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Pass That Hat Around... It's A Wonderful Feeling

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Somehow, there's a kind of fear that musicians shouldn't ask their fans for money -- that passing a hat around for fans to toss some cash into isn't part of the job of a musician. But I'm hoping that fear will simply fade over time as more and more bands start Kickstartering and using other kinds of crowdfunding. As a street performer, I'm just lucky. I've been conditioned to take people's cash and feel absolutely no shame about it.

When The Dresden Dolls needed about $20k to record our first album, I did a door-to-door version of Kickstarter... I asked my parents, four friends, an uncle and three rich fans to all kick into the pot. All I promised was that they'd get their money back, and the band was touring hard and doing fairly well at that point, so most people didn't feel like they were sinking their dough into a black hole. But I had to pick up the phone and make those calls. Kickstarter is fantastic because it simply makes that exchange (an age old exchange, at that) feel more "legitimate."

From the very beginning, I've always invited support bands (or theater troupes, or whatever the hell was performing before the band went on) and guest musicians to pass the hat. It's always worked -- but those musicians and actors have to literally walk around the crowd with a hat or container and sweep up the dough. It's not easy for everybody. I brought four Australian actors on tour with me for the "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" tour but couldn't afford to give them a salary, but I guaranteed them a hat-pass every night. We worked it into the show in a perfect moment, and I made a pitch from stage explaining that "the actors you've been watching on stage all night are not getting a salary, but depending on YOU. pay them what you think they're worth..." -- a general street-perfrmance pitch. Then the four of them would take giant boots through the crowd and collect bills and change.

Some nights they'd take over a few grand. Some nights it was atrocious. But the point was, the audience was generally game: nobody bitched and complained that they'd already paid to see the show. I once did this with a back-up band of mine, and some of the guys in the band literally refused to go into the crowd, they'd stay backstage while the braver band members went out and collected on their behalf. They just couldn't stomach it. I get it. It's not an easy thing to do, especially if you're not used to it. But I'll tell you, in a weird way, there's nothing as satisfying as someone paying you money directly for something you've just done. It feels so concrete. When I was working the street, I used to love the feeling of emptying out the cannister of one dollar bills at my feet and literally taking the wad into a restaurant and buying my dinner with them. That was it, my life. I'd worked. I'd been paid, and I was now enjoying my beer with that money. Grand feeling, I tell you. Musicians and artists are still plagued by the "mystique" factor.. that they're ARTISTS and not BUSINESS PEOPLE.... There's this assumption that if you're seen handling money, you're whoring, compromising. In fact, it's the opposite, and I think people are finally starting to understand that.

It's the artist who refuses to deal with the door guy and do the settlement in the back office and hops into the limo provided by the record label who's actually being compromised. That illusion is over, it's no longer sexy. So hopefully the shame factor associated with asking directly for money will just be chipped away as bands do more and more overt business-handling and crowfunding and the stigma will just die a nice, slow death.


initiated Oct 17, 2011 in Connecting with Fans by amanda palmer (510 points)   3 5 6
edited Oct 25, 2011 by Michael Ho

2 Responses

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The "fear of asking for money" seems like a pretty common phobia -- and it's not limited to musicians/artists. I'm not sure if this issue is really about fear or shame, but maybe about other people putting a concrete number of judgment on you (I'm only worth a $1 tip?). Maybe it's not about fear/shame, but ego?
response added Oct 25, 2011 by Michael Ho (2,370 points)   10 14 27
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Even better, If you do it right the people who've put money in the hat feel _better_ about themselves for having been part of something great, and getting to be patrons for a bit, instead of feeling taken for a ride. They get an extra sense of fulfillment with your show apart from just the music. That's value added to the show even if it's money subtracted from the audience.
response added Oct 31, 2011 by Kevin Clark (1,470 points)   4 8 14
@kevinefclark Interesting point -- and one that often isn't explored.  I've seen some musicians mock these kinds of things as "searching for another sucker."  But when I give money to artists, I benefit I get personally for supporting their art makes it totally worthwhile.
But not just musicians. I've worked sales jobs where my co-workers are afraid to ask for the sale. It's like the innate fear that most people have to ask for things. Though, once you get a good grasp that most people won't beat you up, asking for the sale is easier.

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