Community and Compensation: The Palmer Controversy

It’s been a strange year for Amanda Palmer: record-setting highs that shook that music industry and trend-revealing lows. In one of her most recent interviews, she was seemingly disappointed at all of the bad press surrounding Steve Albini’s criticism of her… somewhat atypical to hear a musician so bummed out in the same month that her new well-received album was released.

For those of you who don’t know, Amanda Palmer (former Dresden Doll) broke crowdfunding records when she raised $1.2M on Kickstarter for her new album Theater is Evil from her very vocal and engaged online supporters. Later, when planning the tour she asked fans (via her blog) to back her up on stage when she took the show on the road. Steve Albini accused Palmer of taking advantage of young musicians after she had been so above-and-beyond successful, stating that artists should be fairly compensated for their work and that Palmer should know that.

It’s a tough subject. And even as a Palmer fan, I have to say that Albini raises some points that anyone might raise about cloud labor: Is this fair compensation? Is this really all that a company or musical personality can afford to pay someone? Is it inevitable that someone is getting taken advantage of when using cloud-sourced labor?

I believe, yes, these are risks. But I don’t consider it inevitable and I think that there’s something else to be considered here. Crowd engagement works best when it is not about a task or a single idea or mission, but is, instead, about community. That’s why it’s so important in the IdeaScale communities that we support that the conversations are rich, that the dialogues show lots of back and forth, that we are concerned with engagement before we are concerned with stats around the number of ideas. Communities start truly solving problems when it is collective and collaborative. That’s what makes us excited.

Perhaps Palmer could afford to pay her musicians and should (and now will), but that wasn’t the point when my guitarist brother volunteered to back her up on her tour. He would have played for free (and still would), because he’s glad to be a part of Palmer’s vocal and engaged community of fans, has always felt engaged by Palmer in her shows, follows her closely on Twitter and her blog and wants to find new ways to connect. My brother feels that the community is its own reward and, I suspect, he isn’t alone in this.

It’s hard to measure the value of something like that, it’s hard to call a community fair compensation and I still believe that one should err on the side of monetary remuneration for services. But Palmer’s done a great job of building a loyal and proud following – she is in dialogue with them every day, several times a day. Part of the reward for that commitment is a community that cares. Which is a tough nut to crack – a lot of companies and organizations spend meeting upon meeting in strategy sessions not being able to figure out how to make people feel a PART of something. Palmer has done that. A grateful community is the result.

What do you think about the Palmer conflict? What did you think of her new album?

2 Responses to “Community and Compensation: The Palmer Controversy”

  1. jessicaday603

    This response from Amanda Palmer offers a glimpse of the community connection she is offering to her backers:

  2. Innovation Excellence | 50 Creative Rewards (with tips) to Incentivize Innovation

    […] community. Maybe it’s being part of an inner circle or access to an exclusive. This is more often true in celebrity or fan-based engagement. But even in the office, the CEO or founders have their own […]


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