The Art of Asking

These are my highlights from The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.

Collecting the dots. Then connecting them. And then sharing the connections with those around you. This is how a creative human works. Collecting, connecting, sharing.

When artists work well, they connect people to themselves, and they stitch people to one another, through this shared experience of discovering a connection that wasn’t visible before.

It was essential to feel thankful for the few who stopped to watch or listen, instead of wasting energy on resenting the majority who passed me by.

The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of “real” grown-ups who you believe—at some subconscious level—are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying: We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY

When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.

In both the art and the business worlds, the difference between the amateurs and the professionals is simple: The professionals know they’re winging it. The amateurs pretend they’re not.

Given the opportunity, some small consistent portion of the population will happily pay for art.

All performers—all humans—want to be seen; it’s a basic need. Even the shy ones who don’t want to be looked at.

Those who can ask without shame are viewing themselves in collaboration with—rather than in competition with—the world.

Asking is like courtship; begging, you are already naked and panting

the term “Indian Giver,” which most people consider an insult: someone who offers a gift and then wants to take it back. But the origin of the term—coined by the Puritans—speaks volumes. A Native American tribal chief would welcome an Englishman into his lodge and, as a friendly gesture, share a pipe of tobacco with his guest, then offer the pipe itself as a gift. The pipe, a valuable little object, is—to the chief—a symbolic peace offering that is continually regifted from tribe to tribe, never really “belonging” to anybody. The Englishman doesn’t understand this, is simply delighted with his new property, and is therefore completely confused when the next tribal leader comes to his house a few months later, and, after they share a smoke, looks expectantly at his host to gift him the pipe. The Englishman can’t understand why anyone would be so rude to expect to be given this thing that belongs to him. Hyde concludes: The opposite of “Indian giver” would be something like “white man keeper”…that is, a person whose instinct is to remove property from circulation…The Indian giver (or the original one, at any rate) understood a cardinal property of the gift: whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again, not kept…The only essential is this: The gift must always move.

why I highly recommend street performing over attending a conservatory to any musician, especially if they’re going into rock and roll: it wears your ego down to stubbly little nubs and gives you performance balls of steel.

was no distinction between fans and friends. Not only did most of our early fans know where I lived and where we practiced, but most of them had also been in my kitchen.


We didn’t want to tap a particular crowd—we didn’t want to be a hip indie band or a goth band. We wanted the people who came to the shows to feel like they were part of our weird little family, that they would never be turned away at the door for not being cool enough.

Sometimes, if we didn’t have a place to crash, we’d just ask from the stage. HANDS UP IF YOU CAN LET US SLEEP AT YOUR HOUSE TONIGHT.

There’s really no honor in proving that you can carry the entire load on your own shoulders.

Limitations can expand, rather than shrink, the creative flow.

The politician Tip O’Neill once said something along these lines: If you want to make someone your real friend, ask them for a favor.

A 2010 Princeton University study conducted by two economists concluded that money DOES buy happiness, but only up to the point (which turns out to be an individual annual income of about $75,000) where you have your basic needs met along with a few extra comforts. After that, the ability to buy happiness with money nosedives.

It’s one thing to want a horse to win, Joe would tell him. And it’s another thing to buy the ticket

All art, no matter what shape it is, has to come from somewhere. We can only connect the dots that we can collect.

I didn’t want to force people to help me. I wanted to let them.

Staying in your own home can be corrosive and stifling, especially for creative work.

When you openly, radically trust people, they not only take care of you, they become your allies, your family.

I chatted constantly online, and listened to input and feedback from the fans. If they wanted high-end lithograph posters, I made high-end lithograph posters. If they wanted 180-gram vinyl, I made 180-gram vinyl. If they wanted Things—pillowcases with hand-drawn art on them, T-shirts that came in gray in size XXXL—I made the Things. The only department where I wasn’t open to input was the writing, the music itself. That’s my job, not theirs, but I tried to involve them in every other facet of the new world of independent artist-hood. They were now officially along for the ride.

A lot like art, I thought, like any work of fiction. The story was fake, but the impact was real.

For most of human history, musicians and artists have been part of the village, accessing one another freely. They’ve been healers, listeners, mind-openers—in touch with the community, not untouchable stars on screens and behind barricades.

As long as art is coming out the other side and making your patrons happy, the money you need to live—and “need to live” is hard to define—is almost indistinguishable from the money you need to make art.

In order to have a stalker, you need to be a decent stalk-ee, and I’m terrible. I don’t think you can stalk somebody who’s available after every show, and who announces which café she’s writing in and tweets pictures of her coffee, telling you to drop by and say yo. It’s not really interesting to go through someone’s trash when they’ve already twittered pictures of it.

Not everybody wants to be looked at. Everybody wants to be seen.

Sometimes asking gracefully means saying less. Or saying nothing. You can move your mouth to ask, but what is the rest of your body saying? What is the message behind the words?

It isn’t what you say to people, it’s more important what you do with them. It’s less important what you do with them than the way you’re with them.

as far as the brain is concerned, physical pain and intense experiences of social rejection hurt in the same way…Neuroscience

If you love people enough, they’ll give you everything.

Since ever, in China, bamboo farmers have planted baby bamboo shoots deep into the ground. And then, for three years, nothing happens. But the farmers will work, diligently watering the shoot, spreading hay and manure, waiting patiently, even though nothing is sprouting up. They simply have faith. And then, one day, the bamboo will shoot up and grow up to thirty feet in a month. It just blasts into the sky. Any small, sustainable artist-fan community works like this. Crowdfunding works like this.

Fame doesn’t buy trust. Only connection does that.

a paradox struck me that seemed to get at the heart of the matter: What if I’d simply SOLD the chance to come play with the band onstage by making it a package of the Kickstarter—an item for purchase, like a $25 CD or a $10,000 art-sitting? What if I’d charged $100 for the opportunity to come and play trombone live onstage with my band? I didn’t need to do an experiment to find the answer; The Polyphonic Spree, an orchestral indie band, had already done it for me. They launched a Kickstarter that same month and offered a $1,500 option to come onstage with any instrument and join the band for a few numbers. They limited the number of packages to ten, and sold every one of them. There was no controversy.

Nobody would have yelled GET A JOB at the ticket-taker outside a gallery door if The Bride had been on view for a dollar a pop.

Everybody finds their own path for letting other people help.

The only people who can really judge if a request is fair are the ones being asked—the ones who have the relationships are the ones who understand the complexity of the situation.

Effective crowdfunding is not about relying on the kindness of strangers, it’s about relying on the kindness of your crowd. There’s a difference.

My theory: one of the biggest reasons people usually want to help an artist is because they really want…to help an artist. Not get a fancy beer cozy. If they make the decision to help, they will help at the level at which they are able, no matter what token, flower, or simple thank-you awaits them at the other end.

Since Kickstarter began, 887,256 backers have asked for the artists to refrain from sending them any kind of reward—which represents a little over 14 percent of their user base. Sometimes people just want to help. You never know until you ask.

Let them in, love them, let them go. No fight. Like I said. Sieve. Befriend every dragon. You get it.

If you want to know what you believe, ask the people you taught.

Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability.

The entertainment industry, reflecting the world at large, has been obsessed with the wrong question: how do we MAKE people pay for content? What if we started thinking about it the other way around: how do we LET people pay for content? The first question is about FORCE. The second is about TRUST.

Ben Folds, a piano-slaying, songwriting friend of mine, wrote a song called “Free Coffee” about the irony of being showered with certain kinds of help once you don’t need it as much. It’s a kind of Murphy’s Law. Let’s call it Ben’s Law: Once you’re a well-known artist who can afford to buy coffee, some percentage of the independent coffee shops you walk into will be staffed by a fan who will offer you free coffee. You will want to scream, I DON’T NEED FREE COFFEE! I CAN FINALLY AFFORD COFFEE, I COULD EVEN BUY LIKE TWO HUNDRED COFFEES AND NOT FEEL THE FINANCIAL STING or NOW? NOW YOU OFFER ME FREE COFFEE? And you will realize you’re staring down the barrel of your past, being offered free coffee by a previous incarnation of your barista self, the one who worked at Toscanini’s and had $26 in her bank account. And you will look at yourself and remember how you used to give free coffee to the people you admired and liked, to your friends, to your family, to the old professor of yours who walked into the shop and barely recognized you. And so you will take the coffee, because the truth of the matter is that your acceptance of the gift IS the gift. And if you’re not in a hurry, you will also draw the barista a picture, or draw a picture for his friend who’s a huge fan, or tell her about the Ben Folds song. And when he’s not looking, you leave a ten-dollar bill in the tip jar. Because you can. And because you remember how fucking amazing it used to feel to empty out the tip jar and see a ten-dollar bill. The gift must always move.

You can’t give people what they want. But you can give them something else.