Amanda Palmer on Illegal Downloading and Protest Music: Toward a Free Digital Future

From Under The Radar Magazine:

Though musicians have been experimenting with crowd-funding of their projects in recent years, it’s probable that no musician has been as successful as Amanda Palmer at using her fans’ generosity to make record labels unnecessary. Case in point: her latest release, Theatre is Evil, was funded by the $1,192,793 that nearly 25,000 of her fans gave her via the website Kickstarter. Palmer is a forthright advocate of free digital content, and she also has spoken out on a variety of issues that are important to her, from gay rights to pescetarianism, and has written songs that have drawn the ire of record labels and uptight critics. Here, she talks about peer-to-peer trading, the history of protest music, and how the modern era presents fewer opportunities for shared cultural moments.

[Palmer was interviewed for, and is quoted in, the “Giving Back: Indie Rockers Making a Difference” article in our Protest Issue. This is the full transcript of that interview, mainly quotes that didn’t make it into the print issue.]

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the protest sign you made for us. What was the message on it?

Amanda Palmer: I think I said something like “Free Digital Content (and Tits) for Everybody.”

What inspired that?

It was inspired by the few people left out there who are clinging desperately to the past.

So when did free digital content become an issue that you were interested in?

Ever since I encountered people who really legitimately didn’t understand why the free trade of digital information is a good idea. I read something this morning that was really upsetting. It was an open letter from a university professor to a girl named Emily White, who is a 19- or 20-year-old intern at NPR. And she was interviewed saying that she has 11,000 songs on her iTunes, and she has only legitimately bought 15 CDs in her life. And this open letter to her was a really long explanation to her why this is wrong and why the free trade of digital music is destroying musicians’ lives. And it kept saying things like, “I don’t mean to shame or embarrass you…” and went on to say “I knew this great musician Vic Chesnutt, and his career started to go downhill when people started trading files in 2000. And then he killed himself.” And I was like, ‘you know… something is really wrong here.’

Given that you’ve had so much success with your Kickstarter campaign, it seems like you’ve found a legitimate way to bypass that whole music industry system. Did you have any particular expectations for how successful that campaign would be?

Yeah, sure. I’ve experimented a lot with self-releasing and crowd-funding over the years. I had high hopes but no expectations, like a live musician. [Laughs.] It made me and my team insanely happy, because we worked really hard to make it work.

Continue reading the rest of the story on Under The Radar Magazine