Amanda Palmer - Photo by Martyn Foster
Hi everyone. So as I mentioned before, I moderated a panel at SXSW 2010, called “Too Much Information – Is Interacting Killing Rockstar Mystique?”
The goal was to have an open conversation about the strategies and various ways that artists are using social networking tools, and how it affects their fanbase, and their perceptions. Is there such a thing as too much sharing?
The panel ended up being a ton of fun, and I think we had a great conversation, if I do say so myself. Huge thanks go out to the panelists Jeremy Welt, Senior VP of New Media for Warner Bros Records, George Howard of Artistshousemusic.org, producer/filmmaker Dub Cornett, and musician Sam Duckworth, of Get Cape Wear Cape Fly.
I had also originally invited self-described Over-sharer, solo artist, and lead singer of The Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer to take part in the panel, and she was really enthusiastic about it, however she told me she would be in Poland on tour and unable to make it. Unfortunate, but she was eager enough to do an email interview together before the panel, which I then referenced and used her answers and comments as the basis for the discussion at the panel.
As discussions are very fluid, and the room full of people were eager to ask questions, and add to the conversation, I knew there was no way I was going to get to all the great things Amanda had to say, so she graciously allowed me to publish our interview in it’s entirety on my blog. Huge thanks to Amanda! She’s got some great insight here.
So without further ado, here’s Amanda Palmer, word for word, on Interacting With Her Fans. (My questions in bold, her answers follow.)
Amanda, I am aware of your use of twitter to correspond with your fans, organize impromptu fan meetups, announce secret performances, and host live auctions. How else have you used social networking tools and the online space to bring your fans into your world?
a huge part of what makes the social networking “work” is that i don’t use it strictly for promotion and business. i use it to connect and to peel my brain and emotional landscapes inside out in public during the touring process (and last month, during the recording process). if my followers are there in the room with me while i’m making a record, and they’re following by PMS days and pregnancy scares, they’re going to actually connect with me. this is not a style for everybody, but since i’m built to overshare, it works for me. you cannot create a formula for why your fans with emotionally relate to you (and therefore bring you income, when you do present them with product), but you can pretty much rest assured that if you’re open and honest, they will come. people crave honesty and authenticity, especially because they know that it’s not manufactuable in a board room of hip indie intenet marketing kids trying to pump up a band or an artist, even if all the kids in the board room just graduated art school and have the best of intentions. it has to come from the artist, to the fan. nobody can do it FOR the artist.
How has interacting directly with your fans in the online and realworld spaces impacted your career, and your personal life?
it’s made me feel incredible safe around my fans when i do tour, and increidbly well taken care of. i have no fears about hopping into a car with any of my twitter followers who volunteer to give me a lift to the airport, even though i have 400k twitter followers. maybe it’s a numbers game, and maybe my number will be up, but since i personally read all of my blog comments and monitor my twitter feed, i KNOW what these people are like, and they KNOW why i’m like. and we love and want to help each other. it’s a trust i revel in. i wrote a blog a little while ago about a ninja gig (ie a flash-twitter gig) i did on the beach in CA and i realized after a while of signing that i’d left my ukulele case with my phone and wallet wide open 50 feet away (people had been tossing tips in it). and that’s how much i trust my fans instinctively. i know they’re all watching out for me, for each other. funny story: some drunk fans stole that same uke case from my london dressing room after a late show one night. i twittered it’s loss and these kids actually twittered my assistant, and came to the address where i was hanging out and hand-delivered it, covered in shame. they got hugged by me and commended for their bravery. this is how it works.
and sometimes i need to turn off. and i do.
Was there a time in your career as a musician when you interacted with your fans less than you do now? If so, what made you change your habits?
no, there never was. back when we had a fledgling website and email list in 2000, we still signed after every single show and collected every fan’s email and send regular, personal, mailings.
and i was always blogging – that’s turned into an art of it’s own. i realised early on that music is never the end-goal for me. the human connection is. music is simply a tool.
so, funny enough, while everything out there is thinking that blogging and twittering is a tool to bring people to your music, i sometimes think my music is a tool to bring people to my blog and twitter.
for realz. with a z.
Do you ever feel as if your personal privacy is being invaded, or that you’ve given up some of that privacy in exchange for a closer relationship with your fans?
i think it’s a choice. and of course my personal privacy gets invaded. when i’m sitting in a restaurant and people come up asking for autographs, i could look at it as an invasion or i could look at it as a blessing.
i choose the latter. that said, i don’t have to contend with the level of fame that the madonnas and lady gagas of the world have to contend with, and i don’t think i’d want to. i enjoy sitting in cafes far too much.
i think having to hide in public sounds like a nightmare. so i’m in a very sweet spot: i’m invaded just about as much as i can handle and still enjoy.
there’s also the guilt factor of not being able to acknowledge and respond to everybody. invariably people feel left out and not heard and ignored. that’s just a painful part of this that never goes away.
Do you have any boundaries with how or what you share with your fans online? Why/Why not?
oh, hell yes. i have to be very careful to keep my sharing very amanda-specific. i do not share details of others lives and i try very hard to not ever speak for or represent other people,
or invade anybody else’s privacy and boundaries. this means i leave a lot of things out. i’m a filter. i think the amount of people listening to me puts me in a position of power, and it’s easily abused.
i try very carefully not to abuse it. neil gaiman, on the other hand, just goes around crashing people’s websites left and right with no regard (that’s supposed to be a joke. laugh.). it’s called a #neilwebfail,
and it happens every few days.
Have you ever thought about disengaging from the social networks, in the way Trent Reznor did in the middle of 2009? Why?
when i feel my brain being eaten by the incessant noise, i do unplug. i unplugged completely for a week a few months ago. it balances me out. but i plug back in.
disengaging from the social networking would be like walking out on a relationship. i’ve come to rely on my fans so much for what i create and how it’s possible, that
if i walked away i would expect that a lot of my infrastructure would fall apart. if i toured in london next month, i’d be just another band calling up a promotor and relying
on radio ads and a poster campaign to promote my show, with no personal input and contact from me. and when i got to that show, i’d feel disconnected.
the other night, i played to a bar of 300 people in christchurch, new zealand. almost NOBODY tours down there and they were really grateful i;d come. i was twittering to them all day
about this and that and the other thing and i mentioned that my record engineer from australia had insisted i try a PEANUT SLAB candy bar, since his family manufactures them.
so tons of people brought peanut slabs and i twittered back and forth, spy-style, with one really enthusiastic fan right before the show and we secretly rendez-vous’ed near a fence outside the
club and she wordlessly handed me the candy bar. it was hilarious. and it made her life. (and the peanut slab was delicious). i love being able to do shit like that.
What is your opinion on the recent CNET news article that is reporting musicians are starting to refuse to “tweet”, much to the chagrin of their labels?
it’s a choice, dude. it’s not for everybody. you can’t MAKE a musician, or a person, do anything if they’re not inclined.
and if those musicians DO tweet under threat, do you think their fans will feel a real connection with them? hell no, because they’ll sense how inauthentic the intention is. people are not stupid.
Do you feel that the days of maintaining any mystique or mystery around your personality/persona are over?
those days were over when i hit the second grade and started showing everybody my underwear.
Conversely, do you feel it’s possible to have a successful career as a musician without engaging in online/realworld interaction with fans?
yes. it’s totally possible. for every me there’s a pj harvey, nick drake and an elliott smith who doesn’t want to be the life of the party.
and the beautiful thing about THAT is that their fans, those who truly love their work and want to spread it, can now carry their music much farther the artist could themselves.
i don’t think artist or musicians should feel compelled to share anything they don’t fucking want to.
it’s not in the contract that when you decide to make art you have to share your process or your life with people.
but you CAN, and people since the dawn of time have been fascinated by artistic lives and processes – so do with that what you will.
Are there separate rules for interacting for major superstar artists, and undiscovered artists? If so, what do you think they are?
i don’t think there are ANY rules. but certainly, john mayer is going to get way more shit for saying something off-color in an interview than your average unsigned lead signer in brooklyn is, right?
superstars are under a different microscope, and because of mass hysteria they have to protect themselves far more. that;s just life.
and finanically, different things make sense for different levels.
i tell all the bands i meet you ask me WHAT TO DO to do this: collect every email. at the end of the day, reaching people by email is the most important.
myspace and twitter and facebook may come and go, but being able to directly talk to your fans over email is key.
Is there anything else you would like to say on this topic?
FUCKING FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER, SEND ME YOUR EMAIL AND PLEASE CHECK OUT MY NEW RECORD BY THE SEMI-FICTIONALLY CONJOINED SISTERS EVELYN AND EVELYN, IT:S FANTASTIC.