Each week, Eleanor Black asks someone to reflect on taking an exit - for a job, a lover, a lifestyle. This week former Dresden Dolls frontwoman Amanda Palmer reveals how she resorted to a "dirty tick" to be able to quit a recording contract.
Why did you leave the record label?
I had been forced to remain on my major label very much against my will. It was one of those purgatory situations in which nobody was happy but I was just completely forbidden from walking out the door of this obviously abusive relationship. And I tried everything. I took meeting after meeting with label executive after label executive, trying to convince them with pure logic that this was not a relationship worth salvaging because all of the trust had been broken, all of the signs pointed towards the end. They weren't happy with me and my work; I wasn't happy with them and their work [but] for them there was no upside to letting me exit. If they kept me around I might turn them a profit, so they simply left me enslaved in this contract and I was completely miserable. So were they. What was so miserable for you in this particular deal?
I was unhappy with pretty much everything, from the general way that they only saw music and art as a profit-oriented product, to the very specific way that they demanded that I change my appearance to be a more marketable female celebrity. I had been running my life and career and community with authenticity and connection at the very centre of the circle and I knew that if I kept my connection with my community at the very centre of the circle, money would be made, people would be happy, art would be created and that the entire structure would function. And mostly this major label demanded that I put profit, success and fame at the centre of my priorities. I just refused to do it. This was just before social media became massive in the music industry and I had built a little internet empire of artists and friends and fans and community, of which I was incredibly proud and protective. I would have meetings with the label and they would say things like, "We don't understand why you need a website when you don't have an album out."
How did you wrest yourself free?
I tried everything to get off the label. I tried being polite, I tried being logical, I tried being reasonable, I tried being nice. I tried hiring lawyers and all of these men, because, of course, they were all men, literally sat there with their arms crossed, saying, "We're sorry, Amanda, you can kick and scream and hire lawyers and plead your case but you signed a contract, you have five more records, you might eventually make us some money, we're not going to let you go." This wreaked emotional havoc in my life. I felt like I was being prostituted by this label, it just sucked. One of the label executives invited me out to dinner, to connect and try to patch things up, and I literally plotted out a theatrical evening. I doused myself in alcohol to make it seem like I was very drunk. I gargled with whiskey, perfumed my neck with it, poured it on my shirt so I would reek of booze. I immediately ordered a strong martini and pretended to be very drunk and very sad and I talked with this record executive all night about everything but the elephant in the room. At the end of the evening I started blubbering about how I couldn't share my secret with anyone but I knew I could tell him, because I could trust him. And the secret I told him was that I didn't want to make music anymore, I just wanted to have babies. And two weeks later I got kicked off my label. That was my exit. Ultimately, calling them on their own sexist bulls*** provided me an escape. It was such a dirty trick to play, but there was a part of me that was proud I could beat them at their own game.
When they let you go, what reason did they give you?
It was not that reason! They finally answered one of my pleading legal letters saying, "you're right Amanda, clearly this relationship is not working." But I know what happened. I have literally not stopped celebrating. Ten years ago and I am still popping emotional champagne every single day that I am not trapped in that building with those men making those decisions about my career.
*Amanda Palmer is touring her one-woman show, There Will Be No Intermission, in March, appearing at The Hollywood Avondale, Auckland, March 12 and 13 for the Auckland Arts Festival; The Piano, Christchurch, March 14; and at St Peter's on Willis, Wellington, March 16 as part of the NZ Fringe Festival.