Amanda Palmer, one half of the group The Dresden Dolls and more recently Grand Theft Orchestra has caused a stir within the music community after she invited fans who could play certain string and horn instruments to join her and Grand Theft Orchestra on stage to perform. What started as a great opportunity for fans to play along with Amanda and company has turned into a vicious debate over the pay of these gigs. In the internet invitation to the fans, Amanda writes ““We will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make.”
While it seems this is a great opportunity that any artist that is also a fan of Amanda Palmer would find to be rewarding in its self, but unfortunately some musician Unions have called this an unprofessional move and have taken to Twitter and other social media sites to encourage musicians to denounce the lack of payment. Palmer has countered that as a working musician she too believes that musicians on a tour she be compensated for their work, however outside of the normal members of the bands it would be impossible to pay the extra musicians that come up every night in every city. I must propose that if this ridiculous concept of paying fans who are invited on stage to join the musicians were imposed, where would the line be drawn? Let’s take Green Day for example, in most of their shows they will invite a guitarist to come up and play one of their hits like “Longview”. Sometimes the fan on stage is taught how to play the song right on stage in that moment, so would they then also qualify to be compensated for their efforts? What really separates the fan that comes up and plays the one Green Day song and the fan that comes up and plays with Amanda Palmer & Grand Theft Orchestra for the one set in the fan’s hometown?
Palmer has since said that fans who join her on stage “fundamentally believe it’s worth their time and energy to show up at this gig.” With that in mind, doesn’t the fan/musician actually get paid by receiving publicity, experience and the memory of sharing the stage with an artist they truly enjoy? To be clear, I don’t believe anyone is advocating that all musicians shouldn’t get paid but what I am saying is that there are circumstances when it is appropriate to request a cash payment and there are incidents when it is not. In this case, as a musician myself I would find joining the stage with Grand Theft Orchestra to be very rewarding in itself and when you add to it merchandise, beer, and the opportunity to hang out with the band I would be ecstatic. What I would say to the individuals who feel this is not enough, is: move on. No one is forcing you and just like any other job or internship in any other industry there will be positions that aren’t personally rewarding for you.
If you are interested in catching Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, they are currently touring in support of their new album, “Theater is Evil”. The tour kicked off last Monday in Philadelphia and will be making its way around the country.
Here is her new video for “The Killing Type”