Steve Albini on Amanda Palmer

So, Steve Albini talked about the Amy letter on his forum, and later clarified his remarks in an interview with Stool Pigeon.

I like Steve. He often makes a lot of sense and has a down to earth approach to engineering and production.

He mentioned a range of different music economies and says he favours self-sufficiency and efficiency. Fair enough.

Then he said:

“Given that the typical budget for albums I work on is less than $10,000, you can take your pick of line-items in her budget, divide by ten and still have an order of magnitude worth of waste from my perspective. I haven’t looked at the breakdown since I first saw it so don’t quote me on it (haha, “don’t quote me”, I just said something funny) but I recall that she skimmed a couple of hundred grand off the top for her pleasure prior to beginning to make the record.”

“Don’t quote me” isn’t particularly funny when you’re providing information for people making up their mind on this. Steve is well aware of the shortcomings of the media and I’m sure he also knows the Albini brand carries a lot of weight. Remember AFP is getting hate mail, this is no laughing matter. Here’s what she said originally:

“for the past 8 months or so, i wasn’t touring – and therefore wasn’t making much income – but every step of the way, there were expenses. so, during that time, i borrowed from various friends and family who i’d built up trust with over the years.

i had to pay my staff and crew to get this album ready as well as keep the ship afloat and headed in the right direction. i also needed to come up with the cost of the recording itself (which was pretty whopping), and any other expenses the band racked up in the meanwhile.
to put a number on all of that behind-the-scenes stuff which just got us to DAY ONE of kickstarter: $250,000.”

Steve says she “skimmed a couple of hundred grand off the top for her pleasure” because he works on albums with a $10,000 recording budget. Electrical Audio Studio doesn’t record an album for $10,000 including living expenses for the band and artist’s staff for 8 months.

On the basis of a flawed recollection about recording budgets he happily extrapolates every line-item in her budget. The gigs, the art shows, the downloads, the CDs, mailbox invasion, the vinyl, the book, the world tour, the USB record players, the one-to-ones… He could have done the lot for 10% (specifically $120,000, and that figure will include an “order of magnitude of waste”). Will someone be checking his budget for that in the press? Sadly not.

I think Steve forgets he has a day job. Amanda has one too but this is it, she is just an artist. When Steve goes on tour to Australia with his band—self-sufficiently and efficiently of course—he owns a recording studio and has a job as a producer to go back to.

That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Maybe Amanda Palmer did pay over the odds for recording the album. I haven’t seen the recording budget and Steve doesn’t claim to have seen it either. We just don’t know. Does it matter? I thought this debate was about paying volunteers. Is everyone now expected to record albums for no more than Steve Albini? How many classical string players does he include in that $10,000?

What started with one disgruntled musician has returned to the question of “Amanda Palmer millionaire”. Well, I grew up loving music. From Eric Burdon and The Animals to Steely Dan, through XTC and The Bevis Frond, to Amanda Palmer. Why do I care whether she got her studio time for a competitive rate? Did Yes get stiffed by Advision? Or maybe Eddie Offord played it straight but Atlantic A&R fiddled the budget? I’m pretty sure Ahmet Ertegun wouldn’t rip-off his artists or their fans, maybe we should look into the Accounts Department? I always suspected Steve Ross was living beyond his means. Hold on a sec, what kind of car does Chis Squire drive?

All these years I’ve been getting artists completely wrong. Instead of loving the music I should have been scrutinising their ledgers for self-sufficiency and efficiency. Now I think about it I’m sure I could’ve got giant polystyrene dinosaurs that worked properly, and for less money.