i am loyal to only one god (a post about patreon).
this post is long. and important to me (and hopefully, to you). please read it.
i thought about making this a patron-only post but with all the kerfuffle going on outside our community, i’m making it public.
i was going to post a really heartfelt and cheerful post today about how much money this patreon has generated for different charities this year (short story, about $15k of our patreon earnings this year went to these four charities: The Trevor Project, The Texas Diaper Bank, The Maria Fund in Puerto Rico, and, in Lezvos, Greece, Because We Carry).
i didn’t think i was going to spend three days doing patreon-PR triage and obsessively reading twitter, facebook and patreon comments. i was also going to write an article for the guardian about feminism. i was also going to write a short story. i was going to work on music. i was also going to answer my fucking backlog of email. i have childcare for a limited number of hours each day. i did none of these things. i read the fucking internet explode about patreon, and i….wrote this.
but you know what? i’m glad. that’s what i do and who i am.
and the reason i did is the same reason i’ve been doing things this way for the better part of the last ten years. because i want shit to feel real. this is why i chose crowdfunding in the first place. the amount of hours i have spent over the last ten years on the internet…my god…reading, writing, feeling through, and discussing EXACTLY this sort of difficult and annoying stuff is why i’m me and not another artist. sometimes i bang my head against a wall going: why the fuck am i spending my life on the internet, talking about the internet, instead of making art?
and sometimes i look around me and remember why.
i literally just left the campus of wesleyan university, where i was involved in a semester-long experiment with a bunch of students and my filmmaker friend michael pope in which we tried to make art together. it was a weird idea of mine: i’d write a song, the students would write a treatment and make their own video to the song. great, but there was no way the university would pay for something like that and the associated costs (the recording studio alone cost more than they could have probably paid me for the semester). so, my ability to do the project and STILL GET PAID was a direct result of patreon. patreon funded my writing time, my travel time, my time in the studio, the studio engineer, it paid the drummer, it paid the saxophone player, it paid the bassist. it paid for the props that the students used in the video. it paid for michael pope’s airbnb, since the university didn’t cover housing. this isn’t a slight to wesleyan, i probably could have cajoled more funding and resources out of them. but i didn’t have to. i had my patreon.
the fact is that i have been able to do SO MANY PROJECTS in the last two years that otherwise wouldn’t have paid me DICK, and i know that i have been afforded that opportunity in no small part because i Talk on the Internet, and communicate the reality of how this art business works. To You. and i’m about to do a long talk.
it’s a good time to remind you what the hell is actually going on, lest you forget what i am, who we are, and where all this came from. i don’t take for granted that everybody here (there’s 11,000 of you, that’s a lot of people) knows my entire history. a lot of you have read my book. but a lot of you probably haven’t. there are some important things you should know about me, and what this patreon means, and what it means when something goes wrong.
after signing in about 2004, i escaped my major label, roadrunner records, in 2010. i was miserably unhappy there and didn’t see a future in which i wasn’t being nailed to the crucifix of a bunch of a company’s unholy financial needs and schedules.
i didn’t like that roadrunner records told me that i would have to put out my solo album in fall instead of spring because fall was “nickelback time”. (i changed the release date.)
i didn’t like that roadrunner records told me that i was going to have to tour, opening up for certain bands, with certain bands or they would “remove all album support” for the dresden dolls second album. (we went on the tour).
i didn’t like that they told me i would have to buy our own CDs from them for $11 if we wanted to sell them at shows (i knew for a fact that those CDs cost them less than $1.50 to manufacture).
i didn’t like that roadrunner records told me that i looked too fat in one of my videos and “could i simply cut those unflattering shots”. at that point: i didn’t like that roadrunner records got to tell me fucking ANYTHING. fuck these guys.
at the point where i really saw the sausage getting made, i was so disgusted by the idea that my songwriting was actually contributing to the SALARIES of these fear-based and obnoxious men (and yes, roadrunner was comprised of an office made of 95% men) who were sitting in cubicle desks and trying to figure out what shady moves they could pull to make sure their bosses didn’t fire them for not making enough money in the fourth quarter, i was fucking out.
this was not why i went into music or art. i was really revolted. i was revolted, mostly, at myself, for not knowing better. for knowing enoughabout the stupid system but still walking blithely into the deal, thinking that i’d be able to outsmart them, thinking that i’d always have the upper hand because i had an army of supportive fans behind me…thinking a lot of stupid things.
it still breaks my heart in two that roadrunner records owns the master recordings to the first two dresden dolls records and the masters to who killed amanda palmer. those songs aren’t commerce and numbers to me, they’re pieces of my life and soul. for those of you who’ve followed my career and seen me play those songs, you know that they weren’t written for the practical purpose of making money. if i’d been interested only in making money, i would have gone into finance. i got straight As in math, i could have. or i would have taken my songwriting talents to nashville and tried to hock my skills to the highest bidder. that was not the life i wanted.
when i left roadrunner, i thought deeply about whether i wanted to sign with an indie label. i still deeply envied the ultra-respected bands who seemed to be happy on the hip little labels that put out cool music and i still felt the smarting ache of having been rejected by all those labels when i was sending out package after package in 2003. name a hip indie label in 2003: i sent a CD and a press kit asking if they’d be interested in the dresden dolls. they all passed. the dresden dolls weren’t their thing. the dresden dolls didn’t fit on the roster. they didn’t sign “goth bands”. we signed with roadrunner because they were literally the only label who approached us, and i was, at the time, managing the band, booking the band, running my life on little sleep, had tried (naively) to start our own label with no knowledge, had no staff, no resources and almost no connections in the industry…and i was so fried and desperate for help that i thought: this is it. this is the moment, the best we will get, and we should take it.
i’m not looking for pity, and i still don’t regret the decision. roadrunner did do a SHIT ton to promote the band…in the first year or so. they got us to europe, they got us on the radio, they worked their asses off. but then they decided that our second album didn’t have a hit, and we weren’t worth spending energy on. and they stopped helping. completely. our hands were tied. long story short: it sucked and it took me a long time to leave. by the time i left, i was incredibly relieved.
so when i finally got free of the whole rigged and shitty major label system, you can see why it was less than tempting to sign with another indie label, even though i probably could have.
i would’ve been happy for the help and support, but i also didn’t want to go back to ask for help from people who didn’t want or understand me in the first place.
so i decided to go completely off-grid. i did my first DIY-crowdfund (meaning: i simply posted to my website that i wanted to make and sell an EP of radiohead covers, and would people please pre-order it instead of waiting until it was out so that i could have the money to print it?). my fans rose to the task and spent $100,000 on vinyl & various merch pre-orders, so that i had the capital to print all the records and merch. i needed a team to help me make and ship and organize everything. i hired 3 full-time employees to help me do all of it. pretty much any profits i made went to Making the Stuff and Paying My Staff. that was heaven, to me. i was free.
kickstarter was a more organized (and to the public, understandable) way of harnessing the generally amazing goodwill of my crowd, so i used it, three times – once to gather funds for the album i produced for tristan allen, once to fund the tour album for “an evening with amanda palmer & neil gaiman” and, once i saw those projects take off and function, for the last time in 2012 when i made Theatre is Evil, my first major album since leaving the godforsaken label. if you followed the plot back then, it was epic in size (almost 25,000 people pre-ordered the record and other things, like a fancy art book and fan-curated house parties), and by then, i’d amassed an entire little team and office to help me run this increasingly complicated business.
by around 2014, i had my own full-time staff of 2.5 people (two full-time, one half-time), my own office in new york, and i was still just barely making ends meet. i was by no means rolling in dough, and one of my main foibles is that i overpromised and overdelivered. i basically made sure i made enough dough to cover my expenses, and that was good enough. i cover some of this in my book, but my kickstarter went enough over budget that i even had to borrow money from neil in 2013 to cover my financial ass. it sucked and was hard and embarrassing. but it was ok – neil didn’t mind helping, and i dusted off my shame and took the donut. i also promised myself i would do a better job at running my business back into the black.
by 2015, i was prepared to give my life a long hard look and admit that while kickstarter had been a success on paper, it wasn’t going to be a sustainable strategy: i just didn’t have it in me to run a campaign like that once a year to keep my financial ship afloat if i was going to stay in the music-selling business.
that’s when i started considering patreon, which was in its infantile stages of existence. i knew and liked jack and knew that he was creating a business that made a lot of sense, at least, for people like me.
i also knew i had the option to build something similar to patreon on my own website and do, basically, what people like maria popova does on brainpickings.org: ask people to simply give me a monthly recurring contribution. my fans would have done it. everybody wanted to help.
but one major thing stopped me from doing that, and it was the same thing that stopped me from just doing a DIY-crowdfund via my website when i pre-sold “theatre is evil” instead of turning to kickstarter.
it was this: i knew that i, amanda palmer, could afford to build a whole system of fancy web-based, passworded, paying-for-things-to-keep-an-artist-afloat, because i had a goddamn staff and an office and an internet team on retainer. however the vast majority (like, 99%) of my music friends did not have that. i wanted them to be able to have what i had: a system of freedom from labels and middlemen.
i did not want to build my own island. i wanted to build a hut in an interconnected village, next to my friend’s huts, with tons of spce for anyone to set up shop. i wanted to be part of a larger community of DIY artists carving out their own paths, making art directly for the people. i wanted to be a leader in a movement that i really, truly, deeply believed in: a movement where artists could make their own music, sell their own stuff, connect directly with their own audiences without some prick telling them what to do, when to do, and how to do it…a community where artists could be FREE TO WORK without feeling enslaved to some higher power.
i knew that if i used kickstarter, not only would more people support me because it was “A Thing”; i still maintain to this day that people were more trusting and willing to hand over their credit cards to kickstarter.com than to amandapalmer.net, EVEN THOUGH i assumed 100% of the responsibility in either case. people are weird. they like a middleman, sometimes. it makes them feel safe.
but also: then all these people would have kickstarter accounts. they’d get the hang of it. they’d get the idea. they’d see the light. they’d support the other artists who were flooding away from the label system or deciding not to bother with the label system in the first place. and mostly, it worked: people got the hang of crowdfunding. it stopped being a ghetto and started being something that people could understand and accept. people “got it”, and i still get letters that make me cry from younger artists who tell me that they used kickstarter to fund their band because they saw my TED talk about crowdfunding, or read my book or whatever, and so they leapt away from the system and tried it. and in a lot of cases, it worked. i just got a children’s book in the mail from a woman who started a small publishing business to print a story that was handed down from generation to generation in her family every christmas and she thought it deserved a wider audience. she did it and raised about $15k from about 300 people. i think these moments are life-changing. and i’m always so fucking proud that i had anything to do with it. i don’t know if that would have happened if i’d just gone my own way and build a kickstarter-like-page on my website bacjk in 2012, you know?
and i felt, and feel, the same way about patreon.
one of the most painful aspects of this recent patreon kerfuffle happening was the fact that i’d spent a good two years trying to convince my incredibly talented composer friend, jherek bischoff, to start his own patreon. he’s exactly the kind of artist who could benefit from small-scale, ongoing support: he makes beautiful, non-commercial avant-garde classical compositions that are soul-enriching and haunting and beautiful. he’s on a small respected label… but it doesn’t cover all the bills. i knew that if he joined he’d get at least a few hundred people supporting him, because i know his fanbase (and my fanbase, who have always been very vocally keen on his work since i’ve toured with him a lot) and lo and behold, he launched a beautiful patreon page a few weeks ago. it’s going really well: he’s already got over 300 supporters, and he’s starting releasing beautiful music. he’s been sending me giddy texts about how much this is going to liberate his work schedule and free him up creatively. i was over-fucking-joyed. this meant the world to me: to see one of my friends feeling some relief.
before you start puking about how much i am singing the praises of patreon….please understand: i am not a crowdfunding or internet-platform monogomist. i am – on the contrary, and like all artists – a shameless fucking opportunist.
i wasn’t loyal to livejournal (i left), i wasn’t loyal to myspace (i left), i wasn’t loyal to tumblr (i left, mostly) i wasn’t loyal to roadrunner records (i left, with my middle finger up) and i won’t be loyal to twitter, instagram, facebook (don’t get me started on that) and i am not loyal to patreon.
i am loyal to only one god: my community. that’s it. where they go, i follow. and i will always serve and use whatever platform is good for our connection with one another, period. this is the higher power i serve, and i’ll slut around like any other artist to make sure our connection lines are clear.
and you know what? i expect it will be changing until the end of time.
when the news hit the other day that patreon had ROYALLY pissed off a ton of users (both patrons and creators, including me) by making a really shittily-articulated announcement that the processing fees were going to be non-consually passed on to the user (and away from the creator), i made a statement, but i also spent hours and house, during the following days, watching what other people were saying. creators and patrons were weighing in all over the place. almost 600 of my patrons posted comments discussing their feelings about the change. a few people left, but not many. other creators posted similar discussions (like this one, over at laurie penny’s patreon), and i read all of their patrons’ comments. i was online for the better part of 7 hours reading people’s thoughts.
the worst thing that i see happening, across the board, was this: people who are supporting multiple creators at low levels are feeling the need to scale back. this is BAD. it’s pruning, basically. people who were, say, supporting 15 artists at $1 are deleting their pledges to half those artists to save a little dough (it’s also very shitty that this announcement came right at christmas when belt-tightening and family budgeting is happening).
the general opinion is that patreon “doesn’t care” about these smaller donations, because they don’t make up the bulk of where their profit is coming from. while it’s true that patreon is making more money as an effect of their decision, i don’t know if it’s true that their bottom line was a self-serving one. i do think that patreon is shooting itself in the foot right now for no other reason than they are losing a lot of hard-won goodwill from a lot of people, inclding me, and one of their top creators. and that’s incredibly sad to see, because it would take a lot more than a storm like this to force me to change systems, and i want to like (and like other people to like) the system that i’m using (who wouldn’t).
i do know that running a business is brutal, and that capitalism is brutal, and one of the best threads i read on twitter yesterday was this one from peter coffin(who runs a patreon to support his video-content):
“I really dislike what Patreon is doing. But there will never be a capitalist platform that is based entirely in our needs as creators and supporters. They’re simply exploiting resistance to the ad model. It’s a *better* situation for us to use to remove that kind of influence from our content, moving us away from the attention economy.
But a company can never move us away from the monetary economy. It’s important to remember that any company trying to do something like Patreon is exploiting your need for monetary compensation to exist. They are not our friends and neither are their competitors.
Patreon is the simplest way to fund content on an ongoing basis. I think that is enough not to jump ship, because I have sincere doubts competition will never do something similar.
Instead, I would just prefer that people who can not support my work *do not support my work*. That’s been my stance from day one anyhow. This is all exploitation on art, artists, and enthusiasts/supporters of their work. There’s no company that is not going to be.
I like the idea of Patreon because it removes power from advertisers. But while a lot of that power is transferred directly to creators, a lot isn’t. Capitalist platforms are not good. They are not pro-art. They don’t care about content.
While Patreon is inherently better for creators as it is a transactional platform instead of a recommendation platform, the point for them and anyone competing with them is ultimately making money. It’s always going to be.
What I’m saying is that creators, don’t shoot yourselves in the foot and forfeit support because you’re angry. And supporters, please understand no one is going to be upset with you for not having the money.
I’ll continue to use Patreon and may branch to other platforms if people ask. But I’m not going to trust another platform any more or less than Patreon, because it exists in the same context Patreon does: the demand for profit.
They exist to extract value from us as creators and supporters. We have to understand that. And if we’re going to fight that, we have to accept that we need to pay rent and buy food, too.
There’s not going to be a platform that conforms to our ideals because our ideals are against capitalist exploitation.”
I WANTED TO STAND UP AND CHEER when i read this. i couldn’t have written it better myself.
because, as you can see, the sausage is still, well….it’s still being made. the fundamentals don’t change.
i don’t want to sound like a debbie downer, but i really don’t believe that there’s ever going to be a label, a channel, a streaming service, or a tech platform that is truly 100% “artist friendly”. why? because nobody who is out to fundamentally MAKE A PROFIT can ever, truly, be “artist friendly”, because, as cory doctorow puts it in this great article he published yesterday:
“Art is an irrational market; artists make art without regard to the laws of supply and demand. There are — and always have been — more people who’d like to make a living in the arts than the arts will sustain. That means that artists produce material without any rational expectation of any meaningful return on their investments, and this puts them at great risk from the distributors (retailers, platforms) and financiers (publishers/studios/labels, ad networks, etc) who have historically been key to connecting them to their audiences.”
until the day that art is not an irrational market (i.e. never), we are going to have to accept that every platform is going to wind up being flawed, despite their best intentions. and i really do still believe that patreon’s intentions are good. but we know that quote about good intentions, don’t we.
the last three days since this patreon mess have also been a little annoying because whiffs of 2012 came back to haunt me.
all of a sudden, i was Amanda “Villain of the Internet” Palmer again….because i’d managed to successfully use a tool with my community.
all of a sudden i was scanning twitter and seeing things like “Multi-millionnaires like Amanda Palmer DONT need Patreon” (literally, someone posted that, and yes they misspelled millionaires), “artists like amanda palmer won’t care about this because it won’t effect them” and worst, someone actually posted this:
oh man. oh MAN.
if there’s one way to piss me off to my very core, this person did it. but i’m never actually pissed off anymore, to tell you the truth. i spent so much of 2012 and 2013 being crushed by exactly this brand of misunderstanding that i never fire back in anger.
instead, i explain.
i explain, nicely and with compassion.
i explain until i’m blue in the face.
i explain that just because an artist achieves a success doesn’t mean that the artist has to stop paying for shit.
life never stops costing money. art never stops costing money.
it’s a scale thing. you think beyoncé doesn’t need to charge cash money for albums (or streaming, or merch) anymore because she’s beyoncé, because she’s rich, because she’s successful? come, come now. we all know that ain’t true. so why would it be true of me: a mid-level indie artist? people are weird.
it used to spin my head: people all through 2012 were yelling at me, “why do you need beg people for all this money? we don’t get it” and i used to yell “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO PAY MY RECORDING STUDIO COSTS AND MY PIANO TUNINGS AND MY STAFF’S HEALTH INSURANCE AND SALARIES AND MY INTERNET AND OFFICE BILLS AND THESE CDS AND POSTERS ARENT GOING TO PRINT AND MANUFACTURE THEMSELVES, BITCH.” i got so, so tired of explaining to people that art cost real money. that artists live. that we pay rent. that we aren’t special. that this, if we’re lucky, can be a JOB. a real one.
but i don’t yell anymore. (although i can’t tell you how good it felt to write in all caps again, a habit from which i’ve tried to divorce myself).
so i answered the tweet. i explained. hey. hi, i’m real, and indeed, my patreon money was going towards real stuff. food. my staff’s salary (and their food). health insurance. gas bills. diapers. you know: LIFE. where else do you think the money is coming from? this is it. THIS is where the money is coming from. right here. my patreon. this is how i pay for everything. all the bills.
maybe it was the way they capitalized “ART” when they said “ART” stuff. as if i were some kind of trust fund kid who lives primarily off my inherited wealth and did this “ART” stuff for shits and giggles.
let me rant for a moment: for a female artist who has gone out of her way to forge her own path away from the major label and mainstream system, who has met nothing but resistenace and mockery from just about everybody on her way up, who has employed hundreds of artists and musicians and staff, and who has managed to (mostly – see: 2012) make ends meet, pay her own bills, call her own shots, hire her own tour bus drivers, pay her own CD manufacturing bills instead of letting some label make the sausage for her…..man, there’s literally no more belittling thing you could say to me than: “unlike real artists, you are doing this for fun”.
and you know what? i’m GLAD i’m not making art for “fun”.
i would hate that.
i’d rather make art for real than for fun.
i’d rather make art for money than for kicks. it keeps me working harder. it lights a fire under my ass. it forces me to be a better artist.
and i like to think i’ve gotten good at it over the years. i like to think the necessity to make ends meet has made me a better, more authentic writer.
since leaving the label in 2008, my work has gotten less and less commercially-driven, and i owe that direction, wholeheartedly, to the fact that i’ve had to do less and less to “sell” it with every passing year since i left the label. i don’t even BOTHER to think about marketing my shit to radio stations anymore. are you fucking kidding me? two of my last few songs were over 11 minutes long.
crowdfunding has changed me. it’s changed the way i live, the way i make art, the way i think about the people who listen to my music. it’s changed everything.
this patreon is the current end result of years of searching for the ultimate platform – for now, at least – that can enable me to make art for real, without obsessing about how to sell it.
that’s the deal with this patreon. everything is pre-sold. you buy it blind. i’m a subscription, a channel. you can switch off anytime you want abd stop sending my money, but meanwhile, i’m going to forge ahead…writing, recording, filming, getting as weird and wild as our little minds can possibly fathom, because I DON’T HAVE TO SELL YOU ANYTHING. because YOU’VE ALREADY BOUGHT IT. fucking HALLELUJAH, right??!!!!?!?! god. someone hand me a hanky.
i get to make shit on my terms, in my time, without some dick in an office telling me what to do. i did it for long enough that i’ll never take it for granted.
did patreon fuck up royally? yeah. i think they did. i think they made a majorly bad decision and a major PR gaffe on top of it: they shouldn’t have billed this as “good for creators”. as far as i can tell, in the short term anyway, it’s really not. fewer small backers is going to hurt the entire eco-system of support. and people in general are going to lose faith over this, and faith in this business is worth more than coin in the long run.
but: will i leave patreon as a result of this? no. not now. they’d have to do a lot more than this to get me to budge, since right now, this is where my community is.
the worst part of my day yesterday was getting a sad text from jherek, who was as upset as most other creators. and he’d been so happy. we’d all been celebrating. none (or very few) of his patrons had dropped out, but still, he was nervous. i felt personally responsible.
and i DO feel personally responsible. i brought a lot of you here. i brought him here. i’ve brought a ton of my writer and musician friends here. i forged my hut village.
but i’m not in charge: we don’t own the land.
patreon does. and as stated above: they are not, fundamentally, our friends. even if we like them. they’re a company. they exist to make a profit.
and for now: this is where we are. this platform is where my family is gathered. we may all be a bit pissed, but we’re here, and it’s janky, and it’s being held together by rules that are changing and irritating us.
we do have power, as a crowd. and until we all decide that this isn’t working for us, we stay, we stick together, and we try to make it work.
if it doesn’t work, eventually? if patreon continues to pull terrible moves? if they turn around in a few months and tell us they’ve been acquired by amazon/google/facebook? i dunno. probably: we go. and i’m perfectly happy to know that jack conte, the CEO of patreon (who i consider a friend) is reading this. in fact, i’ll send him this blog.
to the 11,000 patrons reading this, you know who you are. your support means my entire life gets to function – at any scale. and that is priceless. and i thank you for the bottom of my heart for sticking with me.
but in the end…..it’s not my call whether to stay here or not: it’s yours. this has to work for you. for all of us. i’ve been following you fuckers around the internet since 1999.
that’s the god i serve. the god of Whatever Actually Works for Everybody. and where you lead, my dearest everybody, i will follow.
forever and ever
a few last notes.
a few hundred people HAVE left my patreon in the last few days, mostly from the $1 level. many of you offered your apologies in your exit surveys. i love you, i don’t judge, and i’m happy to have you back anytime. i’m as sorry as you are that this is happening.
for those people who have asked where you can send alternate support to me, there’s a few ways. my bandcamp takes donations (donate to any track).my paypal account is right here. you can support there anytime.
but most importantly, here’s what you can do, and it costs you nothing.
sign my email list. it takes 5 seconds.
this is how we can keep track of each other forever.
facebook may go away.
twitter may go away.
patreon may go away.
but as long as you have an email address, and you plan on checking it, this is the best way to support me into the future…by letting me tell you what is up, where i go, and what happens.
this way, if patreon does get acquired by a giant, and platform-number-next comes around (and i’m still hoping someone starts matreon.com, where we can support art and smash the patriarchy all at the same time), i will be able to find you.
and as long as we can find each other, we are gold (and don’t get me started about net neutrality, for christs sake, that’s a whole nother 5,000 word rant).
i’m always reading comments, especially now.
i love you.
over and out.
p.s. to my patrons: speaking of god, i’ve delayed the release of “HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY GOD”, the song i recorded in london for the wesleyan students, for a few days so i could work on this blog instead. expect it soon. and as a result, there’s going to be a log-jam of content coming at you over the next few weeks, be prepared (i have 2 other Things in the pipeline this month. i’m gonna art you to death for the holidays.)
———THE NEVER-ENDING AS ALWAYS———
1. if you’re a patron, please click through to comment on this post. at the very least, if you’ve read it, indicate that by using the heart symbol.
2. see All the Things i’ve made so far on patreon: http://amandapalmer.net/patreon-things
3. join the official AFP-patron facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/afpland
4. AFP-patreon-related questions? ask away, someone will answer: email@example.com