Making a Living Through Pay-as-You-Wish

(Photo: Megan Westerby)

A TED talk by musician Amanda Palmer explores the concept of pay-as-you-wish funding for artists and performers:  

Right at this same time, I’m signing and hugging after a gig, and a guy comes up to me and hands me a $10 bill, and he says, “I’m sorry, I burned your CD from a friend.” “But I read your blog, I know you hate your label. I just want you to have this money.”

And this starts happening all the time. I become the hat after my own gigs, but I have to physically stand there and take the help from people, and unlike the guy in the opening band, I’ve actually had a lot of practice standing there. Thank you.

And this is the moment I decide I’m just going to give away my music for free online whenever possible, so it’s like Metallica over here, Napster, bad; Amanda Palmer over here, and I’m going to encourage torrenting, downloading, sharing, but I’m going to ask for help, because I saw it work on the street. So I fought my way off my label and for my next project with my new band, the Grand Theft Orchestra, I turned to crowdfunding, and I fell into those thousands of connections that I’d made, and I asked my crowd to catch me. And the goal was 100,000 dollars. My fans backed me at nearly 1.2 million, which was the biggest music crowdfunding project to date.

And here‘s a rundown on other performers who’ve explored the pay-as-you-wish strategy.  

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  1. Colin McDougall says:

    This phenomenon traces back to a british band called Marillion and is featured in a great book called ‘Next: The Future Just Happened’ by Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball & Liars Poker).

    Still love her presentation though – so dynamic in her delivery.


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  2. Minty Pourres says:

    Saw AP on a panel and then perform @ SX this week. She was a meanspirited, talentless, completely self-obsessed crack. Belittled the moderator to start the panel (when have you ever seen that?), later played a eukelalie (sp?) in an awful “aren’t i being ironic and therefore cool?” Performance. She wasn’t and she wasn’t.

    Freak, you guys need to vet better b/f you post. Love your stuff, but my impression is that she crowd funded b/c she’s not capable of doing business deals w/ people she actually has to have a civil relationship with…

    That said, love the disintermediating nature of crowd funding, particularly in exploitive industries such as music. Just wished you’d had a better example than this clown..

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  3. Suzanne Lainson says:

    Why is this suggested for entertainers, but not for other industries as well? Let artists give away their art and in return let them get free food, health care, housing, etc.

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    • Felix says:

      Who determines which artists are worthy of free stuff?

      Who determines artist ranking — or are they all equally worthy?

      Prices and markets are amazing things. It really sucks when people try to substitute for them.

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      • Suzanne Lainson says:

        Well, Palmer says, “Let people pay.” You give people your stuff for free and then “let people pay.” If this approach is good for artists, shouldn’t it also work for doctors, landlords, the phone company, and so on? And keep in mind Palmer wasn’t just talking about digital. She was talking about street performances, crashing at people’s houses, etc. So if people admire her for her approach, why aren’t we encouraging people in other industries to do it too?

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      • RJ says:

        It doesn’t seem to me this is about markets. There’s essentially zero marginal demand for a new musician so a musician starts out pricing their work close to zero. As a musician attracts a following, demand becomes greater than zero.

        In the case of recordings, which have a marginal cost close to zero, the musician can continue to use the pay-what-you-wish model. But concerts (like other services) and physical goods don’t have a zero marginal cost. So if a performer or promoter is confident that the expected perceived marginal value to an audience member exceeds perceived marginal cost, and that perceived value exceeds the value of other ways the audience member might use his or her time, one can continue to employ this model.

        I think few people find taking this risk worth the additional return compared to establishing a price for the tickets or goods.

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  4. RJ says:

    Seems more and more like we’re returning to the days of minstrels

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  5. Daniel says:

    Best response:

    “Wealthy musician Amanda Palmer, who last year raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to produce and release a record, recently used a TED talk to expand on the idea that artists should be willing to work for free. After relaying a story about how she used to be a street performer, Palmer, who is married to a very successful author named Neil Gaiman, told an audience of people who’d paid $7,500 apiece to be there that musicians shouldn’t “make” people pay for their work, but rather “let” people pay for their work. She also explained that she found it virtuous when a family of undocumented immigrants huddled together on their couch for a night so that she and her band could have their beds, because her music and presence was a fair exchange for the family’s comfort. After about 13 minutes of explaining why she is content with people giving her things, Palmer received a standing ovation.”

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    • tung bo says:

      This helps provide another factor for her choice.
      If one is married to Neil Gaiman, one does NOT have to worry about making money off one’s music to pay the rent or put food on the table. Many visual artists already follow this model – have a father/mother/spouse who can provide steady income while one pursue one’s painting, performance arts, etc.

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  6. Troy says:

    For a while though fans have been using other avenues than CD sales, such as merchandise, to fund their favourite artists. So this is kind of an extension of that practice.

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  7. jesse says:

    She really believes in the pay as you wish model for her backup band when she decides to have outside people volunteer for free.

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  8. Phil says:

    The “Pay-as-You-Wish” model is already used in many other industries in the form of optional gratuities. For small purchases and in combination with a social norm, this is a viable pricing model.

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