Actually, I intended to start out with suggestions in DIY marketing for artists today. Suggestions I would have come up with by myself.

Then Amanda Palmer posted her response to the feedback her posting on donations generated. Anyone: Read her response [link broken, 2016-03-10]. In full. It is essential and the basics to everything I can tell you. Some of it she already mentioned at Berlin’s all2gethernow.

For all those who don’t have the time to read through Amanda’s terrific response I’m going to highlight some parts.

On her website, Amanda has a page called “The Till”. Anybody who’s willing to can pay any amount as a donation. If you pay you will get no CD, merch or whatsoever.

Why to pay anything? Does she really think there are people crazy enough doing so? – That’s what you might think.

my cellist friend zoe keating (@zoecello), who more or less runs her own business out of her house (and isn’t signed), told me a few days ago on the phone that people have been ordering multiple CDs directly from her website and simply putting, in the comments section of paypal “PLEASE DON’T MAIL ME THESE CDS – i just wanted to send $40 because i want to support you!”.

Please note: Zoe Keating is a rather unknown artist. If you’re regularly reading liner notes though, you may have read her name on covers of Amanda’s works as well as Rasputina’s and others.

Donations are a more honest way (and a more direct one too) to connect with fans and at the same time maintain a business relationship with them. Some may give nothing. Some even can’t. Others pay a fair amount while few are paying more than a regular CD/ticket would have cost. (P.S.: I collected the donations for Amanda at her Berlin gig, and later on she told me the total.)

i also firmly believe – as many of you seem to – that this new era of music and content (less huge blockbuster artists supported by the mass media, more living-wage artists supported by smaller fanbases) will actually drive the quality of content UP. artists will hopefully no longer be in this game for the wrong reasons (i.e. to be instantly/luckily famous and rich) but instead will take an honest look at the work it takes and the lifestyle it provides; in most cases, not a luxurious one, but a fulfilling one.

I agree to Amanda that the term of “virtual crowdsurfing” fits best.

you must dive, pray and work on a faith-based system that folks will have your back.
you might wind up on the floor, shit happens. but people will help you up, brush you off, push you back in the pit.
and you, in return, need to hold your hands up in the air when somebody’s flailing body comes in your direction…you cannot duck, you cannot run in fear that you might break a nail… or a finger.

It’s today’s ecological system for artists and fans in music business – and it is reducing the role of the middle man to a minimum. A former prof of mine in economics would call it a economological system for obvious reasons. Rather a socio-economological one, actually.

So donations are one way to finance your work. But it’s no one-size-fits-all solution, definitely not.

i want to state clearly:
i am not trying to find an answer for everybody.
i am ONLY trying to find an answer for me. i am an artist, i need to support myself. i’m not trying to save the world or make internet history.

Moreover, it takes time, patience and hard effort to build up and maintain an honest relationship to your fanbase. Don’t look at them or abuse them as mere “customers”. It certainly is necessary to be friends with them. Then some of them might take the role of helpers, others might take a role of customers. But if they feel neglected by you and they don’t appreciate you anymore both roles are lost and you can’t rely on them. Because it’s you they rely on too.

Or, as Amanda Palmer puts it:

a lot of them have MET me. a lot of them have FED me, HOUSED me, helped me carry heavy amps and gear up stairs, promoted my shows in their towns.
to this day, i rely on them for TONS of help. and this is a huge part of why i feel confident that i won’t look like too much of an asshole when i reach out to my fanbase for money.

Though, I must admit there are perfect exceptions to the rule. Take Prince for instance who constantly alienates his fanbase (I have to know, I’m one of them…).

And then Amanda adds a noteworthy statement:

but i don’t expect to get directly paid for these things.

By donating, you pay for her living. It’s her salary. In exchange for this salary, she will continue to work. Because we all know (that’s one thing which bothers artists most) – you have to finance equipment and recording and touring and everything else before you cash in on it. But again, donations don’t work for everyone and there are lots of ways to raise funds.

that being said, i don’t think my plan would necessarily work for an artist who hasn’t built up a trusting and personal relationship with their fans.
it doesn’t have to take years and years, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

it seems to me that everybody keeps hoping we’ll find A SINGLE way to fix the problem of money, music and the industry.

there are LOTS of systems now, LOTS of tools at any artist’s disposal, and they are all there for the taking, à la carte. it’s up to you and your own taste.

there used to be just one general way to be a band: work on your act, sign with a label, cut record, tour.
now there are as many ways to put an online price tag on your work as there are small musical genres that used to be overlooked and are now finding a fanbase because of the net.
THIS IS A GOOD THING. once again, it will not be a tool for the wanna be rich-and-famous, it will instead empower the artist and the fan and put an end to a painful old hierarchy.

Bottom line for artists: Use what you are used to work with. Your imagery, your creativity. Be honest to yourself what your aim is. Do you want to be famous? Or do you want to make music and make a living of it? Rarely, very rarely, the latter will lead to the former.

Bottom line for labels and other middle men: Do your job for people who want you to do it this way around. But don’t urge and constrain people and their creativity. Maybe, you might even find new tasks and finally embrace today’s wide range of opportunities.

This text has been published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 Unported licence. If you would like to make use of the text or parts of it in a way that goes beyond the scope please get in touch with me.