How Amanda Palmer Built An Army Of Supporters: Connecting Each And Every Day, Person By Person
from the keep-at-it dept
There's a great story about how bamboo grows. A farmer plants a bamboo shoot underground, and waters and tends it for about three years. Nothing grows that's visible, but the farmer trots out there, tending to this invisible thing with a certain amount of faith that things are going to work out. When the bamboo finally appears above ground, it can shoot up to thirty feet in a month. This is like my kickstarter campaign. The numbers aren't shocking to me, not at all. I set the goal for the kickstarter at $100,000 hoping we'd make it quickly, and hoping we'd surpass it by a long-shot.
I've been tending this bamboo forest of fans for years and years, ever since leaving roadrunner records in 2009. Every person I talk to at a signing, every exchange I have online (sometimes dozens a day), every random music video or art gallery link sent to me by a fan that i curiously follow, every strange bed I've crashed on...all of that real human connecting has led to this moment, where I came back around, asking for direct help with a record. Asking EVERYBODY. Asking my poor fans to give a dollar, or if nothing else, to spread the link; asking my rich fans to loan me money at whatever level they can afford to miss it for a while.
And they help because they know I'm good for it. Because they KNOW me.
I've seen people complaining that this is easy for me to do because I got my start on a major label. It's totally true that the label helped me and my band get known. But after that, the future was up to me. It bought me nothing but a headstart, and I used it. I could have stopped working hard and connecting in 2009. If I'd done that, and then popped up out of nowhere in 2012 to kickstart a solo record in 2012, my album would probably get funded to the tune of $10k...if I was lucky. There are huge ex-major label artists (pointless to name names) who have tried the crowd-funding method and failed dramatically, mostly because they didn't have the online relationship with their fans to rely on. And vice versa: plenty of young upstarts with a small but devoted fanbase have kicked ass using crowdfunding, because they've taken a hands-on approach online and at shows, and have been close and connected with their fans ALL THIS TIME, while nobody was caring or watching.
I tweet all day. I share my life. My REAL life. The ugly things, the hard things. I monitor my blog religiously. I read the comments. I ask for advice. I answer questions. I fix problems. I take fans at their word when they see me at a show and tell me their vinyl arrived broken in the mail. I don't try to hide behind a veil of fame. I don't want to be anything more than totally human. I make mistakes, get called out, and apologize. I share my process. I ask for help SHAMELESSLY. I sleep at my fans houses. I eat with them. I read the books they write. I see their plays and dance performances, online and in real life. I back their own crowdfunding projects. I get rides home with them. I'm the kind of person they WANT to help, because they know me well enough, after years of connecting, to know WHO I ACTUALLY AM. They don't just get a photoshopped snapshot of my every time I have an album to promote. They see the three-dimensional person, in motion, in real-time. Living and working.
There is no marketing trick. There is human connection, and you can't fake it. It takes time and effort and, most importantly: you have to actually LIKE it, otherwise you'll be miserable.
We're entering the era of the social artist. It's getting increasingly harder to hide in a garret and lower your songs down in a bucket to the crowd waiting below, wrapped in a cloak of sexy mystery above. That was the 90s. Where an artist could be as anti-social as they wanted, and rack up cred left and right for shoe-gazing and detaching. It's over. The ivory tower of the mysterious artist has crumbled. If you're painfully shy and antisocial and hate tweeting and blogging and connecting and touring...and you really just want to write and sing music and be left alone, you can still succeed...if your music is BRILLIANT. But you better have a damn clever boyfriend, girlfriend or friend-manager to fight your battle for you and lift the megaphone in your name, because no longer will a huge, magical company scoop you up and do all the heavy lifting (or if they do, they'll charge you 100% of your income for the service).
I got asked today on Twitter: "why is an artist your size using kickstarter? shouldn't you leave crowdfunding to the peple who need it?"
I answered: all artists at every level (even the Gagas and Madonnas) have to somehow raise capital for their work, whatEVER level it's at. some artists go to labels/companies for the capital to fund albums & tours. Now artists (at any level) can go direct to their fans. The end.
The basic tenets of success in music are still true: have good songs, touch people, work hard. But as far as getting around from place to place... musicians are no longer traveling by limo with one-way glass protecting them from view. Now we're all going on foot, door to door, in the open sunshine... with the internet as our magical, time-space defeating sidewalk.
Here's is a note from Sean Francis (@indecisean) , who's been working with me behind the scenes for over 5 years, helping me run my blog, socials, mailing list and general net-land:
The internet's been synonymous to Wild West'ian outlaws and lawlessness for so long, I think people forget that it's also got another REALLY appealing attribute: it's a giant safety net. And if you spend time nurturing and engaging the people holding that net, you KNOW you're going to get caught.
For several years, I've watched and aided, as Amanda's interwoven strategies predicated on those two things - pioneering and connection.
As new media has emerged, we've looked at how it'd be advantageous to her career, and in what ways it could be potentially beneficial to the fanbase... and as she's toured, written, recorded, and Twitter'd away, we were privately (and sometimes publicly) playing with puzzle pieces which are culminating in the release of this new album.
To get this right, Team AFP have spent hours on the phone and sent literally hundreds of emails, every week (sometimes daily)…and with the launch of our Kickstarter this past Monday, the public is seeing what several years of work can do.
When Amanda fell or misstepped in the process of trying to get this right, her net was there. And now that she's ready to do this on her terms, they still are.
Maybe it's a small collection of fans in some people's eyes - but it's a SOLID one - that believe in art and connection. And I'm watching it grow in size by the minute... not just monetarily, either.
While you were sleeping, Amanda Palmer built an army.