Amanda Palmer

Tonight I’ll again be leading a Zen Meditation class at 7:15 pm at Yogavidala 4640 Franklin Avenue LA 90027 corner of Vermont & Franklin in Los Feliz (behind 7-11). This will happen every Wednesday! Be there and be Zen!


I saw Amanda Palmer last night. It was the most amazing rock and roll show I have ever seen. And I have seen KISS up close a few times. What made it most interesting to me was that it had both theatricality and depth. KISS has got lots of theatricality. But even I, one of their most loyal fans, have to admit their music is pretty shallow. There are loads of other bands on the indie circuit whose music has tremendous depth. But they have no idea how to — or perhaps simply no means to be able to — put on an interesting show. Amanda Palmer’s stuff is just fucking epic. I love me some epic stuff.

There has been a lot of controversy about the way Ms. Palmer is financing her latest tour and album. She has chosen to forgo the traditional route of working with a record label and is asking her fans to directly support her efforts. It’s working out very well. She has apparently raised over a million dollars with a Kickstarter campaign.

Steve Albini, producer of Nirvana and leader of the band Big Black, has been critical of some of the ways Ms. Palmer has been spending her money. And Ms. Palmer has responded to these criticisms. I’ve read both sides and I tend to agree with Amanda Palmer. It’s her money, and that’s her business. If people agree to play with her for free, that’s their business. Even though I tend to think she ought to pay them something, it’s not my place to say.

The whole matter of how art gets paid for is very interesting to me personally for a load of reasons. For one, I am a working independent author and meditation teacher. That means nobody hands me a paycheck every two weeks based on the number of hours logged on my time card. And I’ve had more time card related jobs than you’ve had hot dinners, son! I’ve gone back and forth with this all my life. I’ve been a destitute indie-label musician scrounging for enough money to pay for a room in a punk rock house and some Kraft Macaroni-n-Cheese. And I’ve worked as a minor executive in a well-established film production company where I was actually paid a decent salary.

Having done both, I feel like working for “The Man” has some distinct advantages. For starters, you only have to do one interview to get the job. Whereas working independently sometimes feels like going on a new job interview almost every day. You constantly have to sell yourself and that is stressful. Then there’s the comfort of knowing how much you’re going to get in your check each payday. I had a contract with Tsuburaya Productions that stipulated what my compensation would be. These days whenever I get a check from a publisher I have no idea if it’s going to cover my rent or not. Usually it covers some of it and I have to figure out how to get the rest. Plus those checks come once a year, not twice a month. Also, as part of a company, you have other employees sharing your lot. If management starts to do funny stuff with your salary, you have people around who have a vested interest in helping set that straight since management is probably doing that to them too. I’ve got nobody but me to make sure I get paid.

But there are also advantages to working independently. I set my own hours these days. And even though I work a lot harder now than I did when I was with Tsuburaya, I am my own boss, which makes a tremendous difference. I am not at the mercy of a company that could, at any minute, get bought out or go under or otherwise find some reason to sever ties with me. You get the idea. The list could go on and on.

For me, there is also the Buddhist angle. Dogen warns us again and again not to work for fame and profit. He doesn’t say this because he wants us to avoid the pleasures associated with being rich and famous. He says it because he understands deeply how working for fame and profit makes a human being miserable. When I was on the verge of publishing Hardcore Zen, I had a talk with my teacher Gudo Nishijima. I said that by publishing a book I might get famous and I might even get rich (Ha! Such wishful thinking!). Nishijima said that it wasn’t fame and money that were the real problem, it was the pursuit of fame and money for the sake of fame and money. He said that sometimes people get fame and money because they pursue it, but that other times people do something that others appreciate and fame and money follow.

Yet I find myself in a bind these days because I’ve come to understand that the only way an author makes any money at all is by being famous. And when I say “makes money” I’m not referring to making a whole lot of money. I’m talking about even making enough to pay your car insurance bills. You can’t even get that much unless you’re famous. So these days I find myself quite openly pursuing fame. I either have to do that or I have to go out and get a “real job.”

But where does the money come from for folks who do “real jobs?” You get your paycheck from the company you work for. But where do they get that money? In the case of my job at Tsuburaya, the money came largely from working moms and dads who bought their children Ultraman toys and Ultraman DVDs and Ultraman pencils and maybe bought themselves some Ultraman shot glasses or even some Ultraman condoms so that they wouldn’t have more kids demanding more Ultraman toys. In other words, these people paid my salary just as much as they would have if I’d started a Kickstarter campaign and asked them to support me directly. It all comes from somewhere.

If you enter a temple, you depend on the temple for your support. Your temple has got to get money from somewhere. If they’re a big place like San Francisco Zen Center, they put out fliers and throw big parties. It all comes from somewhere.

Buddhist teachers, too, need a certain degree of fame to survive. Even our man Dogen did fund raising activities for his temple, one of which is recorded in Shobogenzo. He worked to make his temple more visible so it would attract the donations necessary to keep it running. He hung out with rich people to try and get their support. And you don’t write something like Shobogenzo unless you intend for someone to read it.

I’ve been critical of some of the excesses I’ve seen in this kind of pursuit, but only when it’s tied to dishonesty. Take Genpo Roshi. Please! I don’t care so much that he managed to buy three houses (one in Hawaii!) with donor money. I only pick on him because he raised that money by pretending he could magically get people enlightened in a single day and that time spent in his enlightened presence was worth $50,000. If he could raise that much money through actual Zen teaching I’d support him and ask how he did it so I could do it myself. Not that I want three houses. That’s just ridiculous. But I wouldn’t mind being able to afford an apartment of my own someday.

As for Amanda Palmer, she puts on a hell of a show and that costs a lot. The singing idols out there who put on similar shows do so by appealing to the lowest common denominator so that they can get the truckloads of money necessary for there to be enough left over for the show after the dipshits at the record label get done stuffing their pockets. But it all comes from the fans anyway. If fans pay Amanda directly, then she is able to put on a show that has some actual depth to it rather than just appealing to people’s most base instincts and thereby attracting a huge crowd. I think what Amanda Palmer is doing could pave the way for real improvement in the quality of art and performance people are able to produce.

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28 Responses

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  1. blake
    blake September 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm |

    I saw her with the Dresden Dolls a few years ago at a Second Chance Prom. I’m a huge fan.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous September 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm |

    “If fans pay Amanda directly, then she is able to put on a show that has some actual depth to it rather than just appealing to people’s most base instincts and thereby attracting a huge crowd. I think what Amanda Palmer is doing could pave the way for real improvement in the quality of art and performance people are able to produce.”

    I go to a doctor who does not take insurance. If we pay the doctor directly, then we avoid going through and paying truckloads of money necessary for there to be enough left over after the dipshits at the insurance companies get done stuffing their pockets. I think what doctors like mine are doing could pave the way for real improvement in the quality of medical care.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous September 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm |

    About the doctor? Yes.

    Cash only doctors are out there.

    I did a quick Google search on the topic and there are lots of them out there.


  4. Andrew
    Andrew September 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm |

    corrected url

    long reply

    well, the lengths one has to go to so that my post about you refusing to show this is correct : o )

    brad, i’m doing you a lot of damage, its not intentional but you are not handling it right

    go with the flow man : o )

  5. Khru
    Khru September 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm |

    This High School blog welcomes a lively, thoughtful debate in the comment section. Keep in mind that the comments here are penned by young authors, so please keep criticism respectful, and help us to keep this a safe and supportive place for writers of all ages to contribute.

  6. buddy
    buddy September 27, 2012 at 1:13 am |

    Wouldn’t it be cool if Amanda Palmer made a video naked in a bathtub whilst singing with the Flaming Lips?? Oh wait:

  7. Fred
    Fred September 27, 2012 at 3:58 am |

    Corporations in North America are sitting on a couple of trillion of ” dead money ” dollars. There’s lots of money around.

    Fame is ego, and ego is an impediment. I’m sure Roach is making a ton of money
    selling the bullshit de jour.

  8. gniz
    gniz September 27, 2012 at 5:13 am |

    “I’ve come to understand that the only way an author makes any money at all is by being famous.”

    Come on, Brad. You know this simply is not true. I’ve even shown you an example of how much money I made writing a couple of years ago.

    Some people here might know I write ebooks under the name Aaron Niz.

    And you know what? I have another pen name I write under that’s doing even better. I do absolutely NO promotion on this new pen name–I don’t have a blog or an email address or Facebook page. And the books I wrote under the that name have sold far, far better than anything else I’ve done.

    I am paying my bills and then some solely on the books I’ve written in the last few months under this pen name. You can choose not to believe this–it’s up to you. I have absolutely no reason to lie here.

    My point is to say that you are very wrong about needing to be famous to make lots of money as an author. The truth is, you don’t want to learn how to make money writing ebooks, which is a very good way to make money as an author. Yes, you would possibly need to make compromises in order to write in the “hot” genres. But then again, you’re making a big compromise in pursuing fame to earn money as well. Compromises abound.

    But when I tried to talk to you about the realities of publishing ebooks, I found you to be fairly resistant to most of what I said (most traditionally published authors tend to be that way at first).

    The point is, you’re seeing this issue the way you want to see it in order to justify your current state of affairs. It’s fine if you want to pursue fame and its fine if you want to pursue a certain kind of writing and activity to make money.

    But please don’t bullshit yourself or us, Brad. I am a working writer making a very comfortable living and nobody knows who the hell I am.

  9. gniz
    gniz September 27, 2012 at 5:16 am |

    And BTW, these books I referenced that I wrote are solely mine. They are not co-written as some of my stuff in the past was.

    These are newer books that I wrote and I had absolutely NO marketing associated with them. I had no “famous” or even semi-famous writer co-authoring them with me.

    I just wrote some books and self-published them. And by golly, they made money.

    I’ve done this enough times and even helped a couple of other authors do this enough to know how possible it is. But in order for it to work, writers need to leave their egos and preconceived notions at the door and start fresh.

  10. anon 108
    anon 108 September 27, 2012 at 6:19 am |

    Jobs. I mean proper jobs… I’ve had a few, but a large part of my life has been spent avoiding them, hoping to survive on what I do best – playing (not a proper job) and teaching music (doesn’t feel like a proper job). But the fact is that apart from a couple of brief periods I’ve made very little money from music and have been financially supported by others (women, and latterly the Department of Work and Pensions’ Benefits Agency). And these days, what with home recording, the internet and pay-to-play, hoping to make a living from music – regardless how ‘good’ you are – is a pretty forlorn hope.

    So, say some, I’m a scrounger. Although scrounging is frowned upon in the UK, I get distinct impression that many residents of the USA take a much more vehemently puritanical stance on not having a job. “Get a job!” they would say, the Americans. To which I would reply “I’m trying.” It’s true that for a long time I didn’t try. I was content to survive on very little and do my thing. But these days I have to prove I’m applyling for work to get my £70 per week benefit plus rent (the DWP used to let you get away with murder). And I sometimes, though not too often, get fed up surfing the net, studying Sanskrit, doing zazen, going for walks, playing the bass and flute, posting on blogs and having very little money. So every week I apply for a few jobs, things I wouldn’t mind doing and/or am qualified to do – as a tutor, as an admin clerk, a leaflet distributor… During the last year I’ve had two interviews and no job. I think I understand why. My CV has a lot of holes in it, the impressive parts refer to musical work which means little to most employers, and I’m 60 next January. I would have thought the ten years I spent as a qualified paralegal advising arrested suspects and training staff in police and criminal law might impress, but no. Not yet. 90% of my applications are not replied to.

    Brad raises a point I’ve often made to my oldest mate who now and again likes to remind me that I’m a bum. How do you fairly evaluate and appropriately reward the contribution a person makes to society? I guess the market determines that stuff, but is it ‘fair’? Is it fair that some people earn a great deal of money form doing very little and others get diddly for working very hard? Is it fair that my oldest mate negotiated himself a handsome settlement a few years ago which ensures that, in exchange for not working – in exchange for resigning rather than getting sacked from his managerial post, he gets over £30K per annum for the rest of his natural? Is he entitled to that money more than I’m entitled to my £3k plus accomodation per annum? As Brad says, it all comes from somewhere…and why it goes where it goes nobody really knows. While the state is willing to provide me with money to subsist, I very gratefully accept it. Sure, if it were withdrawn, I’d have to work in a kitchen, mail room, clean floors or some such thing. (Sorry but) I’m not going to do that unless and until I really have to.

    Is my life a waste?

    Do I contribute nothing?
    Of course I contribute. I have my place in the Universe.

    Thanks for listening.
    All job offers – preferably part-time – will be seriously considered.

  11. AnneMH
    AnneMH September 27, 2012 at 8:39 am |

    Ahh one of the issues very close to home. I am working in a field that does not pay well. To some extent that is okay, I love my job, it is valuable to the world, I do pretty well (2 great compliments this week). In so many ways I would not trade it, however I am trying my best to make an excellent name for myself in order to move up to sustainable wage range.

    On the flip side I am tired, tired some days beyond what I thought I would be at this point in my life. It is just a struggle to decide whether or not to go to meditation since I would have to pay more for dinner and use precious gas. I have huge ideas on my own writing, some crafts for sale, and general freelancing gigs. I keep on having the crazy idea that somehow zazen will make a change in the world and I would like to support that too, sigh.

    So the pursuit of money, and understanding the ways and means to get there, is not a task at odds with buddhism, IMHO

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 27, 2012 at 9:52 am |

    Great to hear the voices. Gniz, I’m gonna be taking lessons, but does it work for non-fiction? I’m pretty dense when it comes to seeing the obvious, so you may have to repeat yourself here!

    The travel company I worked for went out of business four years ago in the Great Recession (part 1?). I retrained in web programming (no jobs for air operations agents, i.e. travel agents that specialize in the airline aspect of the business, in my area) and I got a couple of jobs working part-time at low wages, and I still have one gig as an independent contractor at the moment. No surprise, a lot of young people decided building web pages was their thing and got years of college education and years of experience before they were laid off in the recession, so competition is fierce for the few jobs available in Sonoma County.

    Fortunately for me I am now 62, and as Obama said, I’ve earned my social security, although it’s not quite enough to pay the rent and eat in California. Oh well!

    I got maybe five in-person interviews and two phone interviews in the last four years. Partly it’s my age, but partly it’s the new reality. Here’s my joke: an architect goes in for an interview, and after the HR guy looks over the architect’s resume and the examples of drawings and plans that he brought in, the HR guy says “that looks great- how are you at marketing, you’ll need to sell at least twenty sets of plans a year, and we track your sales performance and expect improvement!”

    So for me the heart of the blog post, Mr. Warner-san, is the part about your reticence to market yourself aggressively and imperiously. Oh, you didn’t say that? How does an artist simultaneously market and distribute? And if the artist doesn’t do all three, how can they avoid describing the people that do the marketing and distribution as dips?

    This is where Gniz comes in– (gniz!)

  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 27, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  14. Padma@MyBuddhistLife
    Padma@MyBuddhistLife September 27, 2012 at 1:46 pm |

    Hey Brad. Your blog continues to be my favourite Buddhist blog by A MILE. Another excellent post dealing with another important subject for Buddhism in the West. I wrote something about Western Buddhism and money a wee while ago.

    I’ve also been following the spectacle that is Amanda Palmer since some of my friends supported her on her European tour and I realised she was the one from the Dresden Dolls who did that song Delilah. That blew me away when I first heard it.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous September 27, 2012 at 6:13 pm |

    Brad Warner wurde 1964 geboren und wuchs in einem Vorort von Akron, Ohio auf. 1982 begann er Bass-Gitarre in der Hardcore-Punk-Band Zero Defex (0DFx) zu spielen und Zazen zu praktizieren. 1993 zog er nach Japan und arbeitete er in Tokio bei Tsuburaya Productions, dem Produzenten der japanischen Fernsehserie Ultraman. Er studierte Zen bei Gud? Wafu Nishijima und bekam nach einigen Jahren von Nishijima die Dharma-Übertragung und begann, auf seiner Homepage und auf seinem Blog, Texte über den Buddhismus und andere Themen zu schreiben, sowie einen Blog auf der Website der Suicide Girls. Seit 2007 ist Brad in der Nachfolge seines Lehrers Leiter der Dogen Sangha.

  16. King Kong
    King Kong September 28, 2012 at 7:26 am |




  17. anon 108
    anon 108 September 28, 2012 at 9:00 am |

    Kong, you daft ape. You make a valid point. But it’s not the point the g-man makes, is it? I suggest your argument calls into question – and may even fatally undermine – the soundness of the premise of the course of action recommended by gniz. For gniz’s experience leads him to believe that one can make money from writing books _without_ being famous. Indeed, gniz is sufficiently convinced of the merit of this argument that he has confidently recommend it be adopted by a contemporary Zen Master. Your point, however, suggests that fame does indeed stimulate the accretion of wealth, independence and artistic freedom, and thus supports the basis of Brad Warner’s original complaint. See where I’m coming from?

    Perhaps over-sized hominidae should stick to what they’re good at. Less of the thinking. More bananas.

    Luv ya! 😀

  18. King Kong
    King Kong September 28, 2012 at 9:20 am |

    HAHA !!


  19. Fred
    Fred September 28, 2012 at 12:20 pm |

    Brad you need to write a book on how to attain enlightenment in 24 hours.

    That’s where the money is.

  20. King Kong
    King Kong September 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm |


  21. King Kong
    King Kong September 28, 2012 at 7:00 pm |


  22. Rich
    Rich September 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm |

    I know a writer that makes 50-75000 a year writing articles for websites.

  23. AnneMH
    AnneMH October 1, 2012 at 5:20 am |

    I don’t know what to tell you because I certainly don’t know how to do this money thing. I am still figuring out how to donate the change in the bottom of my purse effectively,

  24. Zenleo
    Zenleo October 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm |

Comments are closed.