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Amanda Palmer’s Social Media Win Turns into PR Fail

Ever heard of Amanda Palmer? The social media expert and former leader of the “punk cabaret” act Dresden Dolls invoked the wrath of the Internet after performing what we believe to be something of a brilliant act: turning a social media win into a full-scale PR fail.

In short: After her band went on hiatus, Palmer became a solo artist—but she had a bit of trouble raising money for an album/tour in “this economy” (sing it, sister). So she did what all social media mavens do these days and went on Kickstarter to raise funds. She went so far as to call crowdsourcing “the future of music”, and her generous fans backed her up: Her initial fundraising goal was $100,000, and she ended up netting $1.2 million.

Here’s where things got tricky.

After celebrating her digital victory and recording her album, she got ready to tour and noticed that her touring band lacked string and horn players, so she advertised for local musicians to help her out at each stop. In her own words, these local artisans could “join us for a couple of tunes” and “basically…BE the opening ACT!”

The only problem with this proposal was that she did not intend to pay said musicians—unless you count beer, “merch” and high fives as payment. While some understood this arrangement and had no problem with it, others saw a hustle in action.

As criticism began to bubble up online, Palmer argued that the fact that these local players (who volunteered to join her) were “incredibly happy” to be onstage was payment enough. Her “opponents” then argued that this “They’re just happy to have a job” line of reasoning has been used, in various forms, to validate ethically debatable labor practices. It’s a little complicated.

Cue the inevitable outrage as music aficionados (and fellow professionals) called Palmer a hypocrite and various other names. These armchair critics took offense to her use of the classic “struggling musician” sympathy story as a fundraising gambit in light of the fact that she refused to support other struggling musicians.

The outrage was strong enough to convince Palmer to change her tune and agree to pay the horn-and-string volunteers, but there’s little doubt that the incident damaged her brand to some degree.

What do we think? Did Palmer deserve all the criticism she received, or should fellow musicians cut her some slack? Did everyone just overreact to this story?

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