Tag Archives: Amanda Palmer


Can you define a musician? Then, presuming you can, can you define a successful one? Many technologists bemoan the “old” music business because they didn’t “get” new technologies. Yet those same people largely don’t “get” that those we define as a successful musician has also changed.

What fired me up about this was last week’s blog post on The Trichordist entitled, “If the Internet is working for Musicians, Why aren’t more Musicians Working Professionally?” They trotted out well-used established facts such as:

* Only 228 out of 105,000 albums sold over 10,000 units in 2008 (or 2%)
* The number of albums released went down 22% from 2009 to 2010
* 99.9% of Tunecore artists make under minimum wage

I agree with these facts. However, they presume a successful musician is predicated on albums and selling said albums. If I follow on that logic, then I’d also like to declare the internet is dying because dial up access has decreased significantly in recent years. Naturally, the internet is not dying. The reality just scares many because not only is music thriving, but it’s largely thriving in the world of the uncool, unhip, and whose talent is not found in a traditional “critical” sense.

First, let’s set a benchmark for success of recorded music. If we’re to say that 10,000 albums is the bar of success, then one can say that someone needs to gross around $100,000 in sales (10,000 units x $10 album price). So, are there more than 228 artists grossing over $100,000 in recorded music revenue? Plenty. Who are they?

Several artists are foregoing releasing albums when their singles are selling so well. Even bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers have announced releasing only singles. When they release 18 songs as singles instead of on one album, that’s just one more sign of the album’s decline. But that’s not the decline of the music business. And the Chili Peppers are not alone.

Whole labels are set up around the new music business. Kontor in Europe has over 1 BILLION YouTube streams from dance singles. That’s a lot of revenue before digital or physical sales. They do release some full length albums and compilations. But the bulk of the business is in singles that aren’t counted in that top level album roundup. It’s not just the dance community, and it’s not just Europe.

I’ve previously written about unsigned artist Alex Day getting UK chart hits. Some people in comments criticized that he built a following thru non-music entertaining videos. So then we should discount Disney stars who were actors before they sang a note? Should Jana Kramer’s foray into Country Music not count because she had previously been on a TV show? Let’s not double standard someone just because they’re on YouTube. They made music. It made money. Get over it.

Have you gotten annoyed with all these singers racking up millions of views doing covers on YouTube? Well, you’ve just written off a whole class of musicians. Many of them are making six figures a year. Some solely off of YouTube revenues. Should we not count these folks as artists? Then we should erase the many Pat Boone covers from the charts of the fifties. Or all the covers on the Beatles’ first few albums. Performing covers should not disqualify you from being counted in the music business.

What, just because you make funny music, you shouldn’t count? There was a time when a comedian named Vaughan Meader had the best selling album of the year. The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles won a Grammy (which is comedy AND covers). “Weird Al” Yankovic has routinely had best selling albums. Just because you’re not serious doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be TAKEN seriously. And many of these parody artists are selling lots of singles AND earning lots of YouTube revenue.

Awww…those precocious young kids who can rap Nicki Minaj and end up on Ellen. How cute. How novelty. Also, how rich. Not “buy a mansion” rich. But certainly “gross $100k” rich. Just because they’re not of legal age yet doesn’t mean we shouldn’t count them. They sing. They make money. They count.

Dirty secret of the business. They used to sell a shit-ton of kids music. And they counted in overall yearly roundups. But with that business drying up, they no longer count. Where has it gone? YouTube. I should know because I played endless videos for my daughter when she was a toddler. Have you watched Gummibar? That’s making a lot of money. Someone has even turned public domain kids songs into a business with Super Simple Songs. If we used to count them years ago, we should still count them now.

By the way, this is before we even talk about musicians who are making great strides outside the system WITH great music like Amanda Palmer and Zoe Keating. In my opinion, saying there’s a decline in musicians is cultural elitism. It’s still alive and well, just not in the form a true “passionate music fan” would like to see it in. The music business is alive and well in many splinter forms that don’t involve radio or labels. But they also don’t involve what a traditional music career might be. I’m OK with this. Are you?

FYI…here’s a list of 40 artists who are clearly doing very well in music just from YouTube revenue who don’t have a record company behind them. They’re not traditional, but that shouldn’t take away their success. I know there are many more, but these are ones that are at the top of the pyramid.

Alex Day
Alex Goot
Austin Mahone
Bart Baker
Christina Grimmie
Connie Talbot
Dave Days
David Choi
David MeShow
DJ Earworm
Emmanuel & Phillip Hudson
The Gregory Brothers
Julia Nunes
Julian Smith
Keenan Cahill
The Key Of Awesome
Kina Grannis
Kurt Hugo Schneider
Lindsey Stirling
Maddi Jane
Matty B
Megan Nicole
Mia Rose
Mike Tompkins
Mystery Guitar Man
Nice Peter
Nick Pitera
The Piano Guys
Rebecca Black
Singing Trio
Sophia Grace
Sungha Jung
Super Simple Songs
Tay Zonday
Tyler Ward
Vasquez Sounds


Many areas of music are shifting in the digital age. What’s interesting is that a lot of the changes have been used for years in the classical world. Some of the brightest ideas that purveyors of pop music are trying are pretty similar to what is done with regularity in the often forgotten world of composers and symphonies. Here are five of the signs that if the trend keeps going, you might be wearing tuxedos and gowns to your next rock concert:

1) Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign has 10,000+ fans shelling out $50 on average for her new material. As of this writing, 418 people have shelled out $300 or more. For the most part, those 418 people are driving the majority of the successful funding. Nearly every classical venue relies on wealthy patrons shelling out similar dollars to keep the concerts going. Amanda’s success will only inspire more artists to venture into benefactors…ahem, excuse me…fan funding.

2) OK Go and EMI no longer see eye to eye. The band leaves the label and gets their first video funded by State Farm Insurance. While corporate sponsors and bands are nothing new (nor is product placement in videos), this was the first time such a relationship was used to fund a band’s venture into the indie world. The fact that an indie act could get such sponsorship is akin to independent concert halls around the country who get the same. Classical organizations can be big groups in their own right, but they’re not all owned by one company. These indie venues rely on corporations to fund specific events as well.

3) Maxwell announced a few weeks ago that he would be performing his classic albums in full at some upcoming concerts. This may not seem notable, but I can’t recall an Urban artist jumping on this trend. Now that the “play the album” trend has spread outside of rock, it’s worth noting that this is not new in classical. If you go to a symphonic concert, you know which works will be playing before you arrive. It wasn’t long ago that you didn’t know what a band would play when you saw them, though you presumed they’d play “the hits”. Now you know a major part of the program before you buy your ticket. Just like they do at the symphony.

4) Many articles in recent months have talked about vinyl’s resurgence. One of the reasons most cited is the sonic quality that vinyl offers but MP3s do not. Caring about the sound of the music is a hallmark of the classical listener. While there have been periods of pop music’s sound quality being a concern, it hasn’t seem as pronounced as it is now. Typically, the young pop fan never really cared. Now they care about it. Throw in the quality of Beats headphones and the audiophile discussions rank up there with those who appreciate a good Mahler.

5) Jack White has been at the forefront of the vinyl movement. But taking it a step further, he offers singles for sale on his website in two series: the Blue Series of artists traveling thru Nashville and the Green Series of non-music related items. Deciding which series to support feels very similar to the packages of concerts one would purchase for the classical season. Do we go symphonic? Chamber? Bundling like-minded items from one organization under one umbrella spurs awareness and sales. Something that has been successful for classical organizations for years.


This morning, my friend Scott Perry put up a post talking about how much money is out there these days. Instagram sold for 1 Billion dollars. The Avengers made over $200 million in a weekend. Amanda Palmer raised over $500,000 in about a week. Deeper in his post, however, is the truth.

While these projects may have made a lot of money, they had years of making no money to get there. Instagram had no revenues for several years before getting purchased. The Avengers was a comic book 50 years ago and was set up with many years of Super Hero movies with varying degrees of success. Amanda Palmer has been pushing hard for nearly a decade to activate an audience of 10,000 people to respond in this manner.

This new climate is producing a new kind of artist: the Marathon Musician.

The artist that will persevere is the one that’s willing to stick it out thru every sort of hardship to get to a career. That career may have a huge hit. That huge hit may never spawn another. However, the quick fix hit is something that every artist has to accept is unlikely.

Data abounds showing that most artists need to be a Marathon Musician to succeed. Around 2005, the music critic world was salivating over acts like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand and how they would change the musical landscape. Each of those acts put out 3 albums and have had several years since they’ve released anything. They’re still active, but since the buzz has died down they need to run a marathon to continue to win.

The hip cognoscenti have proclaimed many musicians over the last decade to be the “next great thing”. One Marathon Musician who was able to avoid being a flash in the pan: Jack White. Jack ran a marathon, albeit one on his own terms. The end result for him became creative control, a diversity of artistic endeavors, and finally receiving a #1 album last week after a decade of slogging away. This from a guy that most people on the street would vaguely remember is the one that made the “dum da dum dum da dahhh dum” sports anthem in their arena. While the other mentioned musicians have released 3 albums since 2005, Jack has released 3 White Stripes records, 2 Raconteurs records, 2 Dead Weather records, a solo album, and produced countless singles.

My new label, DigSin, hasn’t scored a runaway hit yet. However, I expected to run the label like a Marathon Musician. I’m working with artists that want to work hard long term and I hopefully will give them the support to do so.

An artist I publish, Jenn Bostic, is reaching some milestones this week. She crossed 500,000 views on her YouTube channel, with a second video, “Snowstorm” crossing the 100,000 view mark. She’s sold over 10,000 downloads and is embarking on an East Coast tour with another one of my artists, Connie Lim. She didn’t achieve this overnight. I first met Jenn 2 ½ years ago. She is a Marathon Musician. Knowing what she’s got next gives me confident she’ll keep going the distance.

The success of the music business is chiseling away day after day for tiny successes that bring you a step forward. Most people can’t handle it. Those with the drive and work ethic will get to the top 10% just by the desire to persevere. Being a Marathon Musician isn’t easy. Few can do it. But those that can will cross the finish line with more pride and success than anyone else.

Are you a Marathon Musician?


For the last few days, I’ve seen my social networks light up with people talking about Amanda Palmer’s record breaking Kickstarter campaign. First, she raised $200,000. Then $300,000. Then $400,000. As of this writing (on the morning of Friday, May 4th), she’s about to pass $500,000. Over 8,000 people have supported her to the tune of $57.43 spent per person. When I look into how she did this just from what I see publicly, I realized something amazing:

Amanda Palmer has pulled off the biggest music hack to date!

Now for those not familiar with my new book Hack Your Hit, this is a huge compliment. To me, a hack is a way to work the system in a positive way to circumvent road blocks and get to your desired goal. In this case, a hit story. To most people, the story is that Amanda raised half a million dollars for her new album without a record label. The truth is a veritable stew of ideas feeding off each other all focused in one place (Kickstarter). To break it down:

25% of the revenue to date is pre-selling a tour.

The first category to sell out was 25 acoustic “party” dates at people’s houses for $5,000 or more. That means that at least $125,000 of the campaign came from people paying for a show in advance. Amanda could have done just a tour pre-sell and her fans would have supported in the same manner. By adding it to a new album promotion, she was able to raise visibility. She would also likely have known that these would be in high demand from her fans and sell quickly. Since her “goal” was $100,000, all she needed to do was sell tour dates and she would exceed her goal. Which brings me to:

The campaign underplays her worth to appear more successful.

I don’t believe that $100,000 was ever her true goal. Amanda likely knew she’d do more than that in house party revenue. Her previous Kickstarter campaign also raised more than her current goal. But setting the goal low so you can exceed it is a very smart hack. The story becomes how much she raised in excess of what she expected. This leads to more awareness which leads to more pledges.

Multiple campaigns are bundled into one to appear larger.

Amanda’s pledge drive is now being billed as the most successful music campaign on Kickstarter ever. Which is true. But in actuality, this is three campaigns. It’s promoting a new record, an art book and a tour. Most people would say these are separate projects with separate promotions. Combining them gave her a higher visibility for the new record.

The majority of the revenue is not from the new record.

Amanda’s new album appears to be the strong selling point. It’s the first item in the description and she uses more all-caps descriptors than other items, such as “BIG, LEGIT”, “BEYOND EPIC” and “BAD-ASS”. But when you add up the sales (as of now) of people just buying a download, CD or vinyl, the revenue is approximately $132,000. That’s just over 25% or about what Amanda is making from the live shows. Certainly, the people buying the concerts, art books, and art shows get the CD too. But if they were getting it solely for the music, that’s all they’d buy.

I think Amanda is brilliant. To survive in the DIY world, you’ve got to stick out. To stick out, you need to hack. Amanda didn’t get to this place overnight. This successful hack is the result of years of hard work building a fan base. But it’s also years of building up knowledge of what works and synthesizing it into something that works on a very big level.

Hacks in music are smart, strategic marketing at their best. Amanda’s Kickstarter campaign does just that. It’s also a reminder that even people with big fan bases can’t just “release the record”. To the fans, she is delivering everything they want in a very impressive presentation. To musicians who look up to her, they should be recognizing the hacking strategies that truly made this a record-breaking success.