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.