Stop trashing artists who disclose their finances


#1

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#2

This is one of the many reasons that Pomplamoose is one of my favorite bands. They were willing to assume all that risk on themselves to go on tour, and having “failed”, they seem pretty happy with how it went.

Edit: I just read a bunch of the comments on Medium and can’t believe the level of negativity! I doubt 10% of the negative comments are from someone who actually did their own indie tour! and even fewer who could report this level of success.


#3

“Full Financial Disclosure” Chris Burden, 1977


#4

As I said in the Amanda Palmer thread, some people really don’t like it when you disrupt their notions of authenticity and artistic purity. They don’t want to be reminded that the way popular music is made today is an industrialized process, like it or not. Just because music is mass produced, doesn’t have to strip it of meaning, however. Since music is inherently social, even recorded music has a social element to it. It helps to create imagined communities of like minded individuals, who want to share a context, with each other and the artist. Despite recorded music being a commodity, it can still and still often does, rise above that to be something greater.

And artists got to eat too. Them making money isn’t a bad thing, it’s good, because they can go out and make more art. The tragedy is that too many great musicians never get the chance to find their audience because of the way the system that produces popular music is stacked against them. Various sorts of alternatives to the major label system are either destroyed by the major label system, or just don’t have enough momentum to stay in business. But the ones that do have brought about a fair amount of good will and joy for their fans/customers/patrons/whatever. I kind of like how AFP puts it, that artists are in the service industry. They provide an important service of entertaining, and at their best drawing us together and enlightening us.


#5

I’m torn on this. I was a working musician for a few years and now work in a profession that is also under appreciated financially. When I was in a band, people always expected us to work for free, for ‘exposure’. Even when we were headlining venues with 300+ people, sold out at 12+ a ticket, we were supposed to play for ‘gas money’ for ‘exposure’, I have a good friend who is a talented photographer, who is asked to photograph friends weddings, graduations, parties, etc… for free for ‘exposure’. If I was a financially successful artist, I might resent people having an idea that I was making a living, because it just encourages more people to believe that artist should work for nothing.

Yes, most people get into the arts because they love whatever it is they do. But that doesn’t mean that people should expect them to do it for free, I’ve seen a lot of extremely talented individuals complete high-profile work and get paid peanuts, even if that. And after years and years of slinging lattes or washing dishes while they make great music and art for ‘exposure’, they eventually give up any attempts at commercialization of their work. They continue to do what they do, but as a hobby, and no one will ever see or hear it.

I’m curious to see what happens in 10 years or so, when the current generation gets to work creatively, who has been raised getting music, film, art etc for free, monetized by ads.


#6

Yeah, and I think this is exactly why we need to be having these conversations. I have friends who are working musicians, of the indie music variety. And recently, the local symphony orchestra went through yet another round of labor negotiations. It’s a struggle to be a working musician. That’s a fact that everyone understands, except that people still assume that “rock stars” on MTV are rich simply because they are on TV or on the radio.

The truth is that artists have few options for supporting themselves. It’s become a superstar, where the label fronts you money for projects - for who the artist functions as an independent contractor, which is fraught with all sorts of problems that have been discussed in depth all through the 70s, 80s, and 90s by all sorts of smart people. Or you can be on an indie label or have your own label, have a more egalitarian contract, and make a decent living, as long as you have a solid fan-base (of course, some indies function in the same exploitative manner as the majors, so its the few good indies that treat their musicians as equals or at least as the core reason they are there in the first place). Or we figure something else out, on a societial level, that rewards those necessary jobs in our culture, including working the arts or teaching, or other service types jobs that we constantly look down on.


#7

The problem with Palmer is she will do anything she can to make herself look like an underdog, all the while running a ruthless business – and doing well at this – but yet wanting to be considered ‘authentic’ or ‘indie’.

This is very disingenuous “Amanda, pay your volunteers! Jack, don’t pay your band!” – Amanda is running a business where she brings in a million dollars a year, profit. Only a jackass runs a for-profit corporation and then expects their customers to treat it as a not-for-profit. On the other hand, no one ever said “don’t pay your band”…as someone that was a hired gun for a number of years…pay us. However, people have said don’t pay yourself a salary if you are a business owner before you’ve paid your staff. As a hired gun / backing artist, I’ve never seen an unsigned artist that got the treatment that Pomplamoose got.

That said, mistakes are made on every tour. The first tour is almost always a failure because you don’t know what you are doing. First businesses are almost always a failure for most business owners as well for the same reason. Its one of the reasons tour managers exist. They don’t have to come on tour with you (unless they also double as stage manager…if you are big enough) and most do multiple bands at a time and take a small percentage. And they will set all this up and do the finances. And they will tell you all the stupid things you are doing that are going to cost money. A band is a business…run it like a business. We all make mistakes, however, these mistakes are either of a first tour nature, or you shouldn’t be in the business.

Back to Palmer, she likes to disclose only what needs to be disclosed to serve her story. Pomplamoose did the same and didn’t disclose they were co-owners of a multimillion dollar business on the side that helps artists that want to do things the non-traditional way to make up for bad tours. They have made a lot more money in the past, and sometimes a promotional tour is a promotional tour – one intended to lose money for the bigger picture. They did a promotional tour for their business.

That said, I like both artists. I just wish they’d change their narratives and be more honest.


#8

That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it…


#9

Is this always what she makes? Or just around her last album, with the kickstarter - something which she broke down where the money went to? Do you have citations for how much she makes - if she does’t publicize it, how do you know? And why do artists have to illustrate some sort of austerity, and live in poverty in order to be considered real artists? Would we ask that of other lines of work - “yo, you computer programmer, you need to publish your tax returns, so we know if you are pure enough to write some code”?

I’m confused about your problem with both of them, even if you’re a fan - is it that they don’t have the narrative that YOU think an indie artist SHOULD have to be considered “indie”? Maybe the problem is that terms like authentic or indie are already inherently problematic to begin with? Why hold “indie” artists to a higher standard and then punish them for “selling out”? Did these terms ever real mean anything to begin with?

And despite that, I’d argue that she still qualifies as an indie, because she operates outside of the major label system - lots of artists do that, though it is probably harder now than it used to be (or maybe easier, in some sense?). Is (or rather was, since Arista bought them out) Mute, Alternative Tentacles, K Records, or 4AD a less valuable because they probably make a profit? Shouldn’t we WANT them to make a profit because the artists on their roster are fucking awesome?

Last, what is the alternative to an indie label, or what Palmer/Pomplamoose (am I spelling that right, I’m not sure) is doing? What should we do to fund the art we like or love? Is the system broken and has it always been broken? What do we do about the long-standing tradition of exploitation of artists in the music industry, beginning with African American artists getting paid a few hundred dollars by white owned labels for cutting a few sides, to the modern day system of essentially taking the artists work away from them by owning the rights to their work?

BTW - I’m not saying this all to be snarky, but it’s just some questions that we need to think about to move forward on a real solution that allows artists to produce art within the capitalist system. I think everyone who cares about music should be in on this conversation and not be afraid to ask hard questions and challenge each other.

[edited for grammar]


#10

A big part of the problem there is that people don’t even try to put a value on the exposure they have to offer. Doing a job for free for a chance of doing it again for market price tends to be a crappy deal unless there is something really special about the exposure, either in terms of quality or quantity.


#11

I like both of these bands a lot, which is why this is all sorts of tough to read about.

Stopping at “disclose their finances” as the focus point for this discussion evades most of the meat of it I think. It’s all about the presentation.

Jack’s problem, is that he disclosed how much the band spent on what they considered to be a promotional tour, which people who tour for a living and need to make sound financial decisions because they don’t have a backup CEO job to go home to at night have to plan in a significantly different manner. Not only are plenty of bands dependent on that tour income to make a living, but they’re paying the salaries of a lot of other people and sure don’t have the ability to take a 10k hit.

Amanda’s the same way, in that she hauled in a lot of money and the proceeded to explain many poor decisions that should have been run by someone else before spending the entirety on all the things that many people with a lot of experience would have been able to turn into a profitable scenario.

Bragging about not making money because you don’t have to, because you’re fine at the end of the day so who cares, is not really a great thesis for a post on the internet. It doesn’t have a good narrative. There are a lot of musicians out there doing it differently that have a lot to say. There are a lot of people who maybe wanted to take their band out on the road, that now will decide that being a small time band is a useless idea and you’ve just killed some people’s dreams.

It’s not so much the finances, but the disclosure in this case. The half-transparency. Look over here! Don’t look behind the other curtain, just look behind the one I raised! Neither did any of these disclosures expecting people to be quiet, after all you don’t make things on the internet if you don’t expect discussion. I just don’t think anyone got solid advice from anyone on how poorly thought out these posts were, and how negatively people would react to their decisions that many people seem to think are bad.

Sometimes, artists just need to make art.


#12

We could have VIAs like the Soviets did… Seriously, though, some of these State-funded groups weren’t too bad, and they weren’t just singing about over-fulfilling the Five Year Plan or something. Still, of course, the bands couldn’t really criticize the government, and some genres like punk were frowned upon by the authorities…


#13

So what should they have done?

Charged more for tickets? Done a shorter tour? Hired less supporting musicians?

How would that help their fans, or the musicians they employed on their tour?


#14

As a programmer, I’ve had a number of people who wanted me to provide free services on occasion. Fair enough. Some I say yes, some I say no.

But some were apologetic about asking for something I could never charge for (15 minutes at most), others couldn’t understand that they were asking for well over $100K in services.

In the end, I realize that, outside of their profession, people usually have no idea what is reasonable to ask. It’s even worse for those in the arts, where people often think you must be making millions or starving, sometimes in the same paragraph :-).

I find it easiest to assume that people mean no harm when they ask for unreasonable things, and just gently turn them down. Getting angry doesn’t really improve things.

Edit: This was in response to thirldworldtaxi’s comment about being asked for a service for “exposure”.

Mandatory XKCD comic: http://xkcd.com/1279/


#15

I’m not really advocating for that (but I suspect you know that! )… it’s not an either/or issue. I think there is plenty of options we could work through, but I think we really need to get out of the mind set that all musicians are somehow just in it for the art, and that making music (or writing or painting, etc) is not “real” work. I’m not saying you are saying that, but that our society implies that by how it treats musicians. I think if there is something we can take away from the history of communism in the 20th century, it is that they acknowledged the reality of art as work.

I think this is a messy set of questions with no easy answer, but I suspect the first step is understanding that people who make art work to make that art. It’s a part of the capitalist system to hide the work behind any commodity, not just art. I think we need to work from there in order to deal with this question of art and work. It’s clear that we love the creative arts and as a species, we’ve decided its something we want, no matter where we are in a society. But in an industrialized society, we need to be honest about what that means.


#16

Er, the million dollars she crowdsourced was very much not profit. If you’re saying she also manages to bring in an additional million dollars a year as profit, citation very much required.


#17

You don’t have to got all the way to communist Russia. You can just look at the New Deal era in the USA and the Federal Art/Theater/Music/Writers Projects.


#18

When it comes to the arts the real issue is the pay differential between the Celebrity / Stars and the jobbing actor. We criticise the unrestrained exponential increase in wage difference in business, between the CEO and the cleaner, and exactly the same thing has happened in the arts, which we accept as given. e.g. There might be (there is) a family with a few sisters, all actresses. One a star commanding Millions per movie the others, like most jobbing actors just getting by. The Millions attract more Millions the getting by is getting harder.

Because they are good, decent sisters with nice parents the whole family benefits from the Millions, but it’s inevitably awkward. There could of course be a different way, which some countries (with socialist tendencies try to achieve through taxation). There is an upper limit of let’s say 1 Million which an artist would earn per annum. Because no one needs more than that–and mostly it will make you miserable anyway. Anything above a Million is put in a big pot e.g. For Musicians and redistributed among all those Musician spreading joy while being paid pittance–it’s a kind of living wage thing for artists.

Some successful artist stay humble and do a kind of private version of redistribution game support family or other struggling artist but that is ad hoc and doesn’t take the sting out of a system of paying for the arts which is skewed and messed up.


#19

There is of course also the demand side of the occasion i.e. understanding that art brings a “value” (joy?) to the “consumer” even if it’s not performed by Lang Lang. In a world that thinks in transactions and measures the value of everything and the price of nothing the arts will remain a lost cause.


#20

Was it exposure that Palmer was offering though? My understanding was it was for fans to jam on stage with her, not an offer of free work for jobbing musos - that’s an apples/oranges situation to me.
The fans are getting a value-added experience - on stage with their hero, Amanda gets their ticket money & the audience gets a jam (which may or may not be any good >.<)