Bartering, Crowd Sourcing and Lending a Hand

image by Grainne Rhuad

By: Grainne Rhuad

There’s no doubt about it.  Things are tough all over.  And in all fairness, this isn’t new people.  It may seem like the times they are a changing and maybe they are for the more recently upwardly mobile.  But let’s not forget, it wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people didn’t own their own homes, worked without union representation and had no “safety net” other than family and community support.

It’s an utter fallacy to think you are currently living the hardest of times.  Come on!

Anyway, as I said things are in a continuum of toughness.  I’d like to say nowhere is this more prevalent than in the artistic arena, but I can’t because really while artists aren’t getting paid, when were they ever?

But people seem to think they should be, paid and paid well. For every single little thing.  Even for fun stuff.  This to me seems to defeat the purpose of creating art anyway.  How can your emotions fully flow and get out when you are caught up in the dollars?  What you get then is a lot of Boy and Girl Bands and commercial art that copies the latest thing teens like.

I bring all this up because I have been following the controversy or “Kerfuffle”  brought on the vitriolic statements made by Steve Albini, recording studio owner, songwriter and musician, over the crowd sourcing Amanda Palmer and her current band Grand Theft Orchestra were practicing.

He was in a word angry that musicians were being asked to volunteer their talent in the form of things like horn and string accompaniment from town to town via the massive Twitter following Palmer has spend quite a while working with.

She at the time was entirely unrepentant and explained that art is a community effort anyway.  But this week she buckled posting a new blog stating:

“for better or for worse, this whole kerfuffle has meant i’ve spent the past week thinking hard about this, listening to what everyone was saying and discussing. i hear you. i see your points. me and my band have discussed it at length. and we have decided we should pay all of our guest musicians. we have the power to do it, and we’re going to do it. (in fact, we started doing it three shows ago.)

“my management team tweaked and reconfigured financials, pulling money from this and that other budget (mostly video) and moving it to the tour budget. 
all of the money we took out of those budgets is going to the crowd-sourced musicians fund. we are going to pay the volunteer musicians every night. even though they volunteered their time for beer, hugs, merch, free tickets, and love: we’ll now also hand them cash.”

She added, “We’re also retroactively sending a payment to the folks who’ve already played with us. SURPRISE!”  Read her explanation/thank you to fans/volunteers here.

Oh boy do these musicians look pissed that they aren’t being paid…

First off, P.S.-This isn’t new.  Amanda Palmer and a lot of other working musicians, who spend their lives travelling, crowd source.  It’s just now she’s the diva queen of Kickstarter and she’s in the public eye a bit more. Even non-self promoting musicians do this.  Katy Perry paid extras (translate actors) in beer and food for her video “The One That Got Away.”  Steve Albini clearly has his own issues about the music industry, he can’t get beyond the fact that these people WANT to do this and are happy and having fun.  And really, how much fun would you have if you could participate in your favorite concert rather than sitting sedately?  Would you then want payment?  Also conveniently left out is the fact that Palmer has spent a lot of her own time promoting artists and helping them get started when she finds them through crowd sourcing.

Non-embittered musicians and artists all over “get” this.  You play because you love it, not for the money or you would never ever choose to do it.  David Byrne spoke to this point.  On her blog she remarked on David Byrne’s NYT article which stated: “as an example of someone who creatively crowdsources things,” She goes on to say, “Plus: “when david byrne guested with the grand theft orchestra a few months ago at the music hall of williamsburg, we paid him…in beer.”

Okay but this is all about Artsy-Musician-y stuff and what does that have to do with me anyway?

What is has to do with you is it may be part of a growing trend to Make people adhere to cash for pay standards.  After all, nobody gets taxes when you barter do they?  And who are you, the person to set the price of your goods and services? How dare you peons?!

An example of this is Bernard Von Nothause who was recently convicted by the Federal government due to his bartering with gold and silver.  Kenneth Shortgen Jr. wrote an article about it Here.  Shoot, does that also mean no more Disney Dollars?  What about the Classroom Dollars our kids use to buy prizes for good behavior.  (That’s right; kids apparently need to be paid to be good.)

Lest you think it’s just about currency, Chad Gerondale of Alaska is currently being prosecuted for trading firewood for meat. After offering to trade Moose meat for firewood on a Fairbanks radio station he found out, it is in fact a misdemeanor charge.  Even more lovely he was arrested by an officer who called him and made a deal to make the trade.  While this is not technically entrapment, it comes pretty close.

I knew the Feds would find some way to come after me; do I now need to conduct garden seed exchanges like a drug deal?

In fact there are federal laws in place about business and individual bartering; you are supposed to report it as income.  So go home and see if you made anything or lost anything by trading babysitting for that canoe your neighbor had.  Oh and there’s also capital gain.  Say, you’re out at a garage sale and pick up a vase for $25. You then get it appraised and find out it is worth $5,000. Then you think, hey a motorcycle would be rad!.. Do you pay taxes on that trade?  You betcha.  Treating the trade just like cash you just had a $4,975 capital gain on which taxes are applicable.

Honestly, as I’m writing that I’m beginning to wonder what that means for all the things I give away or receive for free on Freecycle

You see, hard time they aren’t here just for us.  Those companies, they are “individuals” too!  They are having hard times folks and us not buying stuff is just like hurting a person… or something. Also the Federal Government is not going to want to miss the ten cents from my rose hip to jam trade.  Ten cents is after all, ten cents. Or what was that song from Mary Poppins?  “Tuppence, deposited safely in the bank will com-pound!”   Or not, but either way the bank wins.

I have this suspicion that the Amanda Palmer beer for music trade had less to do with paying musicians than figuring a way to tax people’s income.  Especially given all the large scale press it’s been given.  And we can’t forget the fact that she broke records in her 1.2-ish million Kickstarter campaign. Which by the way, cause Albini to call her a “millionaire”.  Again, anyone working knows funding a recording and a tour with 1.2 million does not make you a millionaire.  And it’s  gotta piss some people off who only have their parents contributing to their Kickstarter.

But, it’s hard to put a dollar price on beer and hugs after all.  Maybe Moose and Beer, but the hugs, that throws everything out of whack.