The Art of Asking

The “Art of Asking” is the title of Amanda Palmer’s recent TED talk. (If you do not know of TED talks, check them out! Great to watch on the plane or for a quick mid-day motivational, educational pick-me-up. You can view the vids, listen as a podcast or even hear highlights on NPR’s TED Radio Hour.)

TED talks have become somewhat of a phenomenon, a chance for a writer, an educator, a researcher or an entertainer to share their raison d’etre, their methods, their inspiration or their disruptive innovation with a larger audience of peers – the movers and shakers at the actual convention – and the general internet public. Some of my favorite talks include this one on robots, this one on music, and this one on architecture. I encourage you to explore, learn and enjoy. (Heck, share your favorites in the comments below!)

Back to AFP. Yes, those apparently are her initials and her now-TED-credited real name (stage name?), Amanda Fucking Palmer. My first exposure to AFP was through twitter. I saw a mention of her Kickstarter project on the Huffington Post twitter feed. Something about a musician raising almost $1 Million for a new album. I’d never heard of Amanda prior, not anything that had stuck in my cranium anyway, but the more I read the more intrigued I was.

She had worked with Ben Folds, who’s music I respect and enjoy, and I liked her message. She had left her record company and was crowd sourcing funds to produce and distribute her next album. Taking a ‘stick it to the man’ approach, she was calling on her fans for support her music and the artistic collaborations accompanying it. The Kickstarter video was entertaining, her campaign and attitude kept me thinking. And, she had a keytar! My interest was piqued, I paid $26 for the album (+ digital download + art booklet) and I followed her on twitter. Through her Kickstarter campaign, she raised $1,192,793.00. And I’m sure there have been additional direct contributions since the campaign was closed, fully funded well beyond her goal.

Over the next few weeks and months I was updated through my inbox and could check in with the project’s progress on twitter or her blog. She hosted art parties, exclusive Kickstarter-backer events, performed concerts and secret shows promoting the new record and she shared constantly the forward momentum – and setbacks – along the way. She was communicating directly with those, like me, who had made the process possible without the perceived shackles of a behemoth record company puling the strings and pushing the buttons. She had asked for help to make this dream come true and was giving back now that she was in a position to do so.

-watch the video- (13:48)

In her talk she begins with a story of how she performed as the “Eight-Foot Bride” and there learned the value of exchange and connection with her audience. Eye contact, (intense eye contact, she says, while bowing), gestures of sadness and longing, profound encounters, ‘thank you’s, all exchanged for patrons’ donations dropped into the hat. Connecting with people through signing autographs after her band’s shows was just one of the ways she connected with her musical audience, allowing for the ever-building response from fans and supporters of her music. Together with those she interacts with, there is a fair exchange. By engaging and asking she continued the connection between performer and audience on an individual and very personal level. A piano to practice on, a venue for a pop-up gig, a couch to sleep on, wireless internet, even a crate and a hat for the TED talk, all asked for when needed and shared by those who could and wanted to. “This is fair.”

Many lessons here can be distilled and values inferred. I call this example to the fore as one of togetherness. The power of coming together to support a vision. Relying on the strengths of others, those which you may not possess, is not a weakness but a strength. Knowing one’s limitations is freeing, when you know you can reach to someone in your group to help. She also tells us that we can reach out to an even broader group – there should be no shame in asking for help – because she saw it work. “I didn’t make them, I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I connected with them.” Asking her fans to pay what they will, what they can, what they want for music was freeing, liberating, and fair. It allowed the creativity to continue, it fostered the creative process more directly, it moved it in directions it otherwise would not have gone without this collaboration between creator and supporter. Artist and audience. Producer and receiver. Giver and witness.

Call it viral marketing, a grass roots campaign, backlash pointed toward the establishment, or kismet; the scale of the effort is impressive. Interactive partnerships multiplied thousands of times yield a result greater than originally intended or even dreamed.

This is quoted from the most recent email I received as a backer of her record project, and says it quite well. Asking is a great way to bring people together.

“this one isn’t about me, and about my record, or about you, and the nice fact that you wanted to help me make it.

this is about people not being so afraid of each other…and, if i may say so, this is a really good time for that to happen.

and if i may ask a favor, and i’ll ask it again on my blog as i continue chronicling the story of the TED talk, how i made it, and what is happening….don’t forget to help spread the music. the songs. the videos. the art. the POINT. it’s awesome to have a gazillion people watch your TED talk, but it doesn’t hold a candle to people loving the art itself.

i don’t think i was put on the planet to give speeches, i was put here to make music, to make art. don’t let people forget that….remind them with your own megaphones. this is a REALLY good time to tell people that the project was funded for a reason. not just because i’m a good, convincing marketer. i may be, but i’d like to believe it was because the art brings us together.

and it does, more than i ever thought it would when i first started making music.”

Well said.


About zkgraff

Man on the move, Director @ensemblezkg, Host of @DesignInConvo Podcast, Triathlete, CrossFitter, Ironman CA 70.3 Finisher
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