketing” in a way) skill that artists need to comply with in an ever-deteriorating industry. After all, your fans are your patrons, and without them, how are you going to do anything? Amanda was recently all over the press for her use of online crowd-funding platform “Kickstarter”, amid a storm of controversy, Amanda made it, largely unscathed, to the other side of what sometimes seemed to be a merciless diatribe, and is now considering the possibility of another crowd-funding project, and thinks a new system of paying for music should come to fruition.
“As far as using crowd-funding in the future, I think pretty much everything you do when you’re an independent artist is more or less crowd-funding, anything you’re going directly to your fans to get help with or sell is some form of crowd-funding, you know, I was doing forms of crowd-funding before Kickstarter by simply pre-selling my albums to the fans and then printing them on demand, so I don’t know exactly what system of all the available systems I will use, but I don’t think you’re gonna see me singing to Universal Records any time soon (smiles), probably not. I am fiercely in the “whatever works” camp for artists nowadays, I think labels are still incredibly useful for a lot of artists, including me, I use label help in Europe and Australia, and I’m very interested in the idea that my fanbase can actually support me and patronise me on an ongoing basis, and I don’t think we’ve figured that system out yet, I think that system is being discovered. But I think what you may see in the future is a system where artists are not album-driven, and they’re not going pleading to their fanbase every time they wanna make a record, they’re gathering fans gradually as they tour and as they play and as they release music and they have an ongoing permanent army of patrons, even if it’s only 100 people or 500 people, or if you’re a huge band 10,000 people, who are simply willing to put their money down every time you release something, regardless of what it is; that’s real patronage. Someone who’s just willing to support your art wherever your art takes you, and if a patron doesn’t like what you do they can always jet. Looking around at what’s happening with Kickstarter and social media and various crowd-funding platforms and the various pros and cons and frustrations, that is I think where you’re gonna see it heading in 5 or 10 years.”
Wherever Amanda’s art and funding that art takes her in the future, I think you can count on her sticking around, and logging on, for a long time.