Monday, June 25, 2012

The Son of Kickstarter Blog - I Still Don't Get It

So, I saw that Amanda Palmer raised $1,192,793, via kickstarter, to record her new album Theater is Evil. I am not an Amanda Palmer, or Dresden Dolls, fan, but I have no negative feelings about her, at all, either. I am a rather large fan of her husband, Neil Gaiman. I don't intend this blog to be an attack on Ms. Palmer, and I certainly don't begrudge her the right to make a living.

Still...The quote in the linked article kinda killed me.

"...even with $1 million in anticipated pledges, she would still end up with less than $100,000. Her expenses include Kickstarter’s 5 percent cut; $250,000 in recording costs; touring and promotional expenses; and hundreds of thousands to design, manufacture and ship the various deluxe packages she offered fans. The payments are not donations but rather advance sales, and she is responsible for paying taxes on any income."

I get that she's treating the Kickstarter drive as "pre-sales," and that everyone who donated will, ultimately, get a copy of the album, digitally or otherwise, so it doesn't feel like overt double-dipping (Like a lot of other Kickstarter projects I've seen).  I also feel pretty secure that Ms. Palmer is a committed professional, and will actually complete the album. This money won't fly off into the ether, which is often a very real concern when I look at Kickstarter projects.

My qualms and reactions here are more about the IDEA of what's going on, rather than Amanda Palmer's specific case. I'll be using specific examples from this project to illuminate what I feel is a rather exploitative system. So, when the Palmer brigade descends on me, let's remember that.

Ms. Palmer was part of a pretty, if not wildly, successful music act. What we have here is an already established artist, who can, I would guess (I admit, I don't really know) absorb more financial risk than any of her fanbase ("less than $100,000" may not seem like a lot to her, and I am NOT judging that, I think it's great that she's successful, but to's somewhere in the range of 2+ years of salary), asking for that fanbase to, essentially, pay for the creation of a profit-seeking work of art.

As you might have guess by now, I am not, personally, comfortable with the for-profit arts world moving into a fundraising model. Non-profit theatre, or other performance, the installation of a public work of art, these are projects that can feel right for public fundraising, and crowdfunding.

The point is, Ms. Palmer has access a lot of resources that most "independent artists" do not. When I go out and ask for people to visit Stage Left's 30 for 30 campaign, that's about getting our work on stage and keeping the company alive, nothing beyond that. I, and no one in our organization, gets to keep the extra. I find it personally unsettling that Kickstarter is her choice for funding of this project, when I'm sure other options were available. At the very least, shouldering a fair amount of interest on the money that she'll be using over the next few months on the project. Maybe it wouldn't have been as grandly produced with "hundreds of thousands to design, manufacture and ship the various deluxe packages she offered fans," but isn't the music the central point, anyway?

At the end of the day, the basic truth is that Amanda Palmer is making Theater is Evil in order to make money. That's not an inherently bad thing, and I reject anyone who tries to frame it as such. Money buys things like creative freedom and time to do things right. As my many rants about digital piracy should make clear, I have absolutely ZERO problem with artists being able to expect compensation for their work, or to not expect it, if they so choose. Kickstarter is, however, asking your fans to invest in your work, which I really think, especially at Ms. Palmer's level, is part and parcel of the independent artist's job. Or, to find investors...People who, yes, would expect a financial return on their investment.

I know that all of the fans who pledged to her project did so because they felt they were supporting their favorite artist. A noble and understandable act, and Palmer is using this process to solidify a relationship with those fans. A sense of ownership of the ultimate album. I get that, but I can't help but see beyond it. Popular music albums (and as arty as she is, Palmer fits into that description) are not a play, where when the final curtain goes down, so does any income. Or a statue, where the art is there for public consumption on a daily basis, with no thought of "profit." No, an album lives on, and generates income (though much less that it used to, for certain) long after the initial fan feeding frenzy. At this point, it looks like Ms. Palmer is already in the black, and that will all be gravy for her.

That feels...wrong, to me. This isn't a bunch of kids wanting to send a Patrick Stewart action figure to the outer edge of the atmosphere on a lark. Something where you throw in five bucks because they're smart kids, and they've come up with a amusing stunt you'd like to see. That's crowdfunding at it's finest, IMHO.

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