There are many DIY musicians currently making a living with their music. However, very few are actually talking about how they make it work. I’m one of them and discuss it extensively on Ari’s Take. And Amanda Palmer is another. I’m a little different than AP. Well, very different. I don’t have her fanbase, I have never been signed to a major label and I’ve never been a stripper (or Dominatrix).
But I’m a working DIY musician and have been making a middle class income (some years more, some years less) for the past 7 years (since I made my final triple tall, non-fat, with whip caramel macchiatto and handed in my green apron to my manager at the downtown Minneapolis Starbucks). And Amanda Palmer’s new book is something I needed today, 7 years ago, and (most likely) will need 7 years from now.
The Art of Asking, stems from her viral TED talk she gave in February of 2013 (which currently has over 9 million views). In the book she discusses the new asking economy of the music industry. She explains how it’s actually OK for musicians (and really, any creative person) to ask for help. And people like giving. It makes them feel good.
“Everybody struggles with asking for fear of being vulnerable” – Amanda Palmer in The Art of Asking
Palmer discusses early on in the book how she cringed at watching her friends’ Kickstarter videos where they sheepishly and apologetically ask their fans to back their projects. She says “I wanted to tell my friends that it was not only unnecessary to act shame ridden and apologetic. It was counterproductive.”
She explains, though, that “everybody struggles with asking. It isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyzes us, it’s what lies beneath. The fear of being vulnerable. The fear of rejection. The fear of looking needy or weak… It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.”
Palmer spent years as a street performer, a living statue, on Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. She dressed up as a bride, face painted white, and stood perfectly still until someone dropped a dollar in her hat. She would then come to life and hand that person a flower. She explains how she started to truly understand human connection during her time as The Bride. And she said that feeling gratitude was a skill she honed on the street: “It was essential to feel thankful for the few who stopped to watch or listen instead of wasting energy on resenting the majority who passed me by.”
“Asking in it of itself is the fundamental building block of any relationship”
Amanda Palmer also spent time as a stripper and recalls her stripper friend Dita Von Teese. She says, “her colleagues, bleach blonde dancers with fake tans, Brazilian wax jobs and neon bikinis, would strip bare naked for an audience of 50 guys in the club and [get] tipped a dollar from each guy. Dita would take the stage wearing satin gloves, a corset and a tutu and do a sultry strip tease down to her underwear – confounding the club. 49 guys would ignore her. One would tip her $50. That man, Dita said, was her audience.”
Every DIY musician can learn a valuable lesson from this story. Don’t try to please everyone. Do your thing. Find your audience.
She professes that asking can be applied to the business world just as much as the art world. Palmer illuminates what everyone fears most: The Fraud Police. The Fraud Police, she explains, are “the imaginary, terrifying force of ‘real’ grownups who you believe at some subconscious level are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night saying ‘we’ve been watching you and we have evidence that you have no idea what you’re doing… you are guilty of making shit up as you go along. You do not actually deserve your job and we are taking everything away and we are telling everybody.” It’s a hilarious (and frightening) image. But oh so true for, well, everyone.
“In both the arts and business world the difference between amateurs and the professionals is simple. The professionals know they’re winging it. The amateurs pretend they’re not.”
I’m about two hours into the audiobook. I’m currently on tour on the East coast and have been listening to this during the beautiful drive through the New England Autumn. On multiple occasions I’ve audibly screamed “YES!” or literally laughed out loud. Palmer is a great storyteller. A great writer. And an inspirational figure to artists everywhere.
“When you’re an artist nobody ever hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand and feel stupid doing it.”
The main takeaway (well for the first 2 hours of the 9 more I have to go), is don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Don’t shy away from human connection. Embrace what makes you unique. And don’t worry if you feel insignificant or unworthy. Everyone has felt that at some point no matter what the profession.
I highly encourage every artist (and business professional) to get this book. The audiobook version is fun because Palmer reads it and it’s intercut with music by her, The Dresden Dolls (her former band) and Ben Folds.
“There’s no correct path to becoming a ‘real’ artist. You might think you’ll gain legitimacy by going to college, getting published, getting signed to a record label. But it’s all bullshit. It’s all in your head. You’re an artist when you say you are.”
Buy the book: http://amandapalmer.net