From our view here at Bandcamp HQ, yesterday’s launch of Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele less resembled a record release than a coordinated strike of ravenous piranha. In one three minute period, her fanbase snapped up $15,000 in music and merch. It didn’t let up much from there: 4,000 digital EPs were sold, the vinyl sold out, most of the high end packages disappeared in minutes, and at the time of this writing, it looks like every other package will be gone in a matter of days. Late last night I caught up with Amanda’s Man-Who-Make-Internet-Go, Sean Francis, just before he passed out (he’d slept five hours in the last 48).
Congratulations on the release! Is it true that you guys did it entirely independently?
Thanks, and that’s correct – no label, and no manager for the most part. This project has been handled by four people: Amanda, myself, Beth [Hommel], and Hayley [Rosenblum] – interfacing with various artists and professionals (like the producer) when and where necessary.
Tell me a little bit more about your approach. What were some of the key things you did that led to the success you’re now seeing?
Each one of us – no matter what our individual role – cares a lot about what and how the fans consume…what they like, what they don’t buy, what they want to purchase, and how they want to purchase it. From [Amanda's former band] The Dresden Dolls’ first record right up to this one, we’ve been fine tuning the process. That’s one of the reasons, for example, that we skipped CDs for this release. Time and time again, we heard fans say “I don’t even use CDs, but I bought this to support you.” So we listened to that, and started talking with the fans about it not being a dirty thing to pay for digital music. There’s no shame in putting money into an artist’s pocket and not getting some sort of physical good for it.
That said, you also put together a number of unique physical packages for this release, including a limited edition cherry red LP. Were you getting lots of requests for vinyl?
For years, people asked for The Dresden Dolls’ albums on vinyl. When Amanda announced her solo record, the first question we saw was would it be available on vinyl. Evelyn Evelyn was the first release wherein we actually had some form of control, and by going with our gut and making something that we felt WE would want as fans, it became clear that other fans wanted it that way as well.
The packages here cover a pretty broad price spectrum. This multi-tier approach has gotten a lot of buzz lately — do you think it’s the model for artists going forward?
We tried to avoid being too presumptuous going into today – but from what fans had been suggesting they wanted and what we saw with Evelyn Evelyn, we felt that this was going to be the most sensible business model for this release. We’re all happy that this seems to be becoming a more accepted form of distribution, but we want to keep evolving (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next thing we do isn’t AS multi-tiered).
Are you happy with the way the release has gone thus far?
We couldn’t be happier. We hoped for far less than what’s happened, braced for the worst, and were floored by how wonderful it’s turned out. We’ve said that this is an experiment from day one, but to see such positive response from the fans, and to have so many people tell us that we’re doing things right? It’s hard for gross earnings to trump knowing we made the fans happy, but being able to see both of those elements walking happily hand-in-hand is GREAT.
You chose to include a download of the record with every one of your packages. Why?
We wish we could have been doing that all along. It’s such an obvious necessity. We WANT people to have the music, why would we deny the fan – or (arguably equally important) potential fan – the ability to listen as soon as possible? It’s just…obvious. We started a thread on our message board chronicling pictures of fans listening to the record, and saw a lot of people tweeting photos and stories of their first “experience”…had we made everyone wait, I know that excitement and buzz would’ve been different.
Is the record available on iTunes yet?
Absolutely not. We have nothing against iTunes, it’ll end up there eventually I’m sure, but it was important for us to do this in as close to a DIY manner as possible. If we were just using iTunes, we couldn’t be doing tie-ins with physical product, monitoring our stats (live), and helping people in real-time when they have a question regarding the service. Being able to do all of those things and having such a transparent format in which to do it has been a dream come true. We all buy stuff on the iTunes store – or AmazonMP3 or whatever – but it’s not THE way artists should be connecting to fans, and it’s certainly not the way someone is going to capture the most revenue on a new release.
So you think you’ll do better by selling this release directly to your fans first, as opposed to selling through iTunes or Amazon from the very start?
It’s nice to see a check roll in from those places, but in-between shuffling off a (large) percentage of revenue just for being on there, and the fact it would’ve been weeks (if not months) ’til we would’ve seen a dime…I don’t think we’ll make more money this way, I know we will, and I know we did. In six hours.
Even with our recently announced revenue share plan?
The revenue share is both something we’ve been aware of and looking forward to. Seeing it materialize was exciting for us not only because it was something which will hopefully sustain the site for some time to come, but also because it was good — best deal on the block, we think. Why the hell wouldn’t we want to support something which has so directly allowed us to find fuel to grow?
People are going to think we’re dating. Could you please tone it down?
Every track on the EP is available for streaming. Do you think that hurt your sales? Do you think you’d make more money if the tracks were only 30-second snippets? Or if all but one or two were hidden?
We’re not pretending that people can’t get the record “illegally” (see our blog post announcing the release) – but I’ve yet to hear anyone say that because they can stream the record (or because they were able to hear it in advance), that they didn’t get it. To break it down in a more literal sense: we enabled a stream (and lossless-quality-sale) of the record more than a day in advance of the physical product being launched. If in some way that hurt our sales, I’m not aware…we sold out of numerous packages in under a few minutes. What I did see when we launched that stream, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and fans were saying in droves that they couldn’t wait to buy it.
You decided to let your fans name their price on the digital EP, with the minimum set to 84 cents (representing the amount owed to Radiohead for playing their music, plus payment processing fees). How’d that work out? Are fans paying more than the minimum?
Part of the reasoning behind doing the release that way was that we wanted to lend some transparency to the system by which an artist (in this case Radiohead) receives a royalty check. We were urged by numerous parties to set our minimum donation to a higher price point – and I don’t think anyone would’ve been turned off had we set it to $3 or $5 – but we saw that people were more than happy to not only pay for the music, but pay extra for it: downloads are averaging around $5, and one generous comedian even paid $100.84.
Nice. What would you most like to see Bandcamp do next?
Optimize the stores for mobile devices and add a shopping cart.
Amen to that. What’s next for Amanda?
What’s literally next for Amanda is preparation for Cabaret – she won’t be doing any real touring on this EP, but will be performing with some longtime collaborators (virtuoso pianist Lance Horne, her high school drama teacher Steven Bogart, and Danger Ensemble impresario Steven Mitchell Wright) at the A.R.T. through September and October in Cambridge, Mass. After that? Well, we’ve told the fans to keep Halloween clear. Amanda may or may not have some obligations somewhere on the east coast to conjure up some friendly ghosts from the past and do a really special show. Maybe.
Awesome. Thanks so much for your time Sean. Pleasant dreams!
Ha. Thank you!