No, I Am Not Crowdfunding This Baby (an open letter to a worried fan)
How I’m slightly terrified of the oncoming mix of motherhood and art….and how judging and terrifying me further isn’t going to help me.
*Note: this was my first piece of writing on Medium here. I’m really happy to be here, I think this platform and community of writers/thinkers is fantastic. Hi everyone here.*
you don’t see things as they are. you see things as you are.
A few months ago I joined Patreon, a crowdfunding website sort of like a hardcore, ongoing-style Kickstarter that allows fans to support artists on a regular basis by pledging to pay a certain amount of money — a dollar, three dollars — every time content is put out: a piece of music, an article, a video, a page of comic book art. It’s basically a trusting subscription to my general art-channel, true new-school patronage.
Since March I’ve gathered about 5,500 patrons, and whenever I release something, the community pays me about $35,000, which I then use to pay for my office, my small staff, my rent, my life, and the technicians and collaborators who help me make the art. Earlier this summer I worked with a great artist, Avi Ofer, to create a short animation using a found iPhone voice memo recording of weird shit my writer husband says in his sleep. Three weeks ago I went into the recording studio to make a record of cover songs with my dad. The other day I did a piece of bizzaro living-statue performance art + book-drive at the New York Public Library, filmed it, and will put that film out as a piece of patreon content. Nobody’s complaining yet.
“Truth and Consequences” (get it?) at the New York Public Library. photo: Jade Sterling
All this is honestly a huge relief after wondering if I was going to have to mount a kickstarter campaign every year to release music, cover the bills and support my generally spontaneous art-making addiction.
As many artists are finding out, Kickstarter campaigns are thrilling, but a lot of work. It’s a lot of concrete stuff to put in the mail; it’s a lot of admin energy spent NOT making art. With patreon, I think shit up, I do my work, I put the content/music/video up for free for everyone to enjoy, and I still get paid. It’s great. In a TED talk I gave called “The Art of Asking” a few years ago (and again in the book with the same title) I argued for a possible future where we don’t punish people for sharing content.
Taylor Swift may disagree, but I’m still committed to the fact that neither Spotify nor iTunes is going to be the salvation of the modern musician. There’s just no proof that those giants are committed to the survival of the smaller artists. The way I see it, we’re better off using the new tools of the internet to exchange with each other, rather than rely on a different set of middlemen who are possibly even less committed to the true sustainability of artists’ careers than the major labels were.
A few weeks after I launched my patreon, I announced I was pregnant.
With my first child, at 39 years old.
Then I got this email through the “Ask Amanda” portal on my website.
I love you. I’ve been a faithful fan of yours for nearly a decade. We’ve met face to face a couple times. I gushed about how it was you who inspired me to take up song-writing and composing. I gave you a bracelet. It was all sincere and heartfelt.
Lately though, you’ve had me concerned.
The steady stream of new music we used to hear from you seems to be dwindling. And most of the new songs you’ve released lately are the simplistic, feel good, ukulele tunes. Which are fine. But I know that those songs take less time and effort to write, and they offer much less brain-heart stimulation than your older work. Frankly, they’re a little disappointing.
You have a reasonably sized, and growing fanbase. There will always be people to buy your merch, your albums, tickets to your shows. You didn’t NEED to join Patreon, but you did anyway. Then you announced your pregnancy, after years of saying you didn’t want to be a mom. It makes me worry about what’s going to happen next.
Child care is my day job. I babysit my two nephews. I know that young children need LOTS of attention. Especially if they are hyper-sensitive like you or me. Chances are you’ll pass that trait on to your kid. When you have this baby, either him/her/it will suffer, or your career will suffer. Your career will suffer a lot sooner if your pregnancy is as physically and emotionally draining as some of my friends’ pregnancies.
So, my question is, did you do this on purpose?
Are your patrons paying for new music, or are they paying for a new baby?
Is what you’re doing really fair to your fans? When will the music happen? The really gritty, complex, emotional good stuff? Am I missing something important? Some behind-the-scenes stuff? Is my perception of time skewed?
Bottom line is, I need answers before I can feel comfortable giving you more of the money that I earned with my own sweat and tears.
(The subject of the email, btw, was: “Baby announcement right after joining Patreon?…Scam much?”)
First off, thank you for taking the time to even write this letter, and thank you for being a fan of my music all these years. I really do love and cherish every person who cares enough to communicate with me.
Secondly, thanks for confirming my deepest, most insecure, harrowing fears about motherhood and about how people will perceive me now that I have decided to breed!
Sarcasm aside, it really is a pregnant artist’s worst nightmare….well… at least it is THIS pregnant artist’s worst nightmare to get a letter like this.
I have struggled a long time with the question of whether or not to have children.
I had my first abortion at 17, senior year of high school, and I’ve had two more in the 22 years since, for varying complicated reasons. Though I don’t regret them, those were some of the hardest, darkest decisions and days of my life.
I agree with you that, yes, some artists, male and female, do get kinda boring after they have babies. I won’t name names, but we’ve seen it happen, dude. A passionate, angst-filled songwriter who speaks to the very core of your black, black, suffering soul all of a sudden mellows into parenthood and domesticity and starts writing sappy songs about how everything is just about….y’know….acceptance, balance, meadows of wheat, and going with the flow man.
I would never begrudge these artists their magical balance. It’s hard enough, right?
Here’s the thing: I have come to believe we don’t have to suffer to make great art. But — still, to this day — I’ve had a hard time shaking the belief that suffering and isolation are critically important ingredients of art-making. And I’ve spent years weighing the pros and cons of having a child:
- It’s not like anything I’ve done before, and I like new things.
- Possible spiritual enlightenment?
- Possible deeper bond with my husband once we’ve mixed our genepools.
- Most importantly, if I believe all the people I’ve anxiously polled, especially female artists, it’s a decision that’s nearly impossible to regret, even if having a kid is a total pain in the ass. So…that’s good.
- Complete loss of personal freedom and spontaneity.
- A whole new world of potential disagreements and drama with my husband, since we’re both control freaks (…undoubtedly followed by divorce proceedings, ugly custody battles and the sorrowful life of a single mother).
- All that poop.
- But the worst one is actually this: The loss of my identity as an artist.
Where I grew up, there weren’t really any Mom Artists in my field of vision.There were nice housewives and welfare moms and bad-ass career women who worked in tall buildings in the city, but no artists in sight with babies. I simply did not equate “mother” with “artist”. Artists were another breed of being entirely, encountered almost exclusively through MTV and magazines. Usually wearing leather and tutus. Smoking.
Female musicians I encountered at an early age were never shown in videos or pictures with children in tow.
Imagining my female idols as mothers was a completely squirmy idea. Rock stars and artists did not…mom.
So no small wonder that as I approached my mid-thirties I entered a conflicted baby conundrum. If I had kids, would I turn into a boring, irrelevant, ignorable artist? Would I suddenly start writing songs about balance and shit? Would I have a sudden, terrifying, interest in the LUTE?
Would I become that annoying person who is so enthralled with their child that it’s impossible to have an intelligent conversation with them about art because they’d rather show you iPhone photos of their kid drooling out a spoonful of mashed carrots? This all made me really afraid.
It didn’t help matters that I’d built a traveling artist’s life that I loved, a well-oiled bohemian existence of couchsurfing and wonder and friends and improv in which I ran my own business and nobody could boss me around. Not to mention finding a supportive husband, Neil, who came equipped with three older children from another marriage, and who was just as happy to have more children as not.
It also didn’t help that some my own elders had begun saying irritating things like:
“Well….you know, Amanda, people who don’t ever have children are just, well, they’re very…sad.”
Which is, simply put, total bullshit. I’d learned, through my honest, intimate friendships with older people, that that simply was not true. Some of my mentors, artistic or not, were and are childless and the happiest, most fulfilled and enlightened people I know. I’ve learned from them that children do not innately make you happy and fulfilled: only you can do that, and to shuffle the responsibility onto a kid is actually a pretty cruel thing to do.
I watched my biological window start closing with a kind of paralytic dread, knowing that my womb and my soul were going to get crushed if I didn’t make a wholehearted decision one way or the other.
So, as you know, I went for it.
I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing, or even that there was a right thing to do. I just did it, really hoping that the ol’ “jump and the net shall appear” cliché would manifest into a net and not a black hole.
And right now, at 36 weeks pregnant, all I can do is look at the female heroes who’ve preceded me and NOT descended into crappy boringness and pray to the holy trinity: Patti…Ani…Björki…hear my prayer. May I not get fucking boring.
So, dear Worried, you can see why your email stirred my darkest fears. I’m worried too. Probably more worried than you, because, I have to live with me all the time. And soon, I’ll have to live with this baby all the time. All while trying to not lose my art-self.
And, honestly, if this baby really winds up acting as a crippling, muse-killing, inspiration-sucker who saps the life out of my music rendering it totally bland…well…just tiptoe away, and leave me in my balanced, bland and happy misery.
As to your worry about whether or not this is a scam to crowdfund an infant: it can be confusing about where the lines of asking and taking should be drawn.
Let me tell you a story, one that I was going to include in “The Art of Asking” book (it wound up on the cutting room floor with 100,000 other words.)
Last year I stumbled across an open letter from Eisley, a female-fronted indie band from Texas, who’d tried to raise $100k on kickstarter so they could afford to accept a slot to support a far bigger band on tour.
Some people were confused, but I understood those logistics: when my band, The Dresden Dolls, were offered the opening slot for Nine Inch Nails in the summer of 2005, we chose to go into a financial hole in order to say yes. Our nightly paycheck covered about a third of what it cost to hire a crew and keep up with their tour buses, and we lost thousands of dollars. It’s a financial decision I’ve never regretted; I still meet fans, years later, who found me on that tour and have stuck with me ever since. Those things pay off.
Unfortunately Eisley didn’t reach their Kickstarter goal (so it went completely unfunded, as per the all-or-nothing Kickstarter model); but they went on the tour anyway and there was an angry backlash from their fans, who accused them of acting dishonestly. The fans asked: “if you didn’t need the money to begin with…why did you crowdfund??” Two of the members of the group were planning to bring their babies on tour, a fact that got dragged into the whole kerfuffle. Eisley defended themselves in an open letter, pointing out they’d managed to borrow the money from their families and their label, and they defended themselves specifically against people accusing them of tastelessly begging for money for baby formula, with the rebuttal that all their babies were breastfeeding…and thus weren’t planning to spend a dime of that crowdfunding money on baby formula.
But honestly? Why shouldn’t they buy baby formula with that money? It’s just there on the list of stuff they need to survive on tour, up there with everything else like gas, food, and capital to print t-shirts. It would be a like a diabetic singer promising her fans that she wasn’t going to spend her Kickstarter tour money on insulin.
If you are a touring indie musician, your life is NOT compartmentalized into neat little financial sections.
When you’re a crowdfunding artist, it shouldn’t matter what your choices are as long as you’re delivering your side of the bargain — the art, the music. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re spending money on guitar picks, rent, printer paper, diapers, college loans, or the special brand of organic absinthe you use to find your late-night muse…. as long as art is making it out the other side and making your patrons happy.
We’re artists, not art factories.
The money we need to live is often indistinguishable from the money we need to make art. We need all sorts of stuff to make art with. MAYBE I EVEN NEED THIS BABY TO MAKE ART. Who knows?
As to your question about the timing of all this…no, it wasn’t schemed. I’ve been intending to use patreon since it was founded two years ago, because I love the idea of giving my fans a way to just pay me whenever I actually release content, instead of relying on a tired, outdated system of making one big-old fashioned record every couple of years. It feels way more sane, actually, as the impending unpredictability of parenthood approaches, to be able to work whenever I’m inspired and can make the time, instead of working on the forced, binge-and-purge, feast-or-famine cycle that I was stuck on when I was on a major label who didn’t care much about my quality of life.
I love the idea of getting paid for my work, when I work, by the people who want me to work. (Like you. Unless you stop wanting it. Which is fine. We’re in an open relationship. You can leave anytime. You can even come back. I’m fine with that.)
And if you already think that my output is getting too weird, or too dull: at least you don’t have to worry that the baby will turn me into one of those obnoxious songwriters who picks up a ukulele and…let’s just admit that I clearly jumped the ukulele shark years ago, and it was REALLY liberating. Though, honestly, if what you’re waiting around for is “the really gritty, complex, emotional good stuff…”…I’ll be really surprised if pushing a SMALL HUMAN OUT OF MY VAGINA doesn’t also rip my heart open and provide some really, profound new artistic perspectives. It might take me a second to recover from you know, childbirth, before I start writing again, but just give me a second. Don’t strangle me if I decide to go into labor without a notebook in my hand, jotting down inspirational lyrics.
In closing, dear Worried, if you really are worried about me, and you are with me in sensitive camaraderie, I humbly ask one thing:
please don’t terrify and jinx me right now.
Not when I’m just about to jump into this net that I’m praying will appear to catch me, my art, and this baby…all at the same time.
I love you,
This piece was initially drafted for BBC’s “Fourthought”….you can hear me reading the first draft of it at the Hay Literary festival, live for a radio-studio audience in the BBC tent, here.
For the curious and/or supportive, here’s the link to my patreon: https://www.patreon.com/amandapalmer…if you’d like to join, friday will hopefully bring to your inbox the full backstory, gallery and time-lapse documentary of the library-statue project made by my longtime friend and collaborator, filmmaker Michael Pope. The Dad Record will be coming sometime this winter or spring. The patrons are going to help me determine how to release it.
Thank you for reading, I hope the discussion continues. And thanks, Medium.
*photo care of http://www.elegantlypregnantafrica.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Ways-to-Help-Get-Pregnant.jpg?e96983