The art of asking for help with Amanda Palmer

Last month, I shared the wise words of musician/writer Patti Smith, whose advice to young artists was to keep a good name and do your work because you love it (but also not to denounce success when your or others’ work reaches beyond the “cool” crowd).

Musician Amanda Palmer (with success both solo and with the band The Dresden Dolls) offers similarly thoughtful yet simple advice in her TED Talk below, which is to ask for help when you need it. Why? “You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you ask for.”

This is controversial advice coming from someone who’s been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism for this very thing. Last year, Amanda’s Kickstarter campaign requesting $100,000 to fund her album/tour became Kickstarter’s most successful ever after receiving $1.2 million. (So yeah, if you’ve never heard of her, the lady with the eyebrows has a lot of loyal fans.) So when Amanda later put out a request for local musicians to play onstage in exchange for beer and hugs, not cash, some people got pissed.

This is no longer news (and it’s not the focus of this post), but it provides a little back story for the above video. Is Amanda in the wrong here? Is she hurting or exploiting her fellow musicians and fans? And why does everybody hate Amanda Palmer so much?

Well, actually, not everybody does. The Kickstarter campaign funders, for example, are obviously touched by what Amanda offers them in return for their money. And as Amanda points out, their contributions are voluntary, sparked simply by their desire to give support to a musician whom they love when she asks for it. Another takeaway from her TED Talk: “Don’t make people pay for music… let them.”

A personal note: When John and I move to California in July, we’ll be asking for a lot of help. Luckily, we have supportive families here and friends there that we can go to when we need it. Like Ms. Palmer, I will not apologize for asking, but I will thank my helpers profusely and hopefully pay them back (or pay it forward) in some meaningful way. I also won’t hold a grudge against anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to help us. This is our move, and no one is obligated to support us. But it sure will be nice (and appreciated) if and when they do.

Controversy aside, Amanda admits it is a difficult and vulnerable thing to ask for help. It puts you in a position where others may laugh, say no, or worse, ignore you. But it also puts others in a position to do good and feel good, in which case you both benefit from the interaction. It’s not weak to ask for help. It’s brave. And I applaud Amanda Palmer for making it seem just a little less daunting. Between that and her badass music, I’ve got a total girl crush.

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  1. I have no problem helping people who need it. I think the most frustrating thing is when someone is expectant (ie wanting someone else to take responsibility for things) or fail to show appreciation (ie “well of course you did this for me, I deserve it, why should I offer thanks). Those have been the biggest reasons I have seen for help being declined or begrudged.

    • Absolutely. It’s gotta be accompanied with humility and gratitude it you want the person you’re asking to come away feeling happy they helped you. Entitlement, simply put, is douchey.

  2. Learning to just ask for help changed my life, but I still find it hard to do. It’s amazing how much someone will put to the side to help another person who really needs it. (Especially when it’s their job! I know there are a lot of kids who are afraid to ask for help even from their teachers. ASK. They WANT to help you.)

    • So true! It’s amazing what opportunities open up when we muster up the courage to field help. There’s usually no better person than a truly dedicated teacher.

  3. I think the key part of is asking for help when you NEED IT. It can become insincere and essentially lazy asking for help when it isn’t essential.

    • Just realised that I essentially said essential once too often in that last sentence.

      • So essentially, you’re essentially redundant? lulz, just kidding. I do that all the time. And true, some people take advantage of their helpers, and that just makes them look bad. Do the work you’re capable of and go to someone else when you get stuck.

  4. Giving help is the best thing ever. I wish more people needed me for both emotional and physical support.

    • Maybe they do, and you just don’t know it! If you like helping, jump in when you see someone who looks like they could use it. It’s a balance between being helpful and minding boundaries, but I think people would most likely be really appreciative.

  5. I’ve got a total girl crush on Amanda, too. I find watching what she does and how she does it so fascinating. I don’t necessarily agree with every decision she’s ever made nor liked everything she’s put out there… but I really admire her audacity. She’s doesn’t seem to be afraid to try new ways of doing things, and when she wants to do something she just says, “Let’s do this!” and then does it.

    If you haven’t seen it, A Total Disruption is running a series on her currently as a part of their Chief Executive Artist series…

    Music funding is something I think a lot about considering that we occasionally operate a recording studio out of our apartment, and getting paid for that service is a key concern when you’re dealing with bands with shoestring budgets…. and there’s a LOT of tension in the music biz around this right now about what’s “okay” and what’s “not okay.”

    It’s an industry that’s under a great degree of upheaval, and there are a lot of people who are scared because their livelihood as they knew it is disappearing because corporate budgets aren’t what they used to be nor are they as plentiful and there’s a movement of DIY artists who will likely always run on a shoestring budget… Either you’ve got to adapt or you’re out.

    We’re still in the “I’m in denial of the sinking ship and I’m just going to cry and whine until I drown in my own tears” phase… and I believe that’s where a lot of the criticism of Amanda Palmer is coming from. People who are scared, shaming someone else who’s figured out their own way forward.

    Seriously…. I could go on for hours on this, but I’ll stop because I’m just clogging up your comments section at this point. 😉

    • I’m right there with you about Amanda – she’s not a perfect human being, but damn, if she doesn’t do exactly what she wants. There’s a lot to be said for that, and despite some of her slip-ups, I think she is genuinely doing what she does with a good heart. So I don’t understand some of the bashing that’s been going around lately.

      The industry is no doubt still a very uncertain landscape, and I wish for music’s (and musicians’) sake that there were a better system in place. Some indie bands are making it on their own by establishing their own labels and terms, but it’s a selective few that are having actual success. It’s frustrating watching people like you and my boyfriend who are working hard toward something they love and not reaping any real monetary reward like was once very possible!

      (Clearly, I could go on, too. :))

  6. I really disliked Amanda Palmer, until I saw her Ted Talk; while I don’t agree with her entirely, she puts forth a very giving way of exchanging things. She is sharing happiness.

    I feel terrible when I ask for help, but I would not hesitate to give it to my friends – he fans love to help her, because they want to meet her and experience her awesomeness – could this be seen as exploitative, yes, but she doesn’t sell out and she doesn’t care how her fans experience her music.

    She is fantastic, and I think you asking for help moving isn’t at all cheeky, you’ll pay it back (or forward) you won’t sponge.

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