TuneCore has a number of amazing independent success stories—The Civil Wars’ two 2012 Grammy Awards, Alex Day’s “Forever Yours” hit #4 on the UK pop charts, Colt Ford’s Declaration of Independence achieved the #1 Country Record in the America, J. Dash’s “Wop (Official Version)” is a certified Gold Record,…and the list goes on. Insight from these artists is something we want to offer to the TuneCore Community.
On September 11, Amanda Palmer—AFP to fans and friends—will release Theatre is Evil with TuneCore providing digital distribution. If you don’t know Amanda Palmer, you should because the successes of her career should serve as inspiration for many DIY performers. After a number of releases with her previous band The Dresden Dolls, as well as solo releases, Amanda chose a life without a record label. This decision seems to have only energized her efforts and popularity. Amanda is open with her fans, unflagging in her pursuits, and creative at her core. In response to our questions, Amanda discusses her approach to social media, suggestions for building a fan base, thoughts on her Kickstarter campaign, and offers both advice and calls to action for pursuing the life you want.
Was a career as a musician your personal goal?
Yes. I wanted to be a rock star from the time I was twelve. I gave myself no other option.
Was signing to a label one the goals of Dresden Dolls?
No. Signing to a label was never a goal in itself. But making music and not spending all of our time on the phone and on email was. I was managing the band and our label in the early days, and trying to do that on top of touring in a van was impossible. I just couldn’t handle all the work. So signing with a label was – mostly – a way to relieve that pressure.
I have seen your quote “Nothing happens by accident” regarding your success. As your initial efforts were pre-twitter, Facebook, etc.. massive social networking, what would you recommend to young artists as keys to building your fan base outside of social networking?
Networking in PERSON. PLAYING SHOWS. HANGING OUT. Seriously: there’s nothing more depressing than thinking that a whole new crop of musicians are missing this point. The internet should be the tool, not the end point, for connection. Part of the reason I’m so close with my fans is that I always took the extra time to hang out after shows to talk, sign, gab, hug, listen, learn and connect after shows, even if it meant going to bed at 3 am instead of midnight when we had to wake up at 9 am to drive. You just DO IT. And you act like a person, not a diva. If the venue kicks you out, you all go outside. You don’t expect anybody to help you. You just GO. You talk to everyone who wants to talk to you, you spend your extra energy connecting with the fans, not drinking with the crew. After years and years, you start to understand that when you make that actual connection with people, you have a real relationship instead of a fairweather one.
Were there aspects of being on a label that were important your success?
Absolutely. Roadrunner really helped us achieve a presence in Europe and Australia. Had it not been for them, I may have never gotten over there with such ease. For that, I’m very grateful.
Famously, you raised over a million dollars from your fans, do you think the Dresden Dolls would have pursued being on a label if Kickstarter had existed when you were starting?”
Well, it was still possible to burn CDs and be independent back when we signed. The question would have been: WHO’S GOING TO DO ALL THIS WORK? Even if you have a successful Kickstarter, SOMEONE has to do all the office work, the fulfillment, the troubleshooting, the dealing with problems. So I’m not sure about that. Kickstarter isn’t a way to get known, it’s a marketplace. And back then, we would have seen a massive outpouring of support from our local fan base on the eastern seaboard, but we would’ve spent a huge amount of our time dealing with the logistics of keeping the business running. And I think this is a big problem for many musicians nowadays: HOW DO I GET ALL THIS SHIT DONE? It’s very, very hard without help. And you have that moment, sitting in your apartment surrounded by boxes of misprinted CDs that your fans were expecting in the mail two months ago, with an email inbox filled with 1,264 logistical questions and problems, and you shake your fist at the sky screaming “ALL I WANTED WAS TO PLAY GUITAR!!!!!” Finding the balance is…difficult.
You are in the process of releasing, distributing, and promoting your upcoming release Theatre is Evil as an independent artist, what other members of your team have you assembled? And what are their roles to let your focus on your efforts?
My team is fantastic: I have a full-time personal assistant, Superkate, who helps me clean out and organize my moster email inbox, since I tend to get about 100 emails a day and when I’m traveling and touring, it’s impossible to keep up. My management at Girlie Action deal with the big broad strokes and connect all the publicists, agents, lawyers and general how-to of my day to day existence. They also helped me build, plan and time the release of the Kickstarter, and they keep me on task when it comes to messaging the fans with less personal information like tour dates. They’re also essentially functioning as my record label, since I’m effectively running my own little label with the release of this album. They help me partner up with distribution, they align campaigns and release dates, they literally work on the packaging and all the merchandise with me. They’re indispensable.
Online engagement with fans is a mantra from marketing sites. You do it as well as anyone. What do you find works and helps connect with existing fans, and create new ones?
Honestly…I think the biggest thing I do it I don’t think about it much. I just do it because I like it and I genuinely want to talk to the fans all day via twitter. I love to share. I love to blog. I love to connect, and I love involving everybody in the crazy circus. So I’m not very strategic about that. If I listened to advice from “marketing sites” that said “do this with your twitter, do that, don’t post more than x times a day, blah blah blah” I’d be lost. I do exactly what I want, and sometimes I post over 100 tweets in a day because a topic heats up. And people unfollow, and I just look at that as the cost of doing WHAT I WANT. And I think it’s that general attitude – that I’m using these tools however I want, and to have FUN, not because I’m trying to be clever about it – that keeps people with me.
Do you ever feel there is too much honesty or taboo subjects to discuss with your fans? Social is 24-7, do you turn it off sometimes?
I do. There are things I just wont’ discuss at all…no family or relationship drama allowed, no shit-talking other people or musicians, no work gossip. I definitely have my lines.
Are there any new apps, sites, or services that you recommend?
There’s an app for the Oblique Strategies cards for the iPhone now. I’m ecstatic.
In, June, the NY Times quoted your last album had sold 36,000 copies. Do you think this an accurate or valuable statistic anymore with streaming, single song downloads, etc…?
I think it’s probably “sold” four or five times that, at least, if you want to talk about people HAVING the record on their computers and listening to it. I STILL encourage people to avoid buying that one in shops. I’ve given my fans BLANKET permission to download anything.
What else is planned to promote Theatre is Evil? Touring?
Oh, hell yes. We’ll be going on a tour that will last about a year, or more. The show is going to be an extravaganza…I’d recommend it. We’re going to be trying shit on stage nobody has ever tried before.
What other guidance can you provide to young cabaret punks, metal-heads, DJs, singer-songwriters, etc.. who are trying to succeed with their music?
I think the most important thing is this: why are you doing this? To be a star? To be famous? Or to connect with people? If you keep asking yourself this question over and over, it’ll help.
It’ll also help when you’re playing in front of practically nobody, like, just the girlfriends of the shitty band you’re opening up for are watching….and you’re wondering what the hell the point of your life is.
If you really, really want to be a musician, chances are you probably won’t be rich. You won’t be famous. If you want it anyway, if you’re willing to just MAKE A LIVING, then you’re on the right track. And while you may never be celebrated and huge, you might stand a better chance of being happy, and as acting as a conduit for happiness for other people. This is the best thing about being an artist or musician. And that’s better than almost any other job out there.