happiness / inspiration / music

The Art of Asking: Amanda Palmer’s Rainbow Connection

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
C.S. Lewis


As per usual, Amanda Palmer has provided the world a peek into her insightful and beautiful point of view through her recent TED talk, which looks into the changing nature of business (particularly in the music industry) and the art of asking. As a society, asking is seen as a weak and demeaning action and something to be ashamed of. However, it should be seen as courageous and brave because it’s hard to ask for help. It’s even harder when you’re labelled as an artist because some people have this bizarre idea that artistry is not a real job. Some don’t seem to understand that the music they listen to on the radio, the clothes they wear, how they style their hair, the pictures they hang on their walls, every aspect of the celebrities they worship from afar, the car they drive, the house they live in and the new scientific and technological advancements that make their lives easier and healthier is developed by creative people in creative industries. Society is fashioned by artists of the highest order because they dare to cast aside the armour, to expose themselves, to move away from behind the desk and stand in the spotlight, unmasked, awaiting your love and connection and criticism.

A performer can be anyone from within any genre of life. Not just an entertainer, but as someone who entertains new ideas, cultivates them and then puts them on display. It may be a new business strategy, a new way of purifying DNA, a new teaching plan. Putting your idea, you’re personal creation, under scrutiny makes you a performer, a self-starter, a visionary, an architect of the future.

Performing is hard. As someone who’s been performing in one medium or another for most of my life I can tell you that it takes time and effort and talent and inspiration and money and anger and depression and happiness and stress and countless other words all at once. However, the most important aspects of performing are love and passion. Unconditional love. Undeniable passion. Without those two things, there is no point in creating anything – a statement which is true in all aspects of life.

The vulnerability of exposure, the uncovering of the very essence of an individual’s core, is frightening. Additionally, anyone seen to be taking a risk could be afflicted by the cursed Tall Poppy Syndrome and suddenly find themselves at the sharp end of someone’s opinion. This stunting of personal growth and culling of ingenuity is what slows our progression as individuals, as societies and as a race. We’re being held back by those who want sticker prices on everything, those who know that Tuesday night is always meatloaf night, those whose hand always needs to be held, those who want things to always stay the same. Predictability is safe. Predictability is also stagnant. It lacks contrast, variety and challenge which is devastating to adaptive creatures such as we. Safe can be a dirty word.

Perhaps it’s just a case of not being able to see from another person’s point of view. Having not experienced something as liberating as performing could cause misunderstanding, even fear of the 'Blues Busker' by MUTEnature of performance. Amanda spoke of those who would yell at her from passing cars, telling her to get a real job. Perhaps they should try doing her job for a day – for an hour – and see how they fare. Those who mock buskers or street performers should try to support themselves through a show or act of their own design, then keep performing even when people hurl abuse or discouragement at them. Keep performing even if no one stops to watch. Keep performing even when no one offers payment. Seeing from the eyes of another can be a tricky task, but it’s an endeavour worth pursuing. No one has to agree or believe or accept anything that is told to them or that they are exposed to. To just be open to it and understanding of it is enough to generate connection.

Performing is hard, but the performer-to-audience experience is worth the trials. The connection made with complete strangers boosts you up beyond the doom and gloom of naysayers. You made someone happy. You made someone think. You found the connection. That’s the reward. Despite my deviation into science I still seek the performer-to-audience connection (something I achieve through teaching university students and will hopefully achieve in the music arena once more) and it’s a buzz I feed off of. It’s a buzz that sustains every performer, artist or not. It’s never purely about the money.

Which is a good thing, because many people don’t want to pay big bucks for anything anymore; we’re always looking for the bargain, always searching for steal. I myself am guilty of this. Having only just finished university and currently saving for two overseas trips I’m still in poor student mode, looking to get by on the little I allow myself.

But I feel that this mentality is due to the fact that we’ve had a sticker price for almost everything for so long that any other system seems alien and scary. Unpredictable. Unsafe. But Amanda made a very relevant and important point about asking people and (more importantly) letting people pay what they feel the product deserves. Many artist sites have a ‘pay what you feel’ arrangement, often suggesting a price that they feel is fair. Additionally they sometimes have a donation option. I once listened to an album online for free. A few days later I went back bought it for the suggested price of $10 (or something equally ridiculous, considering the time and expertise and money they would have spent on writing and recording their music). At $1.50 per song, $10 is basically free.

After listening to it non-stop for a few weeks I decided that this was an album that struck a note with me (pun!), that this was a product that spoke to me in a very personal way. So I donated thirty of my student-stunted dollars to this band for providing me with a beautiful product. That’s almost $40 I was paying to a band giving their music away for free. CDs normally cost around half that. I didn’t have a lot of money, but it was important that I contribute to something that was making my life better. Something I felt had worth. Amanda was right when she said that there is a connection between a performer and their audience which produces an exchange that is extremely fair to the participants but can be seen as imbalanced by outsiders.

They're Helping Hands!

They’re Helping Hands!

The internet has made that connection more accessible to both parties. The internet is also a difficult place to police, so Amanda’s approach of letting people decide puts power in the individual’s hands. When you allow people the choice to help, they often will and in a far more generous manner than anticipated.

When we ask for something we’re not issuing a statement that declares us incompetent; we’re acknowledging that each of us contributes to life in different ways as per our skillsets and passions and ideologies. By helping one another we help ourselves. Amanda’s talk was concise enough that I really didn’t need to write this, other than to say ‘I agree and I understand’. The exchange between a performer and their audience is fair because both sides are getting something out of it. It may not be tangible or quantitative, but the experience and the feeling is not something that can be bought; it’s something beautiful and rare and priceless.

So shut up and take my money. Please let me pay.

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