'Before I saw your talk, I always thought of street performers as beggars. But now I see them as artists, so I always give them money.'
Reading things like this broke and burst my heart at the same time, and pierced the core of the very issue I was trying to grapple with in the talk itself. If the mentality was so easily shifted, how could this be taken from the street to the Internet, where so many artists I knew were struggling to accept the legitimacy of their own calls for help?
This is what prompted Amanda Palmer to release her music album through crowd funding in Kick Starter. In her book, The Art of Asking Amanda shares the essence of crowdfunding and several misconceptions and difficulties associated with it.
According to Amanda, crowdfunding can make artists more grateful for feeling that they have a voice that is heard by the patrons. At the same time, the patrons also, feel that they are included in the process.
At its core, crowdfunding is about finding our people, our listeners, our readers, and making art for them. It's not about making art for the masses or the critics but, for our ever-widening circle of friends.
The marketplace is messy; it’s loud and filled with disease and pickpockets and naysayers and critics. For almost any artist, carrying your work through the stalls of exchange can be painful. But there is another option, which is to yell from your window. You can call down to your potential friends outside, your comrades in art and metaphor and dot-connecting, and invite them to a private party in your garret. This is the essence of crowdfunding.
One of the biggest misconceptions associated with crowdfunding is mistaking asking for begging. Amanda differentiates the both as follows:
Asking is an act of intimacy and trust. Begging is a function of fear, desperation, or weakness. Those who must beg demand our help; those who ask have faith in our capacity for love and in our desire to share with one another. On the street or on the Internet, this is what makes authentically engaging an audience, from one human being to another, such an integral part of asking. Honest communication engenders mutual respect, and that mutual respect makes askers out of beggars."
If asking is a collaboration, begging is a less-connected demand: Begging can’t provide value to the giver; by definition, it offers no exchange. Asking is like courtship; begging, you are already naked and panting.
Another popular misconception is mistaking crowdfunding for charity. Crowdfunding is a business model based on the currency of asking and trusting. Patrons do not donate. Instead, they purchase, in advance, the actual things that artists had to create and deliver.
For crowdfunding to work effectively, artists must put in a lot of work in terms of making and sharing their art for years to lay down a fertile ground for them to step up at a later point and ask for help. Amanda uses the analogy of Chinese farmers to explain this point.
In China, bamboo farmers have planted baby bamboo shoots deep into the ground. And then, for three years, nothing happens. But the farmers will work, diligently watering the shoot, spreading hay and manure, waiting patiently, even though nothing is sprouting up. They simply have faith. And then, one day, the bamboo will shoot up and grow up to thirty feet in a month. It just blasts into the sky. Any small, sustainable artist-fan community works like this.
This is a critical step in an artist's career because most of the audience's misunderstanding stem from missing this point. If people haven't been seeing you farm and just see the fruits of your labor, they may think how lucky you are and it happened by magic.
But I’ve never heard of her…how can people want to give her that much money? What a lucky bitch. This is why some lesser-known people have had such real success with crowdfunding—they’ve fertilized over time, and diligently—and some better-known people who appear to have massive reach haven’t done well at all. Fame doesn’t buy trust. Only connection does that.
Even though Amanda's kick starter campaign became hugely successful, the journey wasn't without any hiccups and humiliations. She had to deal with critics calling her shameless for asking money and self-promoting. She thinks such reaction from critics will only add to the real fear of many artists - to share their work with the world.
People were calling me “shameless,” but I decided to take that as an unintended compliment. Wasn’t shame…bad? Like fear? I mean, nobody uses “fearless” as an insult. Art and commerce have never, ever been easy bedfellows. The problems inherent in mashing together artistic expression and money don’t go away, they just change form. With every connection you make online, there’s more potential for criticism. For every new bridge you build with your community, there’s a new set of trolls who squat underneath it. The risk is the core cost of human connection.
All that said, if our art touches a single heart, strikes a single nerve, we can see people quietly heading our way and knocking on our door. Amanda explains that being shame-ridden and apologetic will only make us counterproductive. Shame can pollute an environment of asking and giving that thrives on trust and openness. Working artists and their supporters are two essential parts in a complex ecosystem.
I was hoping I could give them some sort of cosmic, universal permission to stop over-apologizing, stop fretting, stop justifying, and for god’s sake…just ASK.
Crowdfunding is a democratic tool and anyone from mega pop stars to an unknown garage band with no fanbase has the right to use it.
It’s a 180-degree turn from the eighties and nineties, when most exchanges with big musicians were entirely indirect, and involved—at least in my case—getting on your dirt bike, cycling to the mall, walking into the record store, and exchanging your $9.99 for a physical album, which was rung up for you by an indifferent clerk who had absolutely nothing to do with the artist who created the music.
Lastly, my most favorite part of Amanda's description of crowdfunding is the way she connected it to the grand scheme of things.
The very existence of crowdfunding has presented us all with a deeper set of underlying questions: How do we ask each other for help? When can we ask? Who’s allowed to ask?
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