Amanda Palmer Releases Her Book. And You Should Buy It

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).

+How 10 Musicians Make Good Livings In Today’s Industry

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:

23 Responses

  1. FarePlay

    Okay, “people aren’t paying for music and that’s okay” and now your recommending buying a book about asking for money.

    When it comes to art and commerce, clearly we are living through one of the most confusing and dysfunctional times in our history.

    • Anonymous

      It is about how to make money in a world where nobody wants to buy your music.

      • Fixed

        It is about how to make money in a world where nobody has to pay for your music.

  2. Anonymous

    How many times does Paul need to delete your posts before you get the point?

  3. Andre

    I should buy the book? Such antiquated thinking!

    I’ll be taking her advice and asking for a free copy

  4. David

    Has anyone managed to watch her TED talk without either laughing or throwing up? Sometimes both at once, which is a serious health hazard.

    • GGG

      Yea…I really don’t disagree with her too often and I have no reason to dislike her, she just has that “everyone is special!” schtick that gets old pretty fast.

      And “You’re an artist when you say you are” is exactly the platitude that has gotten our culture overcrowded with delusional hacks haha. Not that I’d ever advocate for less art, just more self-awareness from untalented people.

  5. DNog

    “I see all people in music as the lowest level of scum on the earth, fascist mafia killing rapists as far as i can tell…”

    Hey moron, you’re on a music news site commenting on music industry related articles to a majority of people who were, are, or may want to be in the music industry. How hard is it for you not to realize what an idiot you sound like?

  6. Obie

    “The Idiot’s Guide to Debasing Yourself for Charity” by Amanda “tin can” Palmer.

  7. Minneapolis Musician

    You may be an artist when *you* say you are.

    Perhaps an untalented artist.

    Or maybe a very excellent artist.

    It depends.

    But not on what you say.

    But on what you do.

  8. David Nyro

    Great post, Ari, and will check out Amanda’s book! Thank you.

    Coincidentally, re-reading Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving,” which has much to say about asking and giving.

    As someone whose been a fundraiser in the nonprofit sector for the past ten years, I’ve learned a lot about the art of asking. Yes, we have to evolve from that image both the public and nonprofits/artists have: that we are beggars on the street corner with tin cups and we should apologize for asking people to help us. It’s not about “help.” It’s about empowering yourself with the good and true belief that what you offer has real and true value; that it’s actually a great opportunity to not only feel good and do good, but enrich one’s community – make it a better, healthier, vital place to live – and participate in something special outside of oneself. There are even real, proven health benefits! I tell people it’s a way to be “selfishly unselfish.”

    As Fromm says in his classic work: “Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power.” And there is a way to do it so you’re assured in your value, confident in your ask, yet vulnerable and open at the same time. Nothing is more human and attractive.

    Wondering if you’ve read a really powerful book called “Uncharitable,” by Dan Pallotta? I highly recommend. Covers some of this same territory, sounds like, and how paradigms need to shift. I think you’d enjoy it.
    As all us non-trolls enjoy your posts! I plan to get in touch soon for some marketing mentoring. Keep up the great work and don’t stop asking…or giving!

  9. AMB

    Nothing wrong with fans choosing to support artist… but as Saya Weissman says: “”Well, how did that person get all those followers?” The “how” is critical to the story, but it’s rarely mentioned. Amanda Palmer is a great example of this. She had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and so media outlets were saying, “Look at what you can do with Kickstarter!” and “Amanda Palmer is proof it works!” But nobody mentioned that her husband is one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, and that Amanda was the lead singer of the Dresden Dolls, which has a pretty large following. Those details got omitted from the story, and they’re very important because the Internet is great, if you’re rich, but if you’re like me and just a normal person, it’s a total crapshoot. Maybe you do get lucky. It’s entirely possible, but it’s highly unlikely.” from:

    The specifics of the financing are very important if she is to be used as a role model. For a start:

    How did she support herself financially at the private liberal arts college, Wesleyan whose tuition fees run at approx. $45000/pa? Student Loans?
    After leaving college (with student loans??) How did she support herself and her years of inter-continental, plane-flights etc., Europe and Australia “busking” travels financially as “The Eight Foot Bride”?
    How did she support herself financially during the early Dresden Dolls period?
    How important was the role of her former record company, Road Runner Records (Part of Warner Music Group) in her 7-year contract with them in helping to grow and establish a fan base?
    How important was her millionaire husband, Neil Gaiman and his associated connections?

    I can’t help but reflect on a tune such as Bobby Womack’s ; “Across 110th Street” (score was composed and conducted by J.J. Johnson)… heck these brothers should have just asked, eh? … If only they’d known…

    “I was the third brother of five
    Doing whatever I had to do to survive
    I’m not saying what I did was alright
    Trying to break out of the ghetto was a day to day fight
    Been down so long, getting up didn’t cross my mind
    I knew there was a better way of life and I was just trying to find
    You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure
    Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester”

    • Toni

      Please, every single point you bring up is addressed in her book. If y’all would just READ it, you would sound so much less like a bigoted ignoramus

      • Tom

        I do think these are important points. I’ve read the book and she does say that her parents generously paid for her to go to Wesleyan. So that means when she left she had no student debt and she had a degree from a prestigious university (whether she used it or not). Most people do not come from this financial background and so she started out in a privileged position, with resources and no debt. I do think there are important points in the book, she makes, and while she praises all the support she had along the way, my general feeling after reading the book is of a “rich kid”, whose family’s financial background and connections, allowed her to take risks, but it’s not something that everyone is in a position to do.

  10. Statistical

    It’s funny – I find that I read Ari’s headlines, skip the articles and just enjoy reading the commentary.

    I’ve followed Amanda Palmer for a while, saw the TED talk, followed her videos. I think it is rather silly that Ari is promoting purchasing a book when he thinks it’s “ok” that people won’t buy music anymore. It lacks any and all credibility for me, and if i didn’t know a bit about AP, I would have just skipped it. As it is, since I think her story is absolutely incredible, I checked it out. Doesn’t look worth buying to me.


  11. Anonymous

    As I keep being paid in “beer & hugs” thought I’d ask: Has it been made available for free on any of the torrent & file-locker sites?

    • JeffC

      IMHO she’s a grifter.
      Just my opinion, and I am entitled to it, whether you agree or not.

  12. Slayer

    WTF??? Palmer is a jackass, ex-dominatrix, grifter. She can’t sing or write a coherent sentence. Why would anyone take advice from this repulsive whacko????

  13. Today4u

    In order for me to buy this book, I’d first have to think the person (Palmer) was talented. She’s one of the least talented performers and yet has snowed enough followers in the world to hand her money and attention. Her Kickstarter has some HUGE donators which might have had something to do with her, I don’t know, Scientology and Multimillionaire husband… and his fans.

    Palmer is not what’s right with the business, she’s what’s wrong with it.