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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Behind The Scenes Of Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk

A screenshot of Amanda Palmer's pitch video from Kickstarter. (

A screenshot of Amanda Palmer’s pitch video from Kickstarter. (

Musician Amanda Palmer continually taps into her fan base through her blog and through Twitter conversations about everything from her music to her thoughts on bullying.

Palmer, who is one half of the band The Dresden Dolls, also ran a hugely successful campaign on Kickstarter to fund her new solo album and tour – she raised $1.2 million dollars.

So it’s no surprise that when she was asked to give a talk at the TED conference about her crowdsourcing efforts, she crowdsourced feedback for her talk.

“It’s not only important for artists to feel OK about for asking for help, but audiences… need to be OK with being asked.”

Palmer previewed her speech before an audience of friends, fans and fellow writers and musicians at her home in Cambridge, Mass. Afterwards, she and her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, asked for everyone’s input.

“I put this party together so that I could test it against a crowd,” Palmer told Here & Now’Robin Young, who was among the guests. “It felt really good. Actually the best part of doing it was being able to look around the room at the faces and see the nodding heads and just really feel the pace.”

Palmer’s talk centers on adapting to a new era in the music industry.

“I think the most important message of the talk is that it’s not only important for artists to feel OK about asking for help, but audiences – especially given what’s happening on the Internet – need to be OK with being asked,” she said. “My whole generation of musicians grew up in the 80s where our role models and the musicians that we were seeing and exposed to were all mega stars. And if you wanted to be in rock and roll and you wanted to be a musician, the idea was you get famous. You get on the radio, you get a record contract, you get on MTV. And now, that’s sort of no longer an option – I mean, it’s an option for a minuscule number of people. And instead, being a musician has sort of become – if possible and if you want the job – a working class job. It’s a regular job.”

Palmer, a self-proclaimed exhibitionist, admits that she has had less difficulty asking fans for money than other musicians.

“For someone like me, who’s probably never going to be involved in the Grammys or the Oscars… this is that moment where I get to stand in front of the world and say something.”

“I feel like it was the same DNA that made me rope in all the neighborhood kids when I was eight and put on ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on my porch,” she said. “I’m just built that way.”

The TED Talk marks a major point in Palmer’s career.

“For someone like me, who’s probably never going to be involved in the Grammys or the Oscars, this is that thing. This is that moment where I get to stand in front of the world and say something,” she said.

Writer Neil Gaiman, Palmer’s husband, does not share that interest.

“I was asked but I’ve always said no,” Gaiman said. “I haven’t got anything to say. It’s quite possible that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and go ‘Ah ha! I’ve got my thing!’ I will tell people the cure for the common cold or how to love each other without nailing each other to crosses and things. I will get up there and tell them this. But until this happens, I’m content to be the half of the family that doesn’t do a TED talk.”

But, he acknowledged that TED Talks can have an impact.

“I run into people who say they don’t read anymore, they just sit at night watching TED videos and things,” he said. “TED talks can go viral. They can change things. People watch TED talks and they send them to their friends. It’s like any good Internet social media phenomena, but in this case it’s a social media phenomena that is curated and initially occurs with a strict set of rules in front of 700 people, some of whom have paid 7,000 bucks to be there.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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