Yesterday morning I watched a TED talk by musician Amanda Palmer, who is famous for her work with the Dresden Dolls and raising $1.2 million on Kickstarter to fund a solo album. Her story is amazing and definitely worth the 15 minutes it takes to watch the video.
What struck me is she hit on a subject I’ve spent the last few posts working through: online sharing and connections.
Amanda uses the internet (she sees “random closeness and connections”) to connect with and build an invested following of fans. To build those connections she uses her blog, Twitter, and YouTube to share intimate moments, failure, and her fears — in addition to all the normal stuff you’d expect from a musician. She’s completely vulnerable and open.
She’s found that these connections lead to amazing acts of generosity and real life connections, which have allowed her to travel the world through couch surfing, fund her Kickstarter, and much more. The vulnerability generates trust and generosity to/from/between Amanda and her fans.
Her secret to making her art and life work: ask. She builds off this exchange of vulnerability and trust to overcome the shame of asking for help. “When we really see each other, we want to help.”
The act of asking is another type of connection. Asking is vulnerable. In fact, giving is vulnerable too. Both are forms of trust. In general, our society puts a negative connotation on asking for help, taking donations, and receiving assistance. It’s usually looked down upon in all but the most dire of circumstances.
Even in business we put less value on our work because we don’t feel worthy or that our work isn’t good enough — whether it’s freelancing for less than market value, giving away an iPhone app, starting a business based on our talents and interests (“I couldn’t possibly make any money doing what I love”), or any other number of things. By putting our work out there we become vulnerable to criticism and people saying ‘no’, so we lessen the value of the work in response, as a protective measure.
In cases like Amanda it’s easy to criticize the asking, but we (meaning the rest of us not involved in these transactions) don’t see the complete exchange that is happening between the ‘asker’ and ‘giver’. The connection the fan makes to her as a person, her music, or the inspiration. In the end, we all spend one (or more) of our currencies in any transaction/interaction/connection: time, attention, money, belongings, food, whatever we have… they all have value. So how can we judge one form of currency over the other?
To sum up a great quote from the video: ‘The internet and sharing is about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.’ That’s a pretty stark contrast from what is typically considered success in our society — and even celebrity — where large groups of people ‘love’ you from a distance. There’s no connection, no real trust in celebrity.
For Amanda and her music/art, that “enough” is around the 25,000 loyal fans who funded her million dollar Kickstarter. Ironically, that’s the same number of albums her major label sold before deeming her a failure.
It’s inspiring to see someone connect and build a small tribe, facilitate sharing/vulnerability/openness, and harness that into a career — to live her life on her own terms.
Hat tip: Patrick Rhone