We've written a few stories about Amanda Palmer, and her amazing success in connecting
directly with fans (and her struggle to get dropped by her major record label), but none got quite as much attention as the last one about her massively successful
Twitter experiments last month. The comments on that post got pretty involved, with Amanda herself stopping by to clarify some points. Some people argued that the only reason she had a fan base at all was because of her major record label association, and also claimed that the label financed the album -- which Palmer denied, noting:
for the record, i actually fronted ALL of the money for this record, because the label wasn't interested in supporting the effort.... i put in my own 200k (much of it borrowed) to make the record. the label picked it up, but i was never fully paid back (long, vile and complicated), which added insult to injury when they did FUCK all to promote the record.
Even more to the point, others are pointing out how much of her core loyal following had nothing
to do with anything done by the record label. Hypebot asked Emily White, who's had a long history with Amanda and her work, to weigh in on how she built up her fanbase
, and how much impact the record label had. The answer is that the label didn't do very much at all. It got some new markets interested... briefly... but those fans didn't stick around. The true fans were the ones who found out about Amanda and the Dresden Dolls via word of mouth. A few key excerpts (though you should read the whole thing):
I tour managed The Dresden Dolls from 2003-2006 and later co-managed the band as well as managed the launch of Amanda Palmer's solo career. The band self-booked a spring 2004 tour around SXSW hitting everything from sports bars to a bbq restaurant. They had no label, publicist, radio promo, agent, etc. to help book or promote the shows. Before hitting the road, I thought, "who is going to turn up to these shows outside of the Northeast? (as the band is from Boston). How will anyone know about them?"
But kids DID turn up. Whether it was 100 folks in Carbondale, IL or the amazing show Appalachian State University students put together in Boone, NC, the tour was a smashing indie success. I asked the fans at the merch table and the folks who helped us put the shows together how they knew about the band. The answers were consistently along the lines of "my cousin in Vermont IM'd me," "my boyfriend sent me a CD from Boston," or "someone forwarded me one of their mailers." It was true word-of-mouth about an incredible new band, fostered by Amanda and Brian's commitment to playing killer shows, writing personalized mailers and signing an autograph for every fan who wanted one, no matter how many hours it took.
And because of that decision [to sign with a major label], the band did receive pockets of radio success in markets like St. Louis and Arizona. The attendance at those shows spiked in 2006 when a few Dolls songs were receiving airplay. Awesome, right? Well, now it's 2009 and we've returned to some of those markets. Many of those radio fans don't turn up anymore. Yet, the hardcores or "1000 true fans" are still there, just like they have been since they organically founded The Dresden Dolls back in the day. They still line up outside for hours, know every word of every song (whether or not it has been released), and wait around for Amanda's autograph. They don't need a top down marketing plan to tell them what to like. And who are the new hardcore Dolls/ Amanda fans? They are the younger siblings and friends of the original fans, who continue to spread the gospel about an artist who's work they love so much they can't not talk about.
Once again, if you can connect with fans, and give them a true reason to buy, they will. That doesn't mean labels are useless. If they can help artists better connect with fans and provide more reasons to buy, they can absolutely be helpful. But that's just not the way many old school label folks work these days. Some of them are finally getting it (and I've actually had some really great conversations lately with record label folks who are figuring this out). But for artists who can (and want to) do it themselves, there are an increasing number of wonderful opportunities.