lefsetz, palmer, gaiman…(or: money, making it, love, and life)

hola my dear comrades.

i don’t know how many of you read the lefsetz letter (by bob lefsetz)….he’s a blogger-via-email who makes passionate and occasionally grumpy commentary about culture / life / the music biz. his emails are widely read by people in the music and tech industry. i’ve quoted him many times in my own blog, as i agree with a lot of what he says and even though i grok that he’s not even remotely into my music, he digs the way i operate, which says a lot about him.

his first letter, of course, had me feeling all happy and delighted, the second one, slightly crushed (i always crumble a little bit when i know amanda palmer haters are out there having a field day) and the third….well, read below. i wanted to share.

i’m also pleased to say that the third letter he posted (mine) was actually paired in real life with a response from my down-girl zoë keating regarding her part in yesterday’s NYtimes article on streaming (you can read the article HERE, lefsetz’s letter about it HERE, and zoë’s response to lefsetz HERE).

crazy times we live in, my friends.

fyi: his “bullying” references to taylor swift below came from an episode a few years ago in which he accused her of autotuning and she responded – supposedly – with her song “mean”.


via lefsetz.com

Is a modern day star.

How did Amanda Palmer get to where she is now?

By working all the time.

By networking.

By putting her fans first.

By maintaining her fan relationship 24/7.

Amanda Palmer is not for everybody. Just for her fans. But that’s enough for her to raise a million dollars on Kickstarter.

There’s plenty of money out there. You’ve just got to find ways to tap it.

Used to be you looked for a record company check. But now the company pays less, because there’s less money to be made. And not only do they own the copyrights in perpetuity, but they want a share of everything you make.

Amanda Palmer began as a street performer. After college.

This is the lowest rung of entertainment. And not the choice of almost any college graduate. But this is where the rubber meets the road. Daniel Glass once told me a prerequisite to working at SBK Records, and this was twenty years ago, before he became majordomo of his own independent label, was that you had to work retail. That’s where the transaction took place. How big a fan base are you gonna have if you’re not a great performer? Probably a tiny one. And if you think someone comes out of the box fully-formed, totally great, you’ve probably never been to a club gig. Or a high school sock hop. This is where you hone your chops. You’ve got to be awful before you are great. You’ve got to learn the tricks. There’s a trick to every art form, whether it be performing, recording or selling. And in today’s music world you’ve got to do all three.

Furthermore, Daniel Glass had two more requirements to work at SBK Records. One, you really had to want to work there. Two, you had to graduate from college. Why? Not because you learned anything in school, but a degree demonstrated you could FINISH something!

Amanda Palmer knew the road was long. She had to get good grades to get into Wesleyan, had to endure four years there, so when she started as a street performer she was not about to give up. She was in it for the long haul. She’s got a giant footprint now, but she’s in her thirties. Recently got married and has no kids. Her eye was on the prize.

And yes, she had a deal with a “major,” RoadRunner Records. But more importantly, she was one of the first artists to get off a major label. At her own insistence. She wanted to be free. Bondage was holding her back. She wanted to experiment.

Which included cutting Zeppelin covers on her ukulele, which she’d just recently picked up, and selling the result for six figures to her fans.

You see Amanda was not afraid of the future. She just knew that the past sucked. And not only did she abandon her label, she gave up her moniker. The lead guy in Ohio Players just died…do you know his name? Probably not, but you know “Fire.” It was a big risk to go solo. But that’s what Amanda felt in her heart. Artists always do what’s in their heart. Money comes second. Expedience is not in their lexicon.

So if you’re not willing to tweet, work 24/7, try every new platform to engage potential fans, your odds of succeeding in the new world are slim. Sure, the major MIGHT be able to get you on the radio, but that world is collapsing and most acts are not radio-friendly.

No, you’re on your own.

Are you up to the challenge?

Then know you and your fans go hand in hand. No one else counts as much. And you can reach your cadre and make new fans via new technologies. This paradigm is only going to expand, it’s never going to contract.

With Amanda Palmer it’s not about her music, it’s about HER!

The cult of personality.

She’s her fans’ best friend. She’s an outcast just like them. With more rough edges than smooth.

Don’t look at the recent publicity, look at the two decades before. Working in near-obscurity.

You can do it.

But it’s gonna be slow.

And you’re gonna have to take chances.

And you’ll be playing without a net.

And someone in the band has to be the face.

Used to be the drummer booked the gigs, was the de facto manager.

Now you need a de facto face on the Internet, in social media.

You’ve got to be interacting and selling 24/7. If you’re focusing on the album, you’re not only leaving money on the table, you’re missing the point.

As did the mainstream media. Amanda’s name was all over. Did it make her any additional money? NO! Will this same media care in a year or two? NO! Did this media even listen to the music? NO! It might make you feel good to be in the newspaper, even on TV, but most people aren’t paying attention and the impact is nigh near neglible. You’re your own barometer. Can you pay your bills? When you tweet do you get responses? Are your fans passionate about you and your music? Then you’re on your way.

via lefsetz.com

That’s a PERK!

My inbox is blowing up with the sour grapes people complaining that Amanda Palmer owes her success to her “millionaire” husband Neil Gaiman. As if she courted him from infancy and rode his coattails to notoriety and riches.

To quote a Who song you probably don’t know, and should, “it don’t really happen that way at all.”

Where should I focus first? Amanda or the hoi polloi?

Let’s start with Amanda. She was clueless as to Gaiman for most of her career. It was only by establishing a beachhead that she was able to connect with him. Yes, I hate to disillusion you, but fame/success begets relationships. Hell, that’s why many people do it. Like the classic rockers. Just ask ‘em. They all did it to get LAID! No one would pay attention to them, being shy art guys. Show me a famous rocker who was popular in high school and I’ll tell you you’ve found the exception. By being “Amanda Palmer,” Amanda could bed and wed Gaiman. And if she was really in it for the money, why stop with Gaiman? Go for Lloyd Blankfein, a banker, someone who is truly rich! Then again, artists connect with artists, they’re like-minded. Kind of like rock stars connect with models… The lifestyle’s the same. Work intermittently but hard when you do and party all hours of the night. People with 9-5 jobs aren’t attracted to rock stars. Because they tend to be irresponsible and narcissi
stic. Unreliable. With poor financial habits to boot.

As for the complainers/naysayers…

I just hope you have some success. Then people you don’t know will come out of the woodwork to tell you how it really is, what you’re really like even though they’ve never met you, never mind really know you. They’re just pissed you’re where they are not.

Yeah, like Neil Gaiman wrote a big check for Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter project. Why? Kickstarter takes a percentage and she’d already blown past her goal.

But the truth never interfered with these pricks’ perspective. They see you up where they want to be and figure you had an edge, or are lucky. That they deserve to be where you are. Even though they’re marginally talented and unwilling to do the work.

Wanna be rich and famous?

Then give up your personal life. Not only to the audience, but to yourself. You’re too busy working all the time. You’ve got little time for TV, little time for relationships. You’re sacrificing all for your art. Burning the candle on both ends. You know why rock stars O.D? Because they take drugs to cope with the hideous life of a creator on the road. Just try to fall asleep after giving it your all at the arena. Busing around the world with people you’ve spent years in close contact with who you may not even like, whose habits gross you out.

And misinformation rules.

Do you know that I bullied Taylor Swift in high school?

Yup, it’s there EVERY DAY in my Twitter feed. Dozens of retweets at a time. Spreading the falsehood. Hell, I’m decades older than she is. A modicum of online research could yield this fact. But no, people would rather complain than deal with the truth. Because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to look in the mirror and face themselves and their oftentimes miserable little lives.

That’s what an artist does best. Give you respite from your horrible life. Hell life can be horrible even if you are rich and famous. Which is why all those bankers are music fans. They want to be touched, they want to be changed.

As for those e-mailing that all this discussion is not about Ms. Palmer’s music, IT WASN’T MADE FOR YOU! Palmer didn’t work the mainstream media machine, it came to her. And ultimately turned its back on her, with the backup musician kerfuffle.

And her fanbase didn’t care. The only people complaining they weren’t getting paid were union members and those who never listened to her music. It’s like having your party crashed by your parents, complete with invective against your lifestyle, because it’s different from theirs.

No one likes negative comments.

But if you raise your head above water, you’re gonna get ‘em, oftentimes from weasels hiding under the cover of anonymity. Trying to bring you down. Telling you you’re too fat, too untalented, too ugly, too connected to be where you are. But isn’t it interesting that you’re on top and they’re on the bottom.

I’ve got just one piece of advice re the haters…


P.S. That Who song is “Naked Eye.” The definitive take is from their ’74 album “Odds & Sods,” check it out, it’ll be the best five minutes you spend today.

sent from me to bob, and resent to his email list (no online archive of “responses”)

hey bob

thanks for Getting It.

you know, i had such struggles marrying neil because of just this kind of imagined criticism freaking me out.
love won in the end, and i’ve actually grown so much as a person getting over all that fear of people judging the f*** out me.
in the beginning of our relationship, i had a really hard time letting him pay for anything because of just this kind of stuff…
the fear that i’d lose my independence, my cred.

you said it in your first email: i had my eyes on the prize. and part of my plan was being finally independent of any man. of anyone.

when my best friend, anthony, went down with cancer a few months ago and i cancelled an entire two legs of tour, i had to face it.
deciding to let my husband totally float me for a while so i could stay home and take care of anthony was the moment that changed me.

and i don’t regret it.

would i have been able to cancel my tour if i hadn’t had neil to fall back on? i don’t know. maybe. but probably not as easily.

did my kickstarter do better because neil and his fanbase boosted the signal? no doubt.
is it ok with me? helllll yeah. thanks, honey! he was there, toasting with me, my fanbase, and everybody else who worked so hard to make it all happen.
he’s part of the whole family and the story.

i’m currently cranking on my upcoming TED talk (and freaking out about it) and it’s so funny, it’s all wrapped up with this.

i’d love to know if there’s a married person out there who hasn’t worried about the the financial imbalances, the power imbalances, the way people judge your relationship.
so much of my connection with my fans – and now neil – has been about getting to the point where i CAN allow people to help me and receive the help mindfully, carefully.

help comes in a so many forms: money, energy, love, care…it’s endless.

a lot of artists i know are terrified to ask for help, for fear it’ll make them look weak.
there’s a lot of shame around it.

the strongest artists (and people) i know are the ones who know how to ask for help, boldly. and receive help, gracefully.
the ones who don’t….look unhappy to me.

and a respectful clarification:

i, for one, didn’t ever become a rock star because i wanted to get LAID.
i did it because i wanted to get LOVED.

but looks like it’s working out just fine.
i’m getting both :)


p.s. you can subscribe to bob’s letter HERE. if you’re curious about the music industry and how it works, it’s a good ongoing read.

Back to Blog