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Donna Wentworth
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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

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Copyfight, the Solo Years: April 2002-March 2004

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Copyfight

« Continuing on the Morality Theme | Main | AC/DC Idiots? »

December 5, 2008

Rebellyon - Amanda Palmer and Roadrunner Records

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Amanda Palmer
We're used to understanding (maybe more than the general public does) the degree to which the modern record-making system is a slave enterprise. The artists are indentured and their work is wholly owned by the labels. The labels can promote or not, arrange tours or not, front money or not, and generally have full and complete ownership of the created product.

What we sometimes forget is that the labels also own the public image of that artist. Not just the "how do you look" but also "how do you dress on stage" and "how do you talk to the media and promote yourself". And sometimes "how fat ARE you, dear?"

The issue at the moment centers around Ms Palmer's appearance in the official video for her single "Leeds United" from her new album Who Killed Amanda Palmer? If you watch the video or have read any of the discussion about this you'll know that Ms Palmer shows a lot of bare belly in the video. And she does not have an anorexic or bodybuilder's belly. She has a pretty normal "fat little belly" - as she herself describes it. And she's mostly OK with it.

So when Roadrunner Records suggested that the video be digitally altered and that Ms Palmer engage in some choice editing to appeal to "guys" whom the label seems to think it knows... well, you can imagine THAT didn't go over well. In fact, it's grown into quite the contention, with Ms. Palmer's fans standing deep and strong behind her refusal to give in and commercialize and popularize herself.

According to the blog entry linked above, Amanda Palmer has already sunk some USD 80,000 of her own money into this album and tour, money she doesn't expect ever to recoup from the label. So when she asks the label to drop her (which is to say, free her from the constraints of her contract and the odious sexism of her current a&r guy) she has more than a little bit at risk. I'm rooting for her.

One of the interesting things about this story to me is that it's got at least two parallel threads. On the one hand, there's a significant fan response to the overt sexism and narrow-minded definition of what female performing artists' bodies should look like. Much of the fan 'rebellyon' involves Palmer's fans posting pictures of their own happily shaped bellies, often with (ahem) expressive sentiments written on them for the camera to record. Palmer herself is up front about her desire "to look HOT" (emphasis in the original)

She clearly recognizes that part of what happens in a creative performance is a level of sexuality and attraction and like in every other business, sex sells. She just wants to be in (more) control of what that sexuality means in her own performances.

On the other hand, there's a discussion to be had about the degree to which creative performers are forced to give up either financial incentives or creative control. For example, Emma Bull's blog has a nice compare-and-contrast of Palmer's situation with that of the artist Issa (formerly Jane Siberry) who is trying to make a go of it on her own, offering her new album for download at whatever rates the downloaders want to pay. Bull is herself both a published writer and a musician with released CDs, so she has something of a first-hand perspective on the situation.

Full disclosure: I've never met Ms. Palmer nor do I have much of an opinion on her artistry or her physical appearance. However, friends of mine performed with her and are pretty opinionated on the matter. You can see them doing the horn part for her "Leeds United" performance at the Paradise club in Cambridge, MA.

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