HOW TO CROWDSOURCE A SXSW SHOWCASE & PANEL IN UNDER 24 HOURS
i need to tell you what happened on thursday.
when i canceled my spring tour because of anthony being sick, my management team asked me:
“are you going to go to South by Southwest?” (aka SXSW)
if you don’t know what SXSW is…it’s the international summit of musicians and music business people and it happens once a year in austin, TX. it used to be a little event (it began in 1987, and you can read about the evolution HERE on wiki). managers and agents and labels would run around and see a bunch of unsigned bands playing 30 minute “showcases” in dingy bars – basically an exciting (and drunken) new talent meat-market, with daytime panels about the state of the nation/music industry.
now, 25 years on, it’s huge. in addition to music, it also now branches out into film (which is self-explanatory) and “SXSW interactive” (which encompasses all of the cool geeky/techy/future-y nerd-stuffs).
a badge for the week costs: $625 for music, $450 for film, $695 for interactive, and a “platinum” pass for all three costs: $1,150 (those are the “early bird” prices – they all go up every few months as it gets closer…for example, if you waited ’till it started, the platinum badge would be $1,595)
it used to be no famous people came AT ALL. why would they? they were already signed. last week, though: depeche mode, prince, the flaming lips, the yeah yeah yeahs, and nick cave were all down there promoting their new records. same type of thing with film…tons of amazing undiscovered stuff, but some well-known names, as well. this year: joss whedon’s “much ado about nothing”, the “evil dead” remake, and dave grohl’s wonderful documentary “sound city” all had screenings side by side with first-timers no one’s ever heard of. it’s a crazy mix, and there’s ALWAYS something going on somewhere in the city.
SO…SXSW called up when they saw my tour was canceled and asked if i’d be interested in putting together a panel (with me and a few speaking guests) to talk about my business.
i said no. i wanted to stay with anthony. i wanted to be with my husband.
but a month or so later, neil got invited independently to come down to SXSW to be in conversation with chuck lorre, a TV writer who he really likes (“the big bang theory”, “dharma and greg”), and he said yes.
and if he was going, so was i.
i told SXSW and my management that i would be there. i would do the panel on my business after all.
it sounded fun. i’d come down there for a few days and finally enjoy the madhouse without any real commitments, so instead of running around promoting AMANDA!AMANDA!AMANDA….i would just TALK.
and, well, obviously, if i felt like it, find some time to play a ukulele ninja-gig in the street so i could connect with the austin fans.
one thing i love so much about ninja gigs is the feeling that i don’t HAVE to do them. literally. even if i tell the fanbase i MIGHT, i can decide NOT to if i wake up tired.
this is the kind of life, as a touring performer, that i CRAVE. if you’ve toured, you know there’s no feeling more crushing than waking up in a tour bus on 3 hours sleep and trudging on stage when you all you want to do is fall asleep on the dressing room floor. on tour, choice is never an option. i have a love affair with choice, a lifetime passion to have it ALLLL the time. nothing is sexier than options. the option to hide at will. the option to explode at will. that is what i crave. exploding on command is NEVER as fun.
the internet makes things possible. but it also brings up many questions, as we’ve seen. what is safe? what is FAIR? what can you ask for? what can you offer?
i headed down to SXSW early to be with neil at his event which was five days before mine. we holed up in a little hotel room for the week and neil went into an austin recording studio every day to record two different audiobooks while i’d head into town and do various press and panels (there were some really charming “HI HONEY HOW WAS YOUR DAY” moments, because we’ve NEVER had anything this close to a daily routine and now we did, in the middle of the madness).
i wandered around. i met two famous people who i didn’t know, and everybody laughed at me for not knowing them (but ashton kutcher and levar burton were both cool about it). here’s me and levar (photo by @glassfigurine):
i got to have an accidental dinner with justin bieber’s manager, saw some incredible films (kathleen hannah’s documentary “the punk singer” YES YES YES and the burning man documentary “spark” – MORE YESSSSS – both FANTASTIC), caught up with some old friends and got closer to some new ones (like jehane and karim who just kickstarted over a hundred thousand dollars to release the square, a documentary about the egyptian revolution – you’ll see them later in this blog, i met them at TED).
i met the filmmaker ondi timoner, who made “we live in public” and “dig”.
and all of us….we’ve been connecting about the HUGE change in the air. it feels like a beautiful revolution in art and business is happening and we’re watching, we’re doing it, we’re filming it. in the middle of all this, the “veronica mars” movie went to kickstarter and made over 3 million in two days.
my panel on wednesday was PACKED with hundreds of people – everyone talking about kickstarter, the new way of doing things, asking, asking, talking, talking…asking…photo 1 via @leikela4 and photo 2 by cianna p. stewart, both from “The Anatomy of Amanda Fucking Palmer” panel:
and then came THURSDAY.
thursday started on wednesday: i got a tweet from the artist shepard fairey saying he was putting up a mural and i thought that would be a perfect place to have everybody meet for a ninja gig.
but i only had a few hours notice, and i’d been hoping to find a quieter ninja spot where i could actually sit down and talk and take questions from people, SXSW-panel style, for local people who couldn’t afford the badge but were interested in what was happening. so i tweeted for everyone to meet up for a SUPER-FAST ninja gig and we took pictures…
…and video’d. here’s a (belated) vine of us saying…well…something (?). a bunch of somethings:
(and if you’re on vine, FOLLOW ME. just search for “Amanda Palmer”…sure, the app’s still buggy, but it looks like it’s gonna be another fun tool for us to play with. #ARTWANKSTUFF.)
…and then we paraded from shepard’s mural down to a tunnel that covers the creek. here we went (photo by @superraddino)…
…and here we are (photo by neil)…
about 60 people showed up with a few hours notice, i played a few fast and furious songs, and i promised i’d try to find a better venue for “tomorrow” (thursday), so that we could spend time conversing.
i asked for ideas. i waved goodbye, and i went and tweeted for a possible indoor space (photo by ashley pereyra, via facebook):
then someone responded…here’s the quick back n’ forth that made it all happen:
Emily Marks: @amandapalmer I have a historic 140 yr old theater that is available thursday if you want to play: scottishritetheater.org
3/13/13 3:30 PM
Emily Marks: @amandapalmer original handpainter backdrops-great acoustics downtown on 18th. Let us know -p.s loved your panel
3/13/13 3:31 PM
Amanda Palmer: @emily_guitar got your tweet YES i am DMing you. does 6 p m tomorrow work??
3/13/13 5:06 PM
and i did. we texted back and forth, and an hour later, i’d secured a 400-seat theater.
(but with no crew – which i said didn’t matter, we just needed SPACE in which we could all gather.)
while i was at a loud party at 1am with DJ spooky and timothy nordwind from OKgo/PYYRAMIDS spinning records (photo via @justjon):
….i hid in the bathroom and posted a tumblr announcing the time (5pm) and location (the scottish rite theater), TOMORROW!
i told people to expect special musical guest(s), which i assumed would be jenny owens young, who i would text in the morning to see if she could come and bring her guitar. and i could always get neil to read something as he’d probably be there anyway.
i asked people to spread the word. i tweeted and asked austin to retweet. i emailed sean and hayley and told them to post it on all the socials (facebook, instagram, etc). when you see me ask for you to share/RSVP for on facebook, it’s usually pointing to the golem of info we’re trying to get out FAST to as many people as possible.
then i went back to the party, danced my ass off til i was a sweaty mess, drank a little too much wine, had a naughty cigarette, scooped up neil from the couch where he’d fallen asleep, took him home, went to bed, and woke up to have a full day of press at the hotel from 10:30-4pm.
i texted jenny. she was like “FUCK, I HAVE A SHOW THEN”. she couldn’t come. i racked my brains to think of anyone else i knew at SXSW who played an acoustic instrument, since we’d just be setting up on an empty stage with no PA. i thought and thought. i’d seen reggie watts, but he had just left town. plus he needed a PA to beatbox. i came up dry. no special guests would be fine, whatever. i don’t usually have special guests at ninja gigs anyway. i’d just play and talk.
WAIT: there was one person who might do it.
the day before, i’d run into matt owen, one of the bad-ass tuba players we’d crowdsourced on the “theatre is evil” tour this past fall.
he’d shown up in new orleans and loved the experience so much he drove to play with us in the next two cities.
moreover, he wrote an incredible blog defending me in the midst of it all, explaining how he’d been in a military marching band, quit to find his own way as an independent musician, and loved playing music for the joy of it.
he’s really helped me. more than he knew.
he’d tweeted at me after we ran into each other. i tweeted him.
WANT A GIG?
fuck yes he did.
would it work?
no idea, but he was down to come and set up his weird gear, and maybe even borrow a PA from a friend.
one guest musician.
tuba style. possibly even one PA.
i took a break from my press day to speed over to a lunch being thrown by a bunch of fancy-pants agents at CAA. i mostly went because i thought it would be a wise idea to connect with my UK booking agent, bex wedlake, but as usual at these things, everyone is networking and running around at breakneck speed so i just concentrated on getting myself fed because i only had a half hour to get back to my hotel for press. a dude with dreadlocks and sunglasses came up to me and said he liked me TED talk. i said thank you who are you? he was in a band that was courting a deal with CAA. “what kind of music? could you play acoustic?”
“sure,” he said.
“want a gig in 3 hours?” i asked.
he said he’d text. i gave him my phone number and asked for the name of his band.
alex suzuki & the method.
let me know in a hour.
two guest musicians.
i went back to my press and on my way, checked my email.
i had a fwd from neil, a message from his writer friend luis urrea. luis’ son, eric, is in a band from chicago called marina city.
their story was PAINFUL: they’d PAID some local chicago promotor-dude $850 to get into a few showcases at SXSW, drove all the way down there in their van (all 6 of them and a merch guy) and found out the shows were non-existent. people had swindled them. they’d spent a shit-ton of money (the youngest member, 18, had even skipped out of mid-terms to do these gigs).
the guys were heartbroken….and luis asked neil if he had ANY connections to anyone who might be able to get these guys a gig.
well whad’ya know?
i emailed them, asking if they could play acoustic in 2 hours. they said yes.
three guest musicians. i’m going to start doing this in my count from “sesame street” voice,
THREE GUEST MUSICIANS!!! HA HA HA HA HA!!!
THEN i went back to my press.
no – wait! i got interrupted by a text. the guy with dreadlocks from the CAA party was texting me to confirm that absolutely they could do the gig, what was the address and did i by any chance have a violin?
no, i didn’t have a violin, but i was sure if i asked twitter somebody could show up with one. i turned back to my interview with ondi timoner and her crew, as she grilled me from behind her camera on what it was like to be amanda palmer. ten minutes into her interview she had a camera malfunction and i told her i was going to check in with my twitter feed to see if a violin had magically appeared, while she fiddled with her lenses.
“why do you need a violin?” she asked.
i explained to her the entire ninja gig that was crashing together before my very eyes and was due to take place in about an hour, and she told me the very reason she had stayed an extra day at SXSW and was therefore able to interview me was because she had stumbled upon this incredible band of four teenage sisters called von grey…and they had a violin.
“will you call them?” i asked.
she handed over the phone as it rang. i talked to their mother. i had secured my fourth musical guests and i had found a violin. i texted back the guy with the dreads in andy suzuki & the method (i still didn’t know his name) and triumphantly announced i had landed a violin. fuck that was fast.
ondi was so amazed by my flurry of texts and twitters that she decided to skip her next appointment and follow me to the scottish rite temple to film what happened. it was 4:30.
i’d announced the gig 21 hours ago and i’d found four bands, three of which i’d ever heard (i’d heard matt, aka eclectic tuba, open for us once during the “theatre is evil” tour….he’d made himself family). i was now starting to worry if this would turn into a total fuckshow. i enjoy that feeling of fuckshow worry. this is why i do this.
i took a cab to the venue with jehane and karim (the egyptian filmmakers) and swung by neil’s recording studio since he’d wrapped up early to join us. he had a friend with him called samita wolfe (who’d been his tour manager on the “Unchained” storytelling tour last fall) but we couldn’t fit her. she graciously walked the rest of the way, meeting us there. we got to the venue at ten of five, and went in through a back entrance so i had no idea how many people, if anyone, were already gathered outside the front door.
all the bands were there: Marina City from chicago, Andy Suzuki & The Method from the CAA party, the four beautiful sisters of Von Grey and their mom, and Eclectic Tuba AKA Matt (with a long-haired drummer named Caveman he had only met the day before at another gig, and had never played with).
the venue was old and beautiful and had nice people hanging around. all of the bands were getting to know each other in one big room, getting to know each other and wondering what the hell was going to happen, and so i wandered off to look for @emily_guitar and thank her for the space. she seemed relatively stress-free, as if she did this sort of thing every day of the week. i hugged and thanked her, and bounced back to the dressing room of chaos. the scottish rite felt like a THEATRE theatre – the backstage was filled with costumes and wigs and crazy props.
emily had roped in a volunteer to do basic sound at the back of the house for the two mics she’d set up on stage. someone showed up with a crate of water for the bands.
neil’s friend samita – in true tour-manager style – witnessed this chaos and immediately raised her hand as the de facto stage manager should we need anything. i told her she had the job. emily shouted back that she was opening the door. a few dozen people came in and sat down. one of the bands asked if we could have some chairs on stage. i went out into the audience to seek some, whereupon the assembled audience applauded, thinking the show had started. i told them no no no, i was just getting chairs, and i asked them if there were any more people coming in. somebody laughed.
ten minutes later there were four hundred people in that room. i got the bands’ attention, scratched out a loose running order on a piece of paper, and told everybody to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. (i advised going to the bathroom at the beginning of other band’s songs.)
at five fifteen, the show began.
i feel like it’s a cliché to say “you had to be there” but really…you had to be there. for three hours, i made it up as i went along. i’d thought about rotating the bands in and out but it became instantly clear that once a band had come on i should keep them on for two songs, talk to them about what they were doing, who they were, why they were at SXSW, and if they had any other shows coming up. at the top of the show, everyone came on stage and i introduced them all:
photo via amy price (on flickr)
eclectic tuba hit the stage with his new caveman drummer friend, and got the crowd to their feet with a danceable funked out piano loop of excitement on top of which Matt would lay down his tuba, and the crowd would go crazy.
we sat down and talked about the fall-tour musicians kerfuffle, what it meant for musicians and how gorgeously poetic it was that our never-ending circle of paying each other back had manifested six months down the road in a place we would never have expected.
hugs were hugged.
marina city shared the long story of their booking disaster, that they were sleeping in their van in a hotel parking lot, which led to a conversation about the industry in general. a woman volunteered to help them get a gig for the next night, and on the spot started sending emails to people she knew. neil came up and told the story of eric’s dad luis borrowing twenty bucks from him and getting paid back over the course of a year in the most clandestine way and how that twenty dollar went around the world in spirit.
photo by rachel barbash
we talked about how a group of that many people write songs together – and the democracy of lyric-writing and fighting. a girl in the crowd shouted that she’d like to put ten dollars towards their cause. others yelled. we decided they would pass the hat after the gig and the crowd cheered. i wonder how they did. well, i hope. chicago is a lot of gas away from austin.
photo by rachel barbash
the von grey sisters mesmerized the crowd….they were fucking impressive and practiced and had searing voices and lyrics….here’s a little clip…i mean, C’MON:
we talked about how they penned music together and what music they were listening to. alt-j was mentioned, and alanis morissette, and jethro tull (WHO ARE THESE GIRLS?).
photo by rachel barbash
the youngest of them was 12, the oldest was 18. the whole room collectively thanked their mother. then they had to jet, violin and all. i expect you’ll hear more from them relatively soon.
andy suzuki & the method, with special guest kate klim (who they had ALSO met the day before in a bar at SXSW – they were fans of hers) enjoyed the freedom of playing their gorgeous songs without a microphone and played their second song from the middle aisle of the theatre, amidst the audience. a new violin had magically appeared (care of my original tumblr post in which i had asked people to bring random instruments). SCORE. we talked about their indiegogo (a crowd-funded new album), which i just backed. the night of the show, they’d made $13,000. they’ve now close to $18,000. you can find it at indiegogo.com – join in, if you can. fuck yes.
actually…here’s where you can find ALL of them in their individual web-denizens/twitters. if you want to hear more or donate or buy something from them, they’ve all got their respective ways in which you can:
• eclectictuba.com | @EclecticTuba
• http://www.vongreymusic.com | @VonGreyMusic
• http://www.andysuzukimusic.com | @andtheMethod
• http://www.facebook.com/MarinaCityBand | @MarinaCityBand
i asked jehane and kamir to stop filming and share the story of their own kickstarter (which cleared $125k while we were all at TED) and they handed off their filming tools (a camera and a boom mic) to total strangers so the filming could continue.
photo by rachel barbash
she only dropped it once. (added 3/23/13 4:01am est: since posting this blog, her mom left a beautiful comment)
i played a few uke and piano songs by request, and opened the floor up to questions.
i talked about what can go wrong when you ask for help, and how the twitterverse isn’t always a well, sometimes its a void.
a woman who got shut down for selling amanda-palmer-inspired-t-shirts came up and i explained why i’m happy if people do that, but they have to ask. she cut a deal with me (we’re emailing).
we talked about feminism and the pros and cons of being a women in the music and film industry.
we talked about kathleen hannah.
jehane talked about getting arrested in egypt.
it was three hours of together.
it was better than ANY show i could have possibly tried to put together over the course of months. planning, wheeling, dealing, hunting down venues, selling tickets, dealing with rules.
sometimes i do that. but sometimes, i’ll do this.
this is what is possible.
nobody paid to get in.
and nobody formally got paid. (just whatever the hat brought in and what people donated to the performers when they went home)
there were no sponsors.
there were no contracts.
there was an idea, and there were people, and there was music, and there was sharing, and then it was over.
people found new bands.
people sang and danced.
people talked about new ideas.
it all felt real.
this is how i always wanted SXSW to feel to me.
several people tweeted that “it was the best event @ sxsw”…and it all happened in less than 24 hours.
this is possible.
this is possible.
this is HAPPENING.
p.s. i’m in florida now. we got here saturday to visit neil’s 95-year-old cousins, helen and sidney. i was supposed to leave today, but the storm hitting new england kept me grounded. ah well…warm+love. i could stay here forever.
so, to wrap this up in a bow for you all: when we got here, i tweeted for a ninja spot and the kids at ringling college hooked us up yesterday with a courtyard and a stage (again in less than 24 hours).
500 people showed up, and neil and i read and played for an hour.
photo via @g33kfish (click to enlarge)
i fucking love this shit.
bring it ON.
photos via grace, from ringling, who answered the tweet yesterday and set up the gig (more pics on her tumblr).
a few more…