(First run on Alterati, 2007).
Conversation With Amanda Palmer
My first experience with the Dresden Dolls was live. I saw a show several years back, I think it was in Poughkeepsie NY- somewhere in the Hudson valley. When I went in there I was kind of dragged there by some friends. They said “you have to see these guys play!” I was dubious, simply because my understanding was that it was a piano player and a drummer… and how the hell would that be engaging live?
What I got was one of the most intense live shows I’ve seen. It was a perfect mixture of emotion, theater, and musical skill. Everyone worked up a sweat, and I don’t think there was a head in the house that left without a mild buzz.
James Curcio: How did the songwriting and your live show develop? Was it an organic serendipitous process?
Amanda Palmer: My songwriting actually developed in a vacuum. I started writing songs when I was 12 but they were barely heard by anybody until I was in my mid-twenties. On the contrary, Brian started playing in clubs when he was 16. We had very different musical upbringings. The live show was something that just happened, it was never planned. We’re both born performers, and we egg each other on. All of our heroes are passionate live performers. It’s just in the blood to want to bleed on stage, I guess.
JC: Your live performance involves a cabaret aesthetic, and in your shows you’ve encouraged fans to kind of put themselves on display. Now with /POST-WAR TRADE/ you’ve brought that into teh internets. What brought you to this idea, and What do you hope to see?
AP: I’m hoping to put some of our merchandising into the hands of our community instead of using random factories to make our products. It’s still an experiment and we’re not sure exactly what the parameters of the project are, but the bottom line is that we will offer for creative merchandise made by more creative people. It’s been an idea of mine for years, I just never had the time and the help the realize it. Katie Kay, who’s already work the hats of performer and tour manager with band, is finally taking up the reigns and making the company Go. I treasure her, she’s a creative force to be reckoned with.
JC: Yeah, it always takes a lot of terrific people behind the scenes to make these things happen. It seems that despite the RIAA’s outcry about downloading hurting artists, many artists, especially the independents, are learning to benefit from new ways to build fan-bases and survive as a band… either without a label, or through smaller labels that are a bit more tuned into how the Internet is effecting how we share and experience music.
AP: Even some formerly major label acts (Radiohead, NIN), are weening themselves off the needle.
JC: So, a few questions here. How would you suggest independent bands go about building a fan-base? Do you still think they should follow the “play out at small gigs” “send demo to label” “get record deal” model?
AP: This is what we did, and it worked. Amanda’s recipe for band success, short and simple: First, make sure your music is good, and that at least some people might like it. This is key.
Ok. Next, start playing locally and make sure your shows are amazing. Play a lot. Play your friend’s parties. Play every gig you are offered. Sleep little. Collect emails from every person you meet and add them to your mailing list. Send out local press releases. Get noticed.
Don’t assume some magic person is going to “discover you”. They won’t. Then start touring locally. Make friends with like-minded bands and performers. Borrow money. Make a cheap demo. Put it immediately everywhere you can. For free. Ask your friend with the mini-DV camera to make a video for your band. For free. Make it awesome. Post that too. Press a thousand copies of your demo and video and give them away for free. Tour some more. Plaster posters all over town. Promote through email and web pages and word of mouth. Play more events and parties. Still don’t sleep. If you have spent at least 3 sleepless years doing this and people still aren’t interested in coming to your shows, it’s possible that your music sucks and you should think about hanging it up. If more and more people are coming to your shows, it’s time to start calling booking agents, managers, music lawyers and other assorted helpers to get you farther and wider. At that point you will have been around the business so long you’ll know whether a label deal will hurt or help. And plus it’ll be 2010 and things will have changed.
One thing to keep in mind: it does not get drastically easier when you get all this help. I think many bands believe that their labels and such are really going to take the weigh off of their shoulders and i assure you that it’s rarely the case. Art and business are strange bedfellows. If I could go back in time and rid myself of one delusion as a young upstart, it was that if I only worked hard enough, toured long enough and made beautiful enough music that some magic entity would swoop in and do all the work for me. It doesn’t go that way for anyone, if you look closely. You’ll have help, but at the end of the day nobody will ever really run the show but you.