Starting out as a street performer known as ‘The 8ft Bride’, exchanging white flowers with strangers for money, Amanda Palmer learned pretty quick that there is an art to asking which she then proceeded to take into her music while touring with her band ‘The Dresden Dolls.’ Couch-surfing, self-promoting, crowd-sourcing, these were all ways for her to connect on a deeper level with her fan base and to build up a vast connection of humans who eventually came to her aid whenever she asked.
Amanda understood that her relationship with her fans in inseparable from her art. Her music is the artistic end product but really it is all a part of a messy dish that comprises her indefinable specialty: mixing, blending, cooking up, hosting, and serving a passionate stew of human connection.
So, here’s some of her collections from her book ‘The Art of Asking’:
Being a stage performer Amanda was always passionate about sharing. Writers share when someone else reads or listens to their words in a book, a blog, a tweet. Painters share by hanging their work. Stage performers share by writing, creating and rehearsing their performance and there is a different kind of joy in that moment of human to human transmission: from you to the eyes and ears of an audience, whether fireside at a party or on a stage in front of thousands. She confesses she’s a sharing addict but no matter the scale or setting, one truth remains: the act of sharing, especially when you’re starting out is fucking difficult.
All of us come from some place of wanting to be seen, understood, accepted, connected. Every single one of us wants to be believed and to a certain degree loved.
Artists are often just… louder about it.
Working as a street performer Amanda came across a lot of neglect and ignorance from the walkers by. Standing hours on end on the street with the aim of drawing attention to herself at moments left her worthless. These commuters on their way to work who couldn’t afford to stop at that exact moment to appreciate art. Certain art hungers for context.
It took her many months to find her footing and develop a sense of deep gratitude for allowing the population, however small, to be willing to tune their head to her frequency, the art channel which she has set up, even if for a moment, interrupting their march to work.
The sense of appreciation she harboured for those who even took a second to stop, even for a fleeting moment would cause her to appreciate what she was doing. She always felt it was essential to give thanks for the few who stopped to watch or listen, instead of wasting energy on resenting the majority who passed her by.
Feeling gratitude was a skill she honed on the street and dragged along with her into the music industry. She never aimed to please everyone who walked by, or everyone listening to the radio. All she needed was… some people. Enough people. Enough to make it worth coming back the next day, enough so she could keep making art.
Being a musician
When it comes to treating your fans it’s very simply: you work hard, you play for your crowd, you talk to, communicate with, hug, and connect with them in every possible way, and in turn, they support you and convert their friends into the fold. That’s how music works best, when people use it to commune and connect with one another, simple.
Her band functioned best as a part of a tight community that grew slowly, fan by fan. If it grew too fast, it wouldn’t have worked.
To learn more about growing your fan base, one by one, read Kevin Kelly’s article: 1000 true fans –
Connecting with her fans
Amanda always saw her connection with her fans as a net. And it has to start with the art. The songs had to touch people initially and mean something for anything to work at all. The art, not the artist, is what fundamentally draws the net into being. The net was then tightened and strengthened by a collection of interactions and exchanges she had, personally, whether in live venues or online with members of the community.
Creating that emotional connection cannot be outsourced but has to be done on a human level. No internet marketing company, no manager, no assistants could do that work – it had to be her.
Amanda used all social media sites to connect with her fan base. She went wherever the people were. What was important for her was to absorb, listen, talk, connect, help and share. Constantly. The net eventually got stronger and it kept weaving and bolstering itself.
For Amanda the whole point of being an artist was to be connected to people. To make a family. She knew the way to keep the fans happy was by staying present – through forums, through sharing people’s art and music back out through the internet channels, through keeping everybody connected. That’s how a relationship works. And when the time came to ask them to buy a record, to buy a ticket, whatever… if she was there for them, they’d be there for her. It went beyond the emotional; it also seemed like smart business.
Tightening the net is not the same thing as expanding it. If you spread your net too far, too fast, it stretches too thin and it breaks.
Looked or seen
As Amanda moved through her life first as a statue and later as a musician she started to understand. There’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen.
When you are looked at, your eyes can stay blissfuly closed. You suck energy, you steal the spotlight. When you are seen, your eyes must be open, as you are seeing and recognising your witness. You accept energy and you generate energy. You create light. One is exhibitionism, the other is connection. Not everybody wants to be looked at. Everybody wants to be seen.
The value in the gift
When Amanda was busking as a street performer bride her rule was no matter what amount of money was handed over, whether it was pennies or dollars she’d still give the passersby a flower. The value was never fixed by outside entities. The flower always had a value, but it was never an absolute value; sometimes it was a twenty dollar flower, and sometimes it was a free flower. But it was always a gift.
When Amanda became a musician, the music worked the same way. She would allow people to share the songs, and there was no fixed price enforced by the label or store or any other broker. People began to trust her. Giving away free content, for her, was about the value of the music becoming the connection itself.
It was about the value coming from the taker of the flower, the hearer of the song, the heart of the beholder.
Becoming a musician she allowed her fans to share the songs and there was no fixed price enforced by the label. People trusted her and one another more than before. Giving away free content was about the value of the music becoming the connection itself.
Time to ask
People make countless choices every day whether to ask or to turn away from one another. Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability. Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing:
I deserve to ask
You are welcome to say no.
Because the ask that is conditional cannot be a gift.
You could say that Amanda is the shiz-nit when it comes to crowdfunding. Introverted or antisocial artists can still find their audience through crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding is about funding your people, your listeners, your readers and making art for and with them. Not for the masses, not for the critics, but for your ever widening circle of friends. She likens it to leaning out your window and shouting down to find your friends. You might get an apple chucked at your head but if your art touches a single heart, strikes a single nerve, you’ll see people quietly heading your way and knocking on your door. Let them in. Tell them to bring their friends up.
Risk is the core cost of human connection so you have to be social to a certain degree. If you’re still independently antisocial then pair up with an advocate to shout the message you want down the street. It can be a record label, a patron or a best friend.
And yes there will be those who will chuck more than a few apples at you berating you for your self promotion and how shameless it is! And these words poke at the emotions most artists are already struggling with. But no artist can exist in a vacuum. And although artists have plenty of social media tools to be used it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re eager to use them. So, you can either leave the confines of your quiet space and invite everybody in to your life, or you can send somebody out on your behalf to round up your crowd and drag them up the stairs.
Just remember that with every connection you make online, there’s more potential for criticism. For every new bridge you build with your community there’s a new set of trolls who squat underneath it, ready to pounce.
Crowdfunding her record and building that bridge
Becoming disillusioned by her record label’s previous record release Amanda decided that she’d had enough of them and wanted to cater for her fan base and therefore started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100k.
Feeling nervous and agitated about the plan she managed to raise that within 24hr and after three weeks of launching she had almost twenty thousand backers and close to raising a million dollars.
Her moto is:
If you love people enough, they’ll give you everything.
Any small, sustainable artist fan community works like this:
There’s years and years of authentic work, tons of non monetary exchange, massive net tightening, an endless collection of important moments. Good art is made, good art is shared, help is offered, ears are bent, emotions are exchanged, the compost of real, deep connection is sprayed all over the fields. Then, one day, the artist steps up and asks for something. And if the ground has been fertilised enough, the audience says, without hesitation: Of course.
Remember fame doesn’t buy trust, only connection does that.
Trust in art
All along the idea was to create a world in which people don’t think of art just as a product, but as a relationship. The entertainment industry has been obsessed with the wrong question: how do we MAKE people pay for content? Instead of starting to think about it the other way around: how do we LET people pay for content?
The first questions is about FORCE.
The second is about TRUST.
This isn’t just about music. It’s about everything.
It’s hard enough to give fearlessly, and it’s even harder to receive fearlessly.
But within that exchange lies the hardest thing of all:
To ask. Without shame.
And to accept the help that people offer.
Not to force them.
Just to let them.
See Amanda give her TED talk which attracted a viewership of over 12million peeps.