How I Did It

By JoCo May 18, 2007

This is a very long post.

Since the big NY Times Magazine article a lot of just-starting indie musicians have been writing to ask about how I made all of this happen. The honest answer is that I don’t really know, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I didn’t start with much of a plan – I can only tell you in retrospect how and why I think it happened.

I’d say the first piece of it was years ago when I started writing and playing music for John Hodgman’s Little Gray Book Lectures, a reading series (plus extra craziness) that happened once a month in Brooklyn. It was John’s show, and he was certainly the one who created and drew the audience, but it put me regularly in front of a group of people who enjoyed and responded to the stuff I was doing. I think after it got going there were generally 100-150 people at each show. It also made me stretch a bit creatively, having to write songs about unusual subjects. I set up a website so that I could put each song up there the day after I performed it – I wasn’t really thinking of making money, and I didn’t even really pay much attention to how many people were downloading and listening.

The next thing I did was to make a CD and put it on CDBaby, signing up for their digital distribution so that all those songs went out to all the online music stores. I didn’t sell very much stuff as far as I remember, maybe a couple CD’s a month, but at this point it really wasn’t so much about making a living. Mostly it was a nice ego boost to have an actual CD, and to see my name come up in the iTunes store.

A man named Andrew Zolli saw me play “The Future Soon” at Little Gray Books, and then asked me to come perform at a conference in Maine called Pop!Tech. I was skeptical that anyone outside of the context of a Little Gray Books show wanted to hear a song about a robot army destroying the Earth (and tearing out someone’s eyes), but the Pop!Tech audience was VERY receptive. They asked me to do a couple more songs over the course of the long weekend, and I became pretty convinced that I had found my voice and my audience. Not to mention, this was a very tech-friendly crowd, so it led to a lot of blog postings and emailing of links – I scrambled to get as many mp3s on my site as possible so that I could ride this tiny wave of internet buzz, literally editing html on a computer in the green room before I went onstage. I saw a very exciting jump in traffic, and a little light bulb went off in the back of my brain. I began to think about blogs in a different way after I saw a few of them write about and link to me, and it made me want to set up my own site as a blog (just in case I ever had anything to say).

Pop!Tech is where is where the idea for me becoming Popular Science Magazine‘s Contributing Troubadour was born (I would later enhance my geek cred by writing a soundtrack for an issue of the magazine about the future of the body). It’s also where I first heard of Creative Commons. Lawrence Lessig spoke that year, and it was the most thrilling idea I had ever heard. I felt like my head was going to explode. Sometime after seeing him speak and reading his book “Free Culture,” I decided to make all my music Creative Commons. There were primarily two reasons: first, I thought it was such a beautiful way to envision the landscape of culture and creativity, all these ideas floating around, getting used and re-used, and I wanted to contribute to the soup. Second, I thought it was a great way to encourage the music to circulate – not just because it’s legal to pass copies along to your friends, but also for the more cynical and self-serving reason that it was sort of a hip and trendy thing to do, and something that people and press and bloggers would talk about. Even today it still makes for a good story, because to most people it seems counter-intuitive that freeing the music will actually benefit the artist. I wasn’t entirely sold on that idea myself, but I was given courage by people like Brad Sucks, Wilco, Cory Doctorow, Jane Siberry, and many others who seemed to be leveraging the power of free (or semi-free) stuff in creative and productive ways. (Just a note here: Creative Commons doesn’t necessarily mean free as in free beer – you can still sell your Creative Commons licensed music, it just gives people more options for how they can use it once they have it.)

Sometime around then the song “Ikea” was played on Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code podcast. I had heard about podcasting, and while I understood technically what a podcast was, I didn’t find the idea that interesting. But Adam did this amazing thing – just before he played “Ikea” he played the tones that set iTrip FM transmitters to 93.5 (or some other frequency maybe), the idea being that if you were listening to the podcast using an iTrip in your car and someone in the car next to you was listening to that station, their radio would suddenly be hijacked and start playing my song. Another light bulb went off – suddenly I understood the potential of podcasting. Not so much that FM transmitters were going to start hijacking radio frequencies all over the world or anything. It was really more of a metaphor, the idea that even a very small broadcast can be powerful because of the other broadcasts it touches. Podcasting, like blogging, is very incestuous: bloggers read a lot of blogs and podcasters listen to a lot of podcasts. I started getting airplay and interviews on some other podcasts – Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles, Wizards of Technology (R.I.P. Bill), Indiefeed, and more and more as time went on.

Then John Hodgman published a book called “The Areas of My Expertise,” and soon after he would become a Daily Show correspondent, an actor in some Apple ads, and generally a famous person. But before all those things happened, back when he was merely an author of a hilarious book, John asked me to accompany him on his book tour so that we could bring a little bit of the Little Gray Books business to his readings – he would read, I would sing songs and be his troubadour. I’m certain that this helped me a great deal. Once again I found myself in front of audiences who weren’t necessarily there to see me, but who were pretty likely to enjoy the stuff I was doing. And as he got more and more famous, audiences got bigger, and continued to be forced to listen to me.

So at this point there was something happening, some kind of word-of-mouth thing. My music was bouncing around all these various networks: blogs, podcasts, P2P file sharing, Last.fm (and other online music, web 2.0, social network-y type things) John’s audience. And of course, every audience had at least a few people who were broadcasters of some sort, on account of the netterwebs. So it was a small but growing chain reaction, and while it didn’t generate enough money to live on, it certainly gave me hope that it could be built into something that did. Remember, all this was before I quit my day job writing software, and I think that’s an important thing to note – you can get a lot done even while you have a job. Career transitions are tricky things, and the more you can get established in the new one before you leave the old one, the easier it will be.

But then I did quit the day job. I’ve talked about this a lot in interviews, and yes, it felt very scary and in a lot of ways it felt like a mistake. And I wasn’t sure how or even if I was going to be able to make a living this way, but for whatever reason I felt like there wasn’t ever going to be an easier time to do it. Luckily my wife was onboard with the plan (or rather, non-plan), even though she was at least as doubtful as I was about it being a good idea. But we knew that at least for a while we could stay alive with just her income – worst case scenario, I could always get another job.

To keep myself busy, and to pretend that my new life was an actual career, I decided to start Thing a Week. I wasn’t sure it was going to last a year so that wasn’t the goal at the outset – they weren’t even supposed to be complete songs. But early on I set the bar high and couldn’t go back. I released each song for free on my site, set the whole thing up as a podcast feed, and submitted the feed to iTunes. In the beginning I wasn’t selling the music at all, I didn’t even think to set up a store. I wasn’t sure too many people were going to pay attention anyway, and I also didn’t know if the songs would even be good enough to sell.

Then at week 5 I ran out of ideas. I had nothing I wanted to write about, so I turned to an old idea for a cover that my wife had suggested long ago, “Baby Got Back.” It felt a little cheap to be doing a cover so early in the process, especially one as gimmicky as this was, but I didn’t have much of a choice. For whatever reason, this song hit very big – it got blogged by a couple of big sites (and by a lot of small ones), and all of a sudden there were hundreds of thousands of people coming to my site. The spike was huge, but temporary, and of course I didn’t have any way for anybody to buy the song – I think I even wrote an angst-ridden post at the time about how I was getting all this traffic but it wasn’t leading to many sales of my other stuff. But when the spike went away, the nominal traffic levels were a little higher than they had been before. And that happened a few more times to varying degrees during Thing a Week: I would release something that I thought was sort of OK, it would get picked up by the right places, and suddenly the site would explode with new eyeballs. After the spike faded, the overall traffic would settle at some slightly higher level. And once I had the store set up (through a site called Payloadz.com, taking payments with Paypal and Google Checkout), traffic did start to correlate with sales, even though that week’s song was always on my main page for free. All the Thing a Week songs are still free through iTunes.

And as I watched the numbers grow every week, I was delighted to see that people were also taking advantage of the Creative Commons license to feed creative work back to me. Len from the Jawbone Radio podcast started doing an image to go with every song, and people like Spiff and Kerrin started creating music videos and posting them online. Not only were these things a huge ego boost, but they inserted my music into even more networks that I never would have gotten to on my own.

Somewhere in the middle of Thing a Week I hooked up with Paul and Storm, who actually played live for audiences sometimes. I did not do a lot of live shows during this whole period, mostly because it used to be I couldn’t draw a crowd, and it’s really soul-sucking to play a show to the four friends who feel obligated to be there. I opened for Paul and Storm a couple of times and was surprised to find an audience of actual fans showing up to see me, which suddenly made performing a lot of fun. I started to play more shows in NY, DC, Philly, opening for them as well as my friend Jim Boggia and whoever else I found myself getting hooked up with, once again drawing new fans from other people’s audiences. I learned a lot about how to plan and execute a live show from Paul and Storm, all the details of booking and travel and merchandise.

They also introduced me to their booking agent (who is now my booking agent), who initially gave me the standard advice about playing in ever-widening concentric circles, building an audience by playing and playing and playing. It sounded like a lot of work to me. By this time I had somehow come across Eventful.com, registered as an artist, and started to tell people through my site to go there and demand a show. When I found out at the last minute that I was going to be doing something with John Hodgman in Seattle one weekend in September 2006, I used Eventful and my own site to alert all my Seattle fans that I would do a show if someone would find an available venue for me. Within 24 hours I had several options, so I picked one and set up the show. An audience of 75 people materialized out of nowhere to come hear me play. My booking agent called me after that to say “Forget what I said about ever-widening concentric circles, it looks like there’s a way to skip that step.” And now he and I use the numbers at Eventful (along with his own expertise at this sort of thing) to plan where I’m going to play.

In September 2006 Thing a Week ended, then right before Christmas the Thing a Week Box Set went on sale. Around then I was interviewed on NPR Weekend Edition which led to another huge surge in traffic. I continue to receive and rely on the support of bloggers, podcasters and fans, and I’m playing shows for ever more thrillingly large audiences in cities I’ve never been to before. And then there was that NY Times Magazine story, which seemed to tie it all together in ways that even I hadn’t been able to express.

And so here we are. I wish I could say it went exactly as planned, but the truth is there was no plan. I just knew that many of the people who heard my music liked it, and I imagined that it must be somehow possible to make a living as an independent artist, letting the internet to take care of a lot of the work for you. It was an optimistic assumption, and one based largely on laziness and wishful thinking, but it turns out to be true. I owe a great deal to the many other independent artists from whom I have stolen a lot of these ideas. And I owe even more to the massive interlocking networks of friends, fans and broadcasters of all shapes and sizes who have circulated the music to so many people. Not to mention, I’ve had a good bit of luck along the way.

So when people ask me for advice I’m not exactly sure what to tell them, since from my perspective it seems to be something that just happened. But what I take away from this experience is the idea that you can build a fan base by getting your music into the hands and ears of people who are likely to pass it along, which is pretty much how the music business has always worked anyway. What’s different these these days is that these networks you need to build that audience are all a lot more cheap and efficient than they used to be. So if you’re just starting out with something like this, I’d avise you to steal all the good ideas you can find and then make up a few of your own – try everything, see what works.

If art has an audience, and if that art is allowed to go wherever it wants to, it will eventually find its way to where it’s supposed to be. That’s the theory anyway, and I think it will only become more true as the world gets smaller and we all get more and more connected.

Comments

Zach says

Beautiful post, Jon. You forgot to mention one thing, though--your songs are, y'know, GOOD.

(Proud audience member at that first show at Jammin' Java...)

Trampas says

I must echo Zach... it helps when you're chock full 'o talent.

I sang "First of May" at karaoke this week. The KJ hasn't smiled that much since I did the theme song to "The Neverending Story".. and that's saying something. Thank you!

Bassguy says

That is an awesome essay. I know that if it wasn't for podcasting, I wouldn't have found your stuff. It really is a powerful tool.

Len says

Wow...all I wanted to know is what your secret is to making your fabulous chili. But thanks for that anyway.

Kidding...you were destined. That's how it happened.

Rachel says

This is fun to read; I'm glad you posted it.

Sometimes I think I should write Zolli a thankyou note for the general fabulousness of Pop!Tech, which has enriched my life in so many strange and interesting ways.

Also, now I have "Ikea" in my head -- thanks a lot. *g*

JS says

Tearing out someone's eyes?

I'd always envisioned poor Laura just had her retinas burned out...you know, by a robot's laser gun.

Luke says

This is an excellent post. Someone forwarded me the NY-Times article, and I've spent the past few days obsessing over it. I've blogged and emailed (kind of) privately over the past few years, and I had no idea of the breadth of these networks. The curiosity was self-serving, too, as I'm also a songwriter, so I'm constantly looking for ways to get people to give me money.

Your songs are good.

D.J. says

Thanks for this, Jonathan.

I think you know how much the path you've particularly taken has inspired me to do more with my writing. Wherever it takes me or doesn't, I know I've given it all I could because of your example.

And beyond any of that, I just plain love the songs. Thanks for sharing them -- and yourself -- with the world.

Lindsay says

So, in summary, you're brilliant, and we're all so glad you had the drive to keep it going :)

First, teh intarweb, then, the world! (and perhaps pluto's moon as well)

Javier says

"Lindsay Says:
First, teh intarweb, then, the world! (and perhaps pluto’s moon as well)"

I thought Pluto WAS the moon? Aw man, now my head is goin' round and round.

xadrian says

You know, every success story has two things in common.

First, whoever is involved works their ass off. Very few people who are truly gifted become famous or successful from sitting on their duffs all day.

Second, there's always a bit of luck. But when you work hard, you make your own luck. I always hear, "I was lucky I guess. In the right place at the right time." Thing is, if Jonathan here hadn't decided to quit his job and make music, he wouldn't have forced himself to to make all those songs, songs which got notice, which got his site more views, which got him more fans, which got him bigger shows, which got him more confidence to make more music, which more people hearing him and so on.

I'm not knocking his success, and I'm a bit envious of it (musicians always get more chicks than cartoonists) I'm just bringing it back down to the simplicity of hard work.

Your's is a great story more for the fact that you didn't spend your time in high school or college in a band struggling to get a contract year after year, but you were a work-a-day Joe 9-5er like your fans are and you made the choice to leave it to pursue a dream. That alone and your work ethic are the parts I admire most.

xadrian says

Jeez, "yours." :-/

AdPulp says

The Art of 1-to-1 Marketing...

Last Sunday's The New York Times Magazine features an article by Clive Thompson about online fan management and how it's chaning the game for bands, authors and other artists. It's a great read and one with lots of lessons......

Sami says

Such an inspiring essay Mr. Coulton. Being the growing musician I am, this essay gives me new portals to advertise my compositions through. This profound, revolutionary approach to selling your music seems so rudimentary and overall baseless, but it actually highly contagious as you illustrated. After reading your article in the NY times, I know you have alot of fan mail to answer so for me, if you will, check out my band at myspace.com/hypnophonicband. Replying would be amazing, but I'd rather you take a listen to our old material which will be replaced this summer with a new CD.

-Thanks,Sami

Mike says

Great post! I think Zach hit the nail on the head...you have been successful because you are good! Really good!

Your music hits each and every one of us in different ways and I for one, love it.

In connection to your part about Paul & Storm, one of my friends called Canal Street to confirm the time for Saturday and when he said "Jonathan Coulton", they said it was "Paul & Storm". He called me back pissed off thinking I had screwed the dates up...

See you Saturday!

Randal says

I've gotta reiterate what Zach and Trampas said--the first thing, the primary thing, is that you write and record excellent music. The internet and all the simple means of getting that music into folks hands that go along with that mean that you don't have to do the promotion and working for "the man" that artists in the pre-internet era had to fight for in order to make a decent living.

I've a friend who dreams of your life--sadly he's both lazy and a mediocre talent, at best, and will not in his wild imaginings have in his lifetime the success you have now.

One final note. In the NYT magazine article, you mentioned a certain amount of trepidation over the fact that your biggest hits kinda fell into the category of novelty songs, and I was reminded of Bobby Pickett, who died recently and was cited in his obituary as never having to work again for the rest of his life based on the strength of a single novelty song. I'd wish you that kind of success, but hopefully you'll keep writing and recording after your giant mega-hit.

GarageSpin says

Thanks for the great post, Jonathan.

Man. It's going to be harder and harder to get tickets to your show now, isn't it? :)

-Mike

Jesse says

Let me boil this story down for you.

"Bullshit bullshit bullshit, I went on The Sound of Young America, bullshit bullshit, I'm a star." - Jonathan Coulton

How Jonathan Coulton Did It : Evil Genius Chronicles says

[...] Jonathan Coulton has a long post relating the case study of how he became an internet buzzworthy artist with an income. He very kindly name checks me in it. I’m pretty sure the timetable is slightly different, in that I played his “Dance Soterios Johnson Dance” in an EGC episode the day after I found it in a Little Gray Book show on the PRX feed. In fact, I played it straight from the episode, reblogging it but in audio. I do believe that was before any Coulton was played on the Daily Source Code. I’m pretty sure my interview with him was his first in a podcast as well. Not trying to pull rank or anything, just make sure people see the flag of EGCistan on the top of that mountain. [...]

Janet says

Something you didn't mention that I think has been part of your success is the fact that you create contemporary music with complex harmonies. I've been starved for that kind of music for a long time, and it looks like I'm not the only one. We're in a phase where so much of pop music has been shouted atonal rap, or quivery-voiced solo music. When vocal harmonies are part of pop songs, they're seldom critical to the message of the song. You add the harmonies on top of complex lyrics, and we're left with music we (a) can't get out of our heads, and (b) keep quoting to people. Lethal combination. :)

Kurt says

Thanks for sharing this post, Jonathan.

I agree with many of the commenters -- your songs are fantastic!
Although you seem far too modest to say so, that must have something
to do with your success.

Any chance that you'll give us an article someday about how you
developed your musical style? How did you get started? What
influenced you? What do you do today to grow musically?

andrine says

I am glad to personally take credit for building a good chunk your Portland, Oregon fan base. You're very welcome, btw. And thanks for visiting me in my dreams last night. I woke with a smile.

undina says

I have never heard your music but, will persue it now. I learned a lot from your style of creating fan base ect. I am very happy for you I hope your wildest dreams come true.
another artist

Randal says

Jesse-

I actually discovered TSOYA through Coulton's (and Hodgman's) plugs for it. I probably would have found it anyway if I, say, lived in Hattiesburg. ;)

Dave says

Is the title of this post a reference to Young Frankenstein?

Scarybug says

Did the crossover with Ze Frank give you any kind of spike? It was interesting to see you show up on his show, considering his experience kind of parallels yours in a lot of ways.

Also, the Madison show was fantastic! My wife did a comic about it. (Click on my name to see it)

How JoCo Did It | banannie says

[...] Yesterday Coulton published in his blog what he rightfully says up front is “a very long post.” But in that post he takes us step by step through his journey from amateur musician just helping a friend to a guy who was able to quit his day job and make music his career, all with lots of help from the internet. [...]

Rob Halbasch says

I'm very glad that things have worked out for you thus far. I first was exposed to your song Re Your Brains on the Dr. Demento show, and thought it was awesome. Then the next week, I heard Chiron Beta Prime on the Dr's show and was a JoCo fan from there on out.
I pray that you don't loose interest and continue to ride the wave wherever it takes you. I adore your "things" and can't wait for the next CD. If you ever find yourself in the Kansas City area, I'll be in the crowd cheering and singing along.
Congrats and well done

Average Jon says

Sounds like a lot of work. I think I'll try the reality TV route instead.

Jimmy (little lord) says

Hey, this is kool. I started writing a song a week for something I call Funky Fridays at littlelordmusic.com . I missed a few weeks along the way, because of a similar "this is getting outta hand" kind of thing, but your story is inspiring, and humbling, because I've missed a lot of opportunities along the way in the name of prudence or something, so you've already taught me a LOT. In the words of my 11-year-old son, while listening to "Re," "This guy is brilliant!"

Luke M says

It must be a trip to realize that you are incredibly talented. We all suspect that we are, but few of us have the moxie to actually put it to the test of public acclamation or rejection. You put your stuff out there and, lo and behold, it turns out that your music speaks to a huge number of people and we like you as an artist and a person and want to give you money. That must be amazingly gratifying and you have totally earned it. Cheers, comrade, and may you keep making awesome songs 4evR!

Alrak says

Your story is very inspiring and I hope that it will act as an incentive for other artists starting out to maybe adopt some of your tactics :) I hope your success continues and I can't wait to hear anything new that you bring out in the future soon!

Deviant Abstraction » Blog Archive » The Long Tail In Practice says

[...] Link [...]

doctorsoul says

As an independent artist, this story is a true inspiration to go on with what I'm after... (making nerdy-crappy tunes).
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a website and a buzz to create....

Jay says

I think the novelty factor is key. Yes, it helps that the music (of the most popular non-cover songs) is good...but I wonder how much attention the music would really be getting without the novelty factor of the funny lyrics.

How often does a good song get Dugg and Slashdotted and get millions of downloads if the song does NOT have a novelty factor?...probably not that often.

Also, everyone loves a story about someone beating the odds without the backing of big corporations.

Jay

stazza says

Hey, new here.

Read the NYT magazine article.
Thought it was interesting as a former student of economics.
Didn't inspire me to check out your music.
Probably because the article didn't really discuss it.

But Jamie Poniewozik of Time magazine just linked to a fan video of "Code Monkey" in his blog.
I figure, "What the heck, it's one click away. Check it out."

My power-pop-loving heart fell hard.

Thank you.

Piggy The Cat says

....but you couldn't have done it without me.

Kodamakitty says

Ack - it just seems too perfect to end with Piggy's comment, but I feel compelled to add my comment too (sorry Piggy)...

JC - your humility and thoughtfulness are one of the major reasons your fans (both the fanatics and the afficionados) love you and your work. Sure, the funny stuff is really funny, but it's also smart and very well crafted. I'm sure the hardest part now is trying to decide what direction to grow in next. I'm equally certain that the handclaps will still be part of the equation.

Fantastic show in Chicago - I'll have pics up on Flickr for everyone's general consumption soon. I wish I had been able to capture it on video, hopefully someone did, but one of the highlights of the evening was when the entire audience was singing the chorus of "Skullcrusher Mountain" with just the guitar accompaniment. That's pretty amazing and it was cool to be part of it. The additional harmonies of Paul and Storm were also great - maybe you could release a live disc from your tour with them, or maybe an Unplugged-type studio album?

And major kudos to your missus and family for their support. It takes a lot of faith and commitment to be willing to share your time with the world.

Kudos,
^_^ Liza

PS - In my excitement to say "hi" I didn't get to introduce my faithful husband and sidekick, nor did I explain that the 'WSU' on the monkey stood for Wayne State University in Detroit, MI (insert rolling eyes here). Clearly, I was totally gobsmacked - thanks for being such a good sport! Oh, and the monkey really can become a cat toy, hope Piggy likes it!

patrice says

Cool post, thanks.

I found out about you through Merlin's "The Merlin Show", and then saw his link to the NY Times article.

Have also been mentioning you on my blog, privately to friends, and on Last.FM journals.

Keep up the good work & being a positive role model for your kid! :-)

Odineye says

This is an interesting overview. For any success, as someone else mentioned, there is usually very hard work behind it. The other common denominator, it seems, is actually putting yourself out there. I don't think that can be underestimated - you can work as hard as you like at home, but if you tell no one and do not make yourself available, they cannot know.

It's interesting how that sort of thing - getting yourself out there - seems to grow on its own after a point, in a very organic fashion. At first it seems to hit only the people you directly target but then, as the network grows, things start coming in from directions that you were unaware of or didn't expect. I run a small consulting business where this started happening a year or so ago - I get calls now from people I don't know and have never directly contacted.

The other part of the organic thing is that things don't grow in the direction one might expect. I find the order that you list things happening in interesting because that's now how it looked from my perspective. I first heard of Hodgeman through JC - not the other way around.

Finally - as regards the songs being novelty numbers: While I can see why you would say that, I don't really think of them that way. Most pop music seems to me to be the same two songs about love and sex from the perspective of late adolescent angst, remixed ad nauseum. It's been a very long time since I've been able to identify with that topic area. JC's stuff is about things I'm interested in and, while Wierd Al's stuff is blatantly obvious, nothing you write is just about what could be thought of as the "novelty" portion of the song.

That, along with the exceptional music in the songs, keeps me listening well past the point where the novelty wears off.

CG says

While the fact that some of your lyrics are funny may have gotten you the initial attention and airplay [webplay?], it's the universality of the characters' feelings that stays with us. The future-evil-geniuses of "The Future Soon" and "Skullcrusher Mountain" resonate with us because we've all felt strange and rejected and seek to get even. I've been the Code Monkey in a cubicle wanting more, and the guy with the Shop-Vac, lost in the suburbs. There's a sincerity and humanity in the funny stories that transcends the humor. And that got me to listen to the "You Changed Everything"s and "So Far So Good"s, which are equally universal although more serious.

And the tunes rock, too.

As for expanding the audiences: you have a horde of teens who worship your every tune but can't see you at grownup shows. How about performing for them too? I understand they have money to spend on seeing live music - don't let them waste it on insubstantial pop divas!

Bob says

You come for the funny, you stay for the music.

Giggleloop says

Hey, thanks for the link to Eventful, I demanded a St. Louis area show, heehee. Glad to see you're enjoying success, I love the music. :) Keep rockin'.

Bee says

Jon - Just wanted to say thank you for working so hard to get your music out there. Your witty use of words and your beautiful singable tunes stay in our heads for days. You are a true bard of our time.

Shruti says

My top six reasons for being glad that you're successful and that I can listen to your stuff:

1. Lyrics. I mean, my goodness. They're just so good. Spectacular. I mean, regardless of whether they're funny or not, they're amazing.

2. Music. Because, I mean, it's all you. And that takes so much skill that I am forever marveling. And your songs complex and interesting and beautiful.

3. Voice. You really do have a very pretty one.

4. Panache and/or poise and/or chivalry. Which is to say, your attitude.

5. Accessibility. This website and so on.

6. Free things. Because I am not made of cash and will not be made of cash until next year, at which point I will certainly repay you for all of this.

(As previously stated, I'm all for concerts for your teenage fanbase, though.)

Jordan says

Thanks for sharing all that!

Luke M says

Bob Says:
May 21st, 2007 at 8:07 am

You come for the funny, you stay for the music.

Right on.

RachelAPP/Nat JM says

Thanks for posting this :-)

I'm kind of in the same situation as you a couple of years ago, with my audience nicely building up at the moment through web 2.0 word of mouth. Your story is very inspiring, it has given me hope that in six months time, quitting my job won't seem like such a stupid idea.

Good luck with everything, and i'm hoping i can catch you live next time i'm in the States.

Aaron says

Wow! This is really interesting to hear about how it happened for you.
I discovered your stuff through del.ic.ous a while back and your appearance on TSOYA only consolidated my love.
You're awesome, John! Keep it up.

Jarod says

And look at you now... couldn't even get in to your sold out chicago performance ;O)

Jessica says

Hi Jonathan,

Congrats on the great coverage in the NYT; I'm sure it has created many new fans like myself!

I hope you and all of your new indie-artist friends will check out http://www.ourstage.com (disclaimer: I work for them). It is a new website designed to help indie-artists in music and film find their fans. Submit your work and see what happens. Good luck!

Lori says

Now all you need is to get yourself booked on the Colbert Report and get that Colbert "bump". Everybody will know you then. But you have to let Colbert sing a song with you.

Eric Ginsberg says

I continue to learn from the best.

Kevin says

At last! The story behind the man behind the code monkey behind the soft-rocker behind all of John Hodgman's success.

Way to go, JC!!

Finally, the truth can be told.

--kevin

PS. My daughter is still amazed everytime she sees a photo of you: amazed that those dulcet tones come from all of that hair.

Jon Sobel says

Here's a review of the Brooklyn show:
http://blogcritics.org/archives/2007/05/23/205140.php

Piggy The Cat says

Im your biggest.....I mean smallest fan!

Canuckflack / Jonathan Coulton - from his own mouth says

[...] Then you’ll like Jonathon’s own personal account: How I Did It. [...]

Opus Fluke says

It has to be said that "Re: Your Brains" was what got me hooked. I listen to it quite frequently not just because it still makes me laugh but also because it possesses quality, from the idea through to production. Just today over at the foums for "The Zombie Hunters" web comic someone posted a link to the video done by a fan using WoW and another member wanted to know where to get the MP3 and it was with great pleasure I posted the link to Thing of The Week 26 and your site. Creative Commons allows wit and creativity to win out over focus groups and banality every time.
And when I finally get some money together you can expect a whole lot of cash heading your way. "...Brains" kept me sane while running the gauntlet of Christmas shopping in a mall here in Scotland...

Curt Siffert says

Yeah, I'm definitely one of the people that would have written and asked the exact same questions, I'm very happy to have read this entry. I've been toying with the same sorts of things over at my site (see my name), posting piano improvisations and fully-written songs, and struggling to find readers and listeners. I guess I'm just in the very early stages, though - this story shows again how everyone's journey is different and you just kind of have to stumble through and capitalize on the little bits of success that come to you. I kind of see it as a detective following clues. Thanks!

Lauren says

It's amazing what word of mouth and a brilliant but unknown song writer can do hen combined.

All I can think of is how every time I play Code Monkey, my roomate drops weverything and starts singing along. I'm not allowed to play it during finals :)

Jonathan Coulton: “How I Did It” at Demand Satisfaction! says

[...] http://jococom.wpengine.com/2007/05/18/how-i-did-it/  [...]

kuniform » Blog Archive » Jonathan Coulton’s unplanned success says

[...] Linking off to Jonathan Coulton’s blog post reply about the NY Times Magazine article discussing musicians, culture, fame, and how the internet changes the relationship between artist and audience. Coulton is featured as one of a new wave of musicians embodying who represent this trend. His post about making it up as he goes along and taking advantage of the situations he finds himself in is really inspiring. [...]

Pete says

In looking for resources for indie musicians, I found this in a message board on rpmchallenge.com and found it useful. It's The Indie Band Survival Guide http://www.beatnikturtle.com/index.php?id=theguide and it's free.

Rosslyn says

Don't forget "A Short Course in Life Enhancement." :-) Then again, maybe you have! :-) But it's one of my good little NYC memories.

Can’t stop the signal » Hippo Dignity says

[...] digging you into a financial hole? Why not go the Jonathan Coulton route and do it yourself? True, Coulton’s own version of his story makes it clear that what you need to survive as a DIY pop star is drive, determination, and well-placed [...]

Joshua David Hall says

Thanks alot JC. You've done what a lot of people aspire to do. Congrats to you.

How I discovered Jonathan Coulton | LottaWorld! says

[...] podcasting to help independent artists spread their work. He recently wrote about his experience on his blog, which was quite [...]

links for 2007-11-15 -> As a Futurist... says

[...] Jonathan Coulton » Blog Archive » How I Did It [...]

Impressed says

..I would sing songs and be his troubadour.. :) mp3flavour.com

Russ Aimz says

I, like many others, read your article in the NY times. Can't thank you enough for taking a chance and quitting your day job to pursue your music. If not for that, you wouldn't be inspiring so many other musicians and others as you are right now. Not that it would have been your initial intention to inspire us, yet it has turned out that way. So thankyou Jonathan and thanks for just being a nice guy and thanks for letting me steal tons of your ideas. Also thanks for providing ways for us to give back to you as well;) Give and Take is balance, is great!

Kir says
CoderBlues says

Wow! This is a great article. I am one of those people that asked for advice, and ScarFace directed me to this article. This answered all my questions. Well done. One note though: While you may be putting a large emphasis on novelty's role in your success, keep in mind that you needed the creativity and talent to produce that novelty.

Shorty says

I love this post. You show the rest of us aspiring musicians that what we dream of is possible. ^_^

Off to listen to The Future Soon now. *waves*