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Amanda Palmer Defends Volunteer Musicians, Steve Albini Apologizes for Calling Her an Idiot

Albini and Palmer / Photo via Getty

What began as another online beef between a couple of dependably quotable music-biz characters might have blossomed into one of the more meaningful dialogues about artistic independence. Alt-rock luminary Steve Albini has apologized for suggesting he thinks Amanda Palmer is an “idiot,” and the Dresden Dolls singer has responded to critics of her invitation for strings- and horn-playing fans to join her onstage without financial compensation. The back and forth is advancing a debate started yesterday when Albini went on a rant about Palmer’s Kickstarting a million bucks and then still petitioning for volunteers.

Albini, in his original post, noted that he values “self-sufficiency and independence, even (or especially) from an audience.” In Albini’s latest post, he not only apologized to Palmer but also lauded the artist-fan interactions enabled by Kickstarter and the like as “pretty amazing, actually.” His more specific problem appears to lie in Palmer’s asking for anyone to play in her band for free after raising more than $1 million via Kickstarter: “Fuck’s sake a million dollars is a shitload of money. How can you possibly not have a bunch laying around after people just gave you a million dollars?”

In her corner, Palmer framed a response as an open letter to musician Amy Vaillancourt-Sals, who had fired off her own missive critical of Palmer’s call for volunteer horn and strings players. Palmer explained that in some cities, such as New York, she knows the additional musicians playing in her band and will, in fact, be paying them. She also detailed the many times she has played for free or even lost money, characterizing such decisions as an investment without actually using that word. Also, a privilege. The crux of all this, as she put it in all-caps: “YOU HAVE TO LET ARTISTS MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT HOW THEY SHARE THEIR TALENT AND TIME.”