Steve Albini: Amanda Palmer Is An Idiot

Michael Nelson | September 13, 2012 - 12:14 pm

Amanda Palmer is no stranger to soliciting fans to help facilitate her musical endeavors — she raised a record $1.2 million via Kickstarter to finance her new album, Theatre Is Evil. Now touring behind that album, she is once again crowdsourcing for support. On 8/21, the Dresden Doll posted a blog entry titled “WANTED: HORN-Y AND STRING-Y VOLUNTEERS FOR THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA TOUR!!!!” in which she requested horn and string players of “professional-ish” ability join her touring band on stage. By way of compensation, wrote Palmer, “we will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make.” So, in case the Olympics didn’t make these distinctions clear to you: Professionals get paid, amateurs do not, and professional-ish people are paid in hugs/high-fives. Cool? Not really says Chicago-based musician-engineer-godhead / poker enthusiast / professional-ish crank Steve Albini. In a post on his own Electrical Audio board, Albini called Palmer an “idiot,” saying: “[If] you are forced by your ignorance into pleading for donations and charity work, you are then publicly admitting you are an idiot, and demonstrably not as good at your profession as Jandek, Moondog, GG Allin, every band ever to go on tour without a slush fund or the kids who play on buckets downtown.”

Albini wasn’t alone in his outrage; on 9/12, the Times ran a piece on the backlash resulting from Palmer’s request. But Albini, was — naturally — the only one to liken Palmer’s request to “gather[ing] at a mud pit downstate and sell[ing] meth and blowjobs.”

(Just gimme a sec to genuflect in silence over here.)

(OK, moving on …)

Palmer didn’t respond directly to Albini, but she did offer this in reaction to the general criticism (via NYT): “To me it seems absurd. If my fans are happy and my audience is happy and the musicians on stage are happy, where’s the problem?”

The problem, as I see it, is that I have LINED THE POCKETS of Neil Gaiman for TWO DECADES now. And since I’m not getting a refund on American Gods anytime soon (or the hour I spent reading its first few chapters before recognizing that it really wasn’t getting any better), I wouldn’t mind seeing some of that money going back into the pockets of professional-ish horn and string players for whom hugs don’t put formula in baby’s bottle. (Just ask the Bunk Antoine Batiste.)

Here’s Albini’s rant in full:

I have no fundamental problem with either asking your fans to pay you to make your record or go on tour or play for free in your band or gather at a mud pit downstate and sell meth and blowjobs to each other. I wouldn’t stoop to doing any of them myself, but horses for courses. The reason I don’t appeal to other people in this manner is that all those things can easily pay for themselves, and I value self-sufficiency and independence, even (or especially) from an audience.

If your position is that you aren’t able to figure out how to do that, that you are forced by your ignorance into pleading for donations and charity work, you are then publicly admitting you are an idiot, and demonstrably not as good at your profession as Jandek, Moondog, GG Allin, every band ever to go on tour without a slush fund or the kids who play on buckets downtown.

Pretty much everybody on earth has a threshold for how much to indulge an idiot who doesn’t know how to conduct herself, and I think Ms Palmer has found her audience’s threshold.

UPDATE: Steve posts a clarification:

Well, since the new journalism is just re-posting what other people have lifted from message boards and twitter, there are probably going to be a hundred or so stories on the web with headlines like “Steve Albini calls Amanda Palmer an Idiot,” so I’d better make my position on that clear. I don’t think Amanda Palmer is an idiot, and it was rude and sloppy of me to make that impression. I’m sorry Amanda Palmer, the internet is going to tell you that I think you’re an idiot, and while that’s not true, it’s my fault.

I Don’t know Amanda Palmer, and don’t recall ever hearing her music, though I hear a lot of music. Full disclosure, my wife Heather once tried to contact her through her agents to see if she would play at a charity event, but I don’t know what happened with that other than nothing happened.

I have no problem with bands using participant financing schemes like Kickstarter and such. I’ve said many times that I think they’re part of the new way bands and their audience interact and they can be a fantastic resource, enabling bands to do things essentially in cooperation with their audience. It’s pretty amazing actually.

It should be obvious also that having gotten over a million dollars from such an effort that it is just plain rude to ask for further indulgences from your audience, like playing in your backing band for free.

Fuck’s sake a million dollars is a shitload of money. How can you possibly not have a bunch laying around after people just gave you a million dollars? I saw a breakdown about where the money went a while ago, and most everything in it was absurdly inefficient, including paying people to take care of spending the money itself, which seems like a crazy moebius strip of waste.