#82 Amanda Palmer

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Amanda Palmer, (@AmandaPalmer) joined James to talk about the art of asking, art, and that we all do both whether we realize it or not. She tells James that we need to ask in small ways and with all our heart. We need to ask and be ready for rejection and realize that it’s part of asking like melting is part of eating an ice cream cone.

Palmer is on the podcast to talk about her book The Art of Asking. James tells her that he got depressed reading it because he was going to write a similar book to which Palmer replies that she felt the same way about Daring Greatly, telling James, “Fuck, she already wrote my book.” Renee Brown, author of Daring Greatly takes a more academic pursuit on the angle and contributes a foreword to Palmer’s book. James says Amanda’s book is more like a sequel to Just Kids by Patti Smith.

Palmer makes the case to James in the interview and in her book that:

“We’re all artistic at a certain level. We’re all creative. We all see connections. We all have the ability to manifest from scratch.” – Amanda Palmer

Her case goes, that when we make connections to things, that’s art.You don’t need to be in costume or on a stage. If you’re selling Volkswagens and you do it well, you’re an artist. Brooks Brothers provides your costume, the showroom is your stage. In episode #80 Tucker Max said much the same thing about writing. About writers he told James, “they like their identity as a writer.” Some people feel most like a writer by doing the traditional writer things, but Palmer’s saying it doesn’t need to be that way. Anyone, traditional or not, is an artist.

For all artists (ergo everyone), there is “the ask.” And that part is often hard. Amanda tells James, “There’s not an easy way, and that’s the point. If there was an easy way we’d all be happy and everybody would do it all the time and we’d be living in a fantastic society.” (Tweet this!)

This is hard, because in asking we bring judgement.

Part of the interview (and part of her book) is about Amanda’s successful Kickstarter, where she raised over a million dollars, the largest music launch at the time. The project was a confluence of happiness, chaos, love, and hate. Her fans were happy to support and part of the success she tells James was in giving a small option, even just a dollar let people contribute and be part of it.

The Kickstarter also brought along “outrage porn” as James calls it. People decided to be mad at Amanda Palmer for some reason or another. She’s not a real singer, she’s not really independent, she has a rich husband. She shares how this affected her in her book, and it’s painful. She says she felt a lot of these things and worried about getting sucked into wondering if they were true or not.

She tells James that even 1 bad review among 99 good ones can “overpower your psyche for a day.”

Palmer developed a unique angle on viewing an ask when she posed as a human statue and again as a stripper. She found a model in Dita Von Teese, who, rather than strip to nothing, started out in lingerie and stripped down to her underwear. Palmer tells James that while the traditional strippers earned 50 ones, Von Teese would earn 1 fifty. That would be Palmer’s arbitrage.

Amanda and James conclude that there are 3 layers of people we can ask. There are the people blind to us, our weak ties, and our strong ties. The people blind to us we can contently ignore, knowing that we don’t show up on their radar anymore than someone 1,000 miles away might. The weak ties are the ones we can ask for some sort of trade. Palmer doesn’t see money as bad for an artist, it’s simply the medium of exchange. Song for a dollar. Flower for a dollar. Dollar for a coffee. Each of those transactions has an element of appreciation, an unspoken thank you from each party.

These weak ties are also important because they have often have connections we don’t. For Palmer this meant couchsurfing on her tours and meeting some wonderful people (and the book has some fantastic stories). This is a strength for us says Adam Grant, guest of episode #73. Our weak ties are the web we can draw on and Palmer uses this same imagery in her book.

Finally there are our strong ties, the hardest to ask. For Amanda it was asking her husband to float her some cash to pay her band until a big check came. For us it’s our family and friends. James asks for advice on asking and Amanda tells him to accept the feeling and tell the person it. Be truthful about being scared and allow their answer to be “no.” Allow people the “space and grace” to decline your offer without malice from you. Tim Ferriss uses this same technique when emailing people, always giving them a chance to politely decline.

Isn’t there a way to get over this fear, James asks. Palmer says it helped her when she realized she was providing something her fans really wanted. In her book she writes,

“I chatted constantly online, and listened to the input and feedback from the fans. If they wanted high-end lithograph posters, I made high-end lithograph posters.”

She gave the fans what they wanted and they were happy to support her. In couchsurfing, in crowd surfing, in crowdsourcing – Amanda asks and by asking she trusts.

Despite her success, she still worries about the Fraud Police. That someone who knows is going to come and take away everything she’s made. Amanda says you start by believing in what you do. She tells James, “Step one. If you’re gonna ask with grace, you really need to believe in the worthiness of what you’re asking for.”

Often artists believe there is value in what they do, but don’t know how much. The key is to trust what you do and charge people for it (experimenting along the way). In her book she tells the story of a friend who asked her fans for money but then worried about sharing a photo of her on a beach or in a new dress. Amanda told her to be content with needing inputs for outputs, and it was the latter that the fans were most passionate about. They didn’t care about martinis or pencil skirts, they just wanted the music.

Amanda Palmer, Auckland, 2Once you believe in what you are creating, you have to charge for it. Palmer says that if the default is free but people can pay, most will pay nothing. If, however, you switch it to a default of a few dollars but people can make it less, they pay more. James found the same thing with his book, offering to refund anyone’s money if they sent a receipt and said they didn’t like it. He tells Amanda fewer than 1% of customers did.

In the interview James calls this “sunk cost” which isn’t quite right (and is part of the benefit of writing these posts later rather than thinking on the fly). Sunk cost is when we’ve already committed to an item, but shouldn’t influence our decision to continue to use the item. For example, if you buy Amanda’s book and feel like because you bought it, you should read it. That’s sunk cost fallacy. The price of the book is gone, you would be better off making better use of the time.

Rather, when we buy something we value it more. Where sunk cost thinking might go, “I bought this dessert, I may as well eat it.” What James and Amanda are suggesting though is something more like reducing cognitive dissonance. That thinking might go, “I bought this dessert, I must like it.” Our brains enjoy getting our thoughts to match our actions to maintain cerebral harmony. For more about this bias check out the wonderful Dave McRaney.

The interview ends with Amanda and James talking about who can ask for money. They agree that anyone can. If we accept that the Rolling Stones can ask for $150 a ticket, then we should accept a garage band that charges $5. Each is an artist. Palmer calls the financial critiques of small acts a “cruel sport” in this “Guardian Piece.” (Do read the whole thing, it’s very good.)

James ends the interview with this quote from Palmer’s book, “”You can fix almost anything by authentically communicating.”

If I missed something, do let me know, @MikeDariano on Twitter.

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