dear musicians, industry & everybody: THIS is what a kickstarter house party looks like.
i have a few blogs coming at you, soon – about the kickstarter tarot, about jeremy geidt (who died earlier this week), and about a few other things. this one’s important for now, now, now though…and fitting, being that i’m about to fly to a kickstarter house party in virginia.
i want to tell you all something important about these house parties, and what i think they mean.
i could have blogged ’em one by one, but i’m going to just dump the lot right here for now.
before i do though, i apologize…long time, no blog. sorry. typical tour-fail…typical life-work-weirdnesses. i’m so busy doing shit, i lose energy to do reportage on my own existence. as usual, my little pea-brain has been rampant on tumblr and twitter and instagram, mostly because my little pea-brain is perfectly capable of working in 30-second chunks. sitting down for an hour and collecting the photos for a blog like this makes my little pea-brain whimper like a kicked puppy and hide in a corner, preferably with a nice glass of wine. (excuse the mixed vegetable/animal/alcohol metaphor.)
BUT i think this is an important one. i’m about to go on a HUGE tour/round of house parties…today i hit ashburn (virginia), indianapolis, chicago, minneapolis, calgary (canada), and two parties in portland (oregon, not maine). and they just keep getting BETTER and BETTER and WEIRDER and HUMAN-ER as i roll along…probably partly due to the fact that everyone is looking at photos/people’s blogs/anecdotes from the previous parties…and trying to top the action. why not? what’s wrong with a little healthy house party competition? VOILA – i am throwing down the blog gauntlet. if you can top oslo, norway, YOU WIN THE EARTH.
but for real:
i’ve been asked a million times about my kickstarter. praised for it, criticized for it, the whole nine. i mean, you’ve been watching.
tech and music journalists ask me all sorts of questions about it…and i’ve mentioned this thing i’m about to discuss many times, but it usually gets lost in the noise.
i think the biggest story, regarding “the new music industry” (whatever that is) isn’t where people think it is.
it isn’t in the fact that the kickstarter made $1.2 million dollars.
it isn’t the musician kerfuffle.
it isn’t in the fact that 25 thousand people supported a crowd-funding project, although that’s wonderful.
and the amazing story of the kickstarter isn’t QUITE that 34 people bought $5,000 house parties, although that’s newsworthy…the truly amazing story is that behind those 34 backers, there were another few thousand people all trusting each other IMMENSELY.
let me explain this, and some of the math….because i think it’s fucking remarkable, and really important for the music industry (and the world) to understand.
the “house party” backer package cost $5,000. the package came with the vinyl/CD, the downloads, a copy of the heavy-duty art book and so forth. (if you want a reminder of what the kickstarter looked like, the page is still frozen, HERE, with all the packages).
there were rules: the parties had to be non-commercial and limited to around 50 people – that way no sheisty asshole would buy my evening for $5,000, book a nightclub, fill it with people, and make a profit (we have a name for that: it’s called “promoting a rock show”…and i have a booking agent for that). i also stated that we could refuse any buyer for any reason (for instance, i really didn’t want to show up at a National Rifle Association benefit party, or have to travel to a dangerous spot…though knowing me, there’s probably nowhere i would have said no to if they wanted me, because i’m me). if you’re curious, the list of guidelines is still online HERE.
when the kickstarter launched on april 30th last year, i immediately saw twitter people from cities all over the world shouting that they’d love to band together with others to buy the package. but they couldn’t find each other easily. so we proactively directed ALL THAT traffic to the forum, tweeting that people should go there. anyone could start a thread, and the game was on…cities started to band together and the packages were snapped up quickly as people organized. lots of people started facebook groups. one or two people would take the initiative, and others would join in. someone would offer their house. someone would offer to collect the money. someone would offer to run the guestlist. it was truly astonishing. all in all, only about 2 or 3 of the parties were purchased outright by single individuals who could afford to throw down $5k for a party and invite their friends…the other 30+ were all group efforts, each totaling around 50 people per party.
i’ve delivered about half of the parties (all over europe and america for the past year) and there’s a recurring story. as i ride in cars with the primary backers, a lot of them talk about the scary but thrilling leap of faith they took to commit $5,000 of their own money…the kickstarter clock was ticking that month and the parties were disappearing rapidly. they talk about the leap of faith it took to trust 49 people they’d never met, trusting them to pay their $100 (or so) share, but how easy that leap of faith was. likewise, the 49 people responding on facebook or the forum had to trust that this ONE person organizing the party wasn’t a dick that was going to take their money and run off to mexico (or worse, throw a bad party or act like an asshole in one of a thousand ways). and as far as i’ve been able to gather (and maybe people can throw down some anecdotal stories in the comments below), nobody screwed anybody else.
if you do the math, that means that about 1,500 strangers trusted each other with a lot of money (i may get paid $5k to show up at someone’s house nowadays, but i was a barista and a street performer for years….$100 is a lot of money, period).
so….why did they trust each other? i find myself chewing on this question constantly.
maybe because this fanbase is still small and cult-y enough.
maybe because i preach brotherhood and the gospel of street performing and busking and blah blah blah love each other.
but i actually think it’s bigger than that. and i think it’s not just about me, and it’s not just about this fanbase.
i basically said this in my TED talk, but i think people, in general, LIKE TRUSTING EACH OTHER.
and i think MOST PEOPLE AREN’T ASSHOLES.
you just have to give them a chance to step up, and they will.
one of the problems i kept running into on a major label was that all the execs in the office looked at “the consumer” as “THE ENEMY”.
when i talked to them ebulliently about ways our amazing fanbase could be helpful and integrated into what we were doing, they scoffed and said
“talk to the street team department. they can mail your fans posters and flyers to hang.”
and i would say
“sure, that’s great, we will….but our fans are generally really smart and talented people and can be way more helpful than just hanging posters.
they make art. they throw parties. they write. they sing. they’re a community. they’re like us.”
and i’d get this blank stare.
they didn’t understand how having a smart, artistic, motivated fanbase could transmorph directly into record sales, which was their only interest.
so they ignored us.
i think they looked at the fanbase of HUMAN BEINGS as an inherent bother.
they didn’t WANT to have a relationship. they just wanted people to pay their $18.99 for a CD and get the fuck out please.
this is what i’ve learned from the house parties:
groups of people – fans – are powerful because people love doing shit together. doing shit together is more FUN.
and especially now in the days of the isolating internet, doing REAL SHIT TOGETHER IN REAL PLACES is even more fun, and rare, and important.
when was the last time you went to a huge rock show and felt like you were actually in a room of friends? like you could talk to any stranger because that was the common protocol?
if you’re a deadhead, shut up, i know. for the rest of you, i’m interested in the answer. because that’s what you SHOULD feel. it doesn’t happen automatically.
i envy my friends from the 60s. they tell me tales of woodstock, of a whole generation sewn together by music and weed and a common enemy – the draft and The Man.
our generation – the kids born in the 70s and teenagers in the 80s and 90s – were lost in that department. no revolution was afoot but we desperately wanted one. in our own little corners and musical niches, we rallied, but we all felt separated from one another.
something is changing and growing, and the internet is making it possible. people are slowly waking up from the haze of a controlling mass media, they are waking up from the resigned belief that mass-produced corporate culture is a given. teenagers nowadays still desperately want the eternal paradox of ultimate rebellion and total belonging, but the old rules are all cracking. collapsing. we’re watching it happen. the rules aren’t coming from above anymore, MTV no longer exists to break bands. you find out about music on peer-to-peer sites, youtube hole-ing in the middle of the night and people posting shit to facebook. you trust your friends.
there was something i didn’t realize until about the 8th house party. i had been pinballing back and forth between doing rock shows with the grand theft orchestra (in venues of anywhere from 500 to 2,500) and showing up in people’s living rooms. and these are obviously two totally different experiences: apples and oranges.
playing a sad ukulele song, sitting in a dark basement in a cuddling pile of 50 strangers who have all just drunkenly made fast friends is a fundamentally different experience from crowdsurfing over a group of 1,500 people and screaming into a microphone, straining over a drum set so loud you wonder if you’re ever going to hear again. apples and oranges. one is small, beautiful, touching and intimate and one is loud, epic, anonymous, maximally communal and bombastic. BUT. there was one thing i hadn’t really realized i hated about rock shows until i went back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth like an old school coke and pepsi taste test. (remember those? i’m dating myself again).
what i realized was this: at a standard rock show, even a small one that only fits 150 people, there are a WHOLE BUNCH OF PEOPLE AT THE PART WHO DON’T NECESSARILY WANT TO BE THERE. it’s not their fault. they’re working there. it’s their job to clean to bar, pour the drinks, do the security, take the tickets. it’s all necessary. and i always appreciate those people and the work they do. and on some indirect, cosmic, level, i’m sure they sort of appreciate the work i do even if they don’t like my band, because me and the other 257 bands that grace their venue stage every year TECHNICALLY mean they have a JOB.
on an average night, when you tour, you run into people at the venue who don’t know about, have never heard, and probably won’t ever care about your music and your band. i’m not saying this to be whiny. but there IS something that happens to you inside, as an artist. it ensaddens you. you burst forth and emote and perform, and you psychically ignore that there’s a line of security people with their arms crossed standing right in front of you. because you have to. but in a ideal world, would i have those people there? FUCK NO. i want to be in a room where everybody wants to be there. that’s just something fundamental.
when brian and i started playing shows as the dresden dolls in 2001-2002, it was often in people’s houses, in living rooms, in lofts, at parties. granted: not all the people there were our fans. but there was definitely a feeling of community and curiosity that wasn’t replicable in a nightclub. i can actually look back, from this particular perspective, and realize that one of the things i hated about “touring” so much in the early days (and brian used to give me a lot of grief about it in the early days, i was very feet-draggy about getting in the van and touring regionally) wasn’t so much that i didn’t like the traveling and the playing every night in different venues…it was more the fact that i all of a sudden had to encounter so much ambivalent energy. i wasn’t used to that. i was used to showing up at a friend’s gallery and co-ordinating with people who were generally happy to see me. arriving at CLUB X in CITY X and getting my spirit crushed by traipsing into the venue and waving and enthusiastic hello, only to be grunted at by the asshole bar manager who was clearly irritated by our band’s presence just wasn’t….FUN. and every band relates to this. i think we just take for granted that dealing with a lot of ambivalent people is part of the grind.
so honestly, i hadn’t noticed until i went on these house party tours and realized how much i’d gotten used to that grind…and how refreshing, how inspiring, how REAL it feels to be in a roomful of people who all absolutely want to be there….because nobody’s working a job they hate.
and when nobody’s working a job they hate, it starts to feel like art instead of business, and it starts to feel closer to why i got into this mess in the first place. it’s hanging out, it’s people, it’s pure connection where you feel like anything could happen. really anything. that’s the spirit of actual fucking rock and roll.
my punk friends who play in basements will all be nodding their heads in agreement: this is old fucking news. but honestly: how many of you have been to a house party with a band lately? a basement party? a party where the rules came from within the audience, not from without? if you haven’t…welcome to the future of music. because with the internet, these sorts of shows are going to become more and more common, and a good thing too, because they’re AWESOME.
i know it doesn’t scale.
i know you can’t have house parties of 5,000 people. i know that security exists for a reason, as do fire exits, noise limits, venue curfews and all the other rules that go along with playing standard shows. but sometimes you don’t even know how those things are making you feel hemmed in until you experience something different.
here are some pictures. lots of ’em from lots of places.
there were about 50 people in a beautiful plumstead area garden, all hosted by the wonderful mike and sue.
like i said, these house parties are always organized differently; this one was a huge group collaboration between julia, who kicked it off by fronting the money, sue and mike offering their house, and alex jumping up and helping to organize people. it’s a deeply amazing community we have, i always feel so fucking proud of everybody. i told the crowd that drawing on me was “like, so last year” so i suggested everybody else draw on each other for a change.
i talked to a girl who had gotten special permission to come to the party, because she was currently living in a hospital due to various problems, including an eating disorder.
she was really skinny, and beautiful. i told her about a letter i’d gotten from another fan recently, about how people are allowed to publicly tell skinny girls to eat, but not allowed to tell overweight people to diet and how fucked it made her feel. we talked about food. there was food everywhere. i won’t even start on the food, it was insaaaaaane. sue had cooked for DAYS. it provided an interesting landscape.
then an insanely talented girl named bethea beadman plugged in her haunting electric guitar and killed us with 2-3 songs that sounded like a cross between cat power, nick drake and scott walker. incredible girl, look her up. i’m not sure who invited her to perform, probably sue and mike, who seemed to be full time house party patrons (word had it that they were also going to host a bitter ruin party sometime soon), but whatever the case, it was PERFECT.
then i played requests for about an hour, including a constant rebuff for the request of “sexual healing”.
before the night was over, sxip shirey showed up as a surprise with the tap dancer from the limbo circus show and we did a bunch of (by then, drunken) covers of the stray cats, eurythmics, the beatles, and MARVIN GAYE.
miraculously, the tap dancer knew “sexual healing” and played it. everybody rejoiced.
we finished up the night by covering jason webley’s drinking song, and a celebratory (read: drunk) girl toppled over and split her upper lip open. we got her to the emergency room. she’s okay, though……just…ow. here we are before she went to the hospital.
all in all? a perfect party. some blood.
i grabbed a ride home from a stranger who was no longer a stranger since i met her at the party….(beck pigney, @bexpigs on twitter) and we talked about her career as a recovering art student. she had the cure’s “faith” on her ipod and she was therefore my hero. i got back to my crashpad at judith’s in camden exhausted only to be confronted with THIS, from brazil, on twitter:
i was already all raw, and i actually started weeping.
i can’t describe how happy and wonderful something like this makes me feel.
then i went to bed and slept for a long time.
i could tell as long a story about all the other parties….but it would take a book. here’s just a couple highlights, and even then, this blog is fucking long and meaty.
house (technically the FIRST portland house party was particularly memorable because i showed up so wasted. not drunk, just…actually wasted.)
it was a week after the boston bombing poem kerfuffle, and i was staying with jason up in seattle.
i woke up at jason’s, went to work at a cafe with the aim of leaving around 2 pm for the 3 hour drive to portland for the 7 pm house party. and upon arrival at the seattle coffee shop, i found out i’d gotten a death threat. i didn’t take it too seriously, i mean, how could i. it was crazy people. but it shook me and made me really, really sad. i went to a local used CD store and bought a collection of used john lennon, cure and madonna CDs to keep me company in my 3 hour rental car drive. the drive took 7 fucking hours. there was traffic so bad i spent a few hours going at a 3-mile-an-hour crawl. john lennon sang to me. i cried a little. i texted the party and assured them i was on my way and sorry sorry sorry. they assured me they were drinking and TOTALLY FINE.
i finally showed up at the party at around 9. everyone had already gotten friendly and i walked across the lawn towards the house from where i parked my car, wiping the grubby tears off my face.
the party was organized by monica sellers and hosted by susan tooker, who was a beautiful soul…i slept over that night and talked with her all the next morning about how she’s left her career in theater making to craft things for etsy. she made me some deer horns. i still cannot wait to show you. they are insane.
i saw the whole group of people and announced: “i’m here. i’m sorry. i’ve had a really, really terrible day. i’m so glad i’m here. i’m sorry. i…need you.” or something incoherent like that. and that night was just fucking magical. we were friends before anything else had a chance to happen. and i thought: this is what i need. these people are what i need. this is where i need to be. they took care of me. it was the opposite of what i imagine hollywood celebrity being…instead of running from them, instead of needing to be protected from them, my fans provided a kind of a family haven. a real one.
it was me that suggested we do songs in the dark basement. this was before the lights went out…
and here’s me bastardizing a NIN song with the misheard “head like a hole/cat got your soul” lyrics of my teenage-hood.
(YES!! my friend john told me about this and it made me very happy)
PLEASE NOBODY TELL TRENT REZNOR. i’ve ruined his song for all these people forever….
….and it was me the suggested we play a game of “werewolf” (otherwise known as a hybrid of “mafia”).
lucky for us there were two experts in the house, and the game went off like a frog in a sock.
the house party in
hosted by the marvelous alicia gauthier…in her place outside the city. i was in a really strange space that night too – tired and still high from the red rocks party the night before.
we had a fabulous time…..
here are a few beautiful shots from
(btw, TONS of other graffiti shots can be found HERE)
this was the amazing house party on
the hostess, zoë, had grown up on this island with her parents, on this VINEYARD they created, started as their passion project in the 1970s.
they gave us a beautiful tour.
jason came with me. i definitely drank a lot of wine, and fish was roasted, and fresh sushi concocted…..
it was one of the most beautiful nights i’ve ever had.
then there was
i don’t even know where to start.
the host was marius…and this is him, posing with a photograph of me holding a sketch i randomly once did of him when i was in a sketchy mood one day THREE YEARS AGO on twitter.
so many levels
the party was in the middle of nowhere, about a 45 minute drive from oslo.
i got there early and there were only about a dozen people. we started to talk and drink and we decided….
that it would be a really good idea if the norwegians gave me a language and culture lesson.
so they did. an easel was procured, and they tried to teach me to speak their language. the results were….disastrous…
as many fights broke out regarding dialect.
i took a vine of all the norwegians making NOISES….
and showing me their tattoos…
…..then we decided to have a norwegian geography and culture lesson:
all 50 people had to show where they came from and tell me something about their town…and we mostly learned about the drug and crime patterns of norway.
a girl named maia jern opened up for me spontaneously since she told me she was a singer-songwriter. i loaned her my ukulele, and she sang a song she’d written called “amanda palmer’s tits”, which is actually A POLITICAL SONG. she wrote a blog about the night HERE (and there’s a link to hear/download the song on there, too)
OH, ALSO ALSO….on a related note, i delivered the first of two $10,000 backer packages,
THE INFAMOUS “ART SITTING” BUNDLE: WASHINGTON, DC
two people bought them, and while the offer/idea was to either paint a portrait of the backer or let them paint a portrait of me (their choice), i assumed the delivery would get creative. i called chanie over the phone about a month before i was scheduled to spend a whole afternoon and night with her, and we chatted about what we might do but didn’t nail it down. i told her to go buy some art supplies and we’d play it by ear. two days before i was set to go to DC to meet her, i got an idea. neil and i had been in a restaurant the night before, and decided to draw on their paper tablecloths. we ended up collaborating on a really surreal landscape of a moon playing the piano while a hot-air balloon with a crab in it floated by.
i called chanie the next day and asked
“you’ve got a little kid, right? how old are they?”
“three”, she said, “and…i’m expecting.”
“eek! congratulations. so here was my idea….neil is coming along, so how about we paint a mural for your kid?”
“that’d be great, but he already HAS a mural. will you paint one for the unborn baby? it’s a girl.”
the stars were glow in the dark 🙂
AND…a vine of our work:
goodbyes for now
and there’s been more – SO much more that i haven’t shared here. but this is a start you’ll hopefully get the picture from.
a final note, on that:
one thing that saddens me is that some of the parties are getting short blog shrift because of the timing in my life or the fact that i wasn’t in a particularly photo-takey mood that night – and if you’re coming to any of the upcoming parties, i beg of you…if you TAKE photos, share them on the shadowbox and send the good ones to firstname.lastname@example.org within 12-24hourish if possible…that way, they’ll get to me and hayley and sean and then we can SEE and also SHARE. and also…it’s not a bad idea at all to designate someone an “official house party photographer.” just saying.
to all the moments not collected here, you were there. and it happened. i fucking love you all so, so so so so so so much.
until the next installment……
p.s. some random random
– the “dear daily mail” song (downloadable HERE and watchable HERE) has gone astonishingly viral and has over 1,000,000 combined hits on the various youtube uploads. holy fuck again.
and even better, it’s spawned some really great discussion and journalism online – which was the point. here’s a great article about women/politics/nudity in the independent and here’s a great round-up (including the daily mail song and the excellent everyday sexism) of new feminism in the UK guardian. (can i get a fuck yes we are the media? where discussion online begins, various press outlets will follow. keep making noise.)
– if you’re in EUROPE (hamburg, copenhagen, cologne, brussels, berlin, warsaw, krakow, milan, budapest, munich, or vienna) or DOWN UNDER (wellington, auckland, perth, brisbane, sydney, melbourne, or adelaide), i’m going back out on tour with the whole band in september. GET TICKETS NOW. some cities are nearly sold out.
– (expect a big blog about this soon, but for now…) we tried really hard to get the tarot project off the ground about 5-6 years ago, but actual fan/art/Kickstarter power finally made it possible. and it was funded in LESS THAN A DAY. fuck yeah, thank you. you – and it – are amazing. beautiful. go see: http://kck.st/AFPtarot