Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Worst Exploitation of Innocent Musicians I Have Seen To Date

Make sure to read the comments on this post, so you can truly understand the kind of outrage this woman in generating among musicians. I sincerely hope that either no musicians show up at her concerts (where she is offering them a opportunity to play back-up for her for free), nobody shows up to witness the concerts, and the people who donated the million dollars to Kickstarter sue to get their money back.


Anonymous said...

"Exploitation" is a funny word, when "voluntary" is joined to it as an adjective. 25,000 fans for Amanda Palmer, whether one likes it or not, means more people go to support her than supported a bankrupt Syracuse Symphony and its unfunded pensions scheme, one example among many failing "art" institutions. Given that 25,000 donated money to Palmer, this is demonstrably democratic, voluntary and rather successful in terms of sheer numbers, whether or not we find it tasteful. (I do not.) But I've been asked hundreds of times to perform for free for a variety of "good causes" through my career, and each of those causes sought not to pay either. This is just of the same cloth, and the comments on the site tell little ultimately because I wager there will be players in every city who will be joining them. The end game of a dying Western civilization and its classical arts is at hand, brought to us by ourselves. We complain about the "rich" when in fact it has been only the "rich" who have funded most arts organizations over time. Where did all that foundation money come from originally? Even Julliard was a rich merchant. Go to the Chicago Symphony site and click "Support." They are looking for corporate sponsors and rich sponsors alike. If you give $100K, you too can be a member of the CSO Music Director's Circle. So classical arts seeks big bucks. Amanda Palmer managed a million which comes to about $40 per person on average from rather tasteless appeals to a counterculture class. She may be tasteless, but her supporters cannot to be said to be "exploited" if they donate or play for free, any more than I have been voluntarily "exploited" by performing free concerts over my years. Isn't it odd how the word "exploitation" has become diluted, from workers in sweat shops a century ago to people who today might play somewhere voluntarily? Then I guess I've been exploited too. Oh well. Meanwhile Palmer is getting lots of free publicity. It's PT Barnum time.

Elaine Fine said...

You make some good points, Anonymous. Perhaps "exploitation" is not the best word to use for this kind of thing. And those merchants (or rather their wives) like Juilliard, Mannes, and Curtis were acting in the spirit of true philanthropy. They wanted America, a country that had given them so much material wealth, to have its own home-grown musicians.

When I lived in a little Austrian town back in the 1980s and marched, piccolo in hand, in the town band for funerals of townspeople who had served in WWII (!), I joking called that "freiwillige pflcht," because the school where I taught was partially supported by the war-veterans association. I guess I couldn't call that exploitation either.

Anyway, playing for free when someone else is making money from the deal, and all you get is some "merch," some beer (I should mention that we were paid in "Bier Marks" after Stadtkapelle rehearsals), and a high five, is something that sticks with you for a long time, and it makes you feel lousy. So is being hired to play for a party (where you are placed next to the Henry Moore sculpture), and never seeing any payment from the well-heeled hosts. I still wonder if the people who hired us didn't tell us that it was a fundraising event because they never intended to pay us. I was very young. Perhaps around the age of Amanda Palmer's target group of musicians.

I always have contracts when I play gigs now, and rarely play for free anymore (aside from recitals, projects that I consider to be for community service, or concerts where my participation helps raise money for a good cause). Giving a gift out of the kindness of your heart is not exploitation. Being expected to give one because you are attending an event is.

Michael Leddy said...

I see nothing objectionable in giving money to a person whose work you like, or in playing for free with a friend, for a cause, whatever the occasion. But when someone who is earning money from a performance invites other musicians to participate for nothing more than beer and merch, I see something objectionable. That someone will say “Yes” doesn’t make it right to have asked.

Volunteered exploitation goes on all the time. Teaching as an adjunct — making more than beer and merch, but maybe not much more — is one vivid example.