On Snuggies and Business Models
On Friday the Planet Money podcast posted an episode about me and my business model, focusing on the question of whether my scene is the future of music business or just a fluke. Alex Blumberg came to JoCo HQ a couple of weeks ago to interview me about how things work for me, how I got here, where the money comes from, etc. He then brought in Jacob Ganz and Frannie Kelley from NPR music blog The Record, to do a little analysis. Their assessment was that while it was obvious this business model worked very well for me, it was probably not something that could be easily replicated. Frannie made an analogy to illustrate her point: I am kind of like a Snuggie. I’m a blanket with sleeves that we didn’t know we all wanted.
A few people were offended on my behalf by this comparison. I’m certain that Frannie’s choice of the Snuggie rather than say, a Mini Cooper or an iPhone, was meant to underline the geeky novelty song aspect of my appeal, to which I say: snarkity snark snark! I confess it stings a little. I’m aware that many people think of me as “merely” a guy who writes novelty songs, which is annoying for a couple of reasons. First, writing novelty songs is actually a real thing that you can do, and many talented people have had fine careers doing it, so let’s not go around denigrating it, shall we? Second, it’s a rather lazy and facile way of labeling me that fails to fully describe what I do.
That said, leaving aside the pejorative nature of the comparison, I think it’s accurate in some respects, in that a Snuggie is a new thing that somebody invented and marketed and sold to enormous success. Do you know who else is a Snuggie? Nirvana, Ben Folds, Madonna, and the Grateful Dead. You have to do something new and unique and valuable in order to get anyone’s attention in this business, in fact that’s sort of the point. Just because I did it with “nerds on the Internet” instead of “teenagers in Seattle” or “hippies at ren faires” or “13-year-old girls on YouTube” is incidental, and beside the point. Similarly, Jacob Ganz says in the podcast that I “won the internet lottery,” which is like saying the Beatles won the British Invasion lottery. It’s accurate but unhelpful, because it fails to draw a meaningful distinction between me and anyone else who has had success in this business. It has always been about winning the lottery, and it has always been about being a Snuggie.
The thing that I think most got in the way of what could have been a much more interesting discussion was some confusion about what a business model is. “Writing a song that gets discovered on Slashdot” is not a business model, any more than “putting sleeves on a blanket” is a business model. It is a thing that happened to me, that part is true, but it’s not really much of a strategy. I make songs that are good and then I sell them (and concert tickets, and Tshirts) to the people who want them – that’s my business model, and it’s patently obvious that it’s replicable because I stole it from every other recording artist in the world.
Here are some things I do differently from some other artists: I own all my music 100%, which means I have complete control over how I sell it (or not). I can give it away, I can bundle it on a USB key or in a zip file, I can allow people to make and post music videos, and I don’t have to deal with lawyers or labels to do any of that. I also get all the profits. During Thing a Week I released every single weekly song that I wrote for free, whether they were good or not, without worrying about whether people would buy them (though I hoped they would). I am extremely public about my creative process, hopes and fears, victories and failures. I communicate directly with fans as often as I can without letting it become my full-time job. I’ve never made a music video. I have extremely low overhead. Most of my sales are digital, which means there are almost no distribution costs. I have never spent any money on marketing and rely completely on blogs, podcasts and social networks to spread the word. I tour solo with an acoustic guitar (used to anyway), and I only play in cities where I have already ascertained there is going to be an audience. I record by myself at home (again, used to!) using equipment that is not very expensive, and that I don’t know how to use very well.
My business model is designed especially for me, by me, and it constantly changes and evolves – I’m now working on an album, with a band and a producer, I’m spending money at a real studio, and I will probably spend money on more traditional marketing and radio promotion before I’m through. Nobody, not even me, should try to do exactly what I’ve done, because there are parts of it that won’t make sense for who you are or what you’re interested in. If you’re a band with a lot of people and equipment, you’re going to need a different touring strategy. If you don’t write nerdy songs, you will have to figure out what your version of Slashdot is. If you are Steely Dan, you will not want to record onto a Mac Mini through an SM58. If you hate writing, please don’t set up a blog. Know only this: to do this you need to work extremely hard, make music that is great, and find people to buy it from you. The end.
So is it replicable? Of course it is! For goodness sake, even the Snuggie is replicable. In fact, the Snuggie itself is a replicant of the Slanket, how’s that for a mindblower? (See also the Cudlee, and the German product Doojo, which has gloves.) I can’t believe I have to point this out, but there are plenty of artists making music and using unique and creative promotional techniques to sell it directly to fans (say it with me, won’t you?): Trent Reznor, Radiohead, Amanda Palmer, Paul and Storm, Marian Call, OK Go, MC Frontalot, MC Lars, the list goes on and on and gets larger every day. We are successful to varying degrees and we have different ways of doing things, some of us came from labels, went to labels, or eschewed labels entirely, but we are all participating in the same basic re-jiggering of the spreadsheet. I obviously don’t know the details of everyone’s business, but I’m guessing that we have this one thing in common: we’ve all decided that it’s fine with us if we reach fewer people as long as we reach them more directly. The revolution in the music industry (which has already happened by the way) is one of efficiency, and it means that success is now possible on a much smaller scale. Nobody has to sell out Madison Square Garden anymore to make a living.
And that is the point. That is what’s inarguably different today because of the internet. We now have an entirely new set of contexts and they come with a whole new set of tools that give us cheap and easy access to all of them – niche has gone mainstream. It is no longer necessary to organize your business or your art around geography, or storage space, or capital, or what’s cool in your town, or any other physical constraint. And this is not to say that anyone can become a moderately successful rockstar just by starting a blog – success is still going to be a rare and miraculous thing, as it has always been. There are just a lot more ways to get there than there used to be, and people are finding new ones every day.
I don’t know why the “funny geeky songs” thing seems to distract people so much from this reality during these discussions, but it does. I’ve had a lot of conversations with industry analysts and insiders, and this kind of hand waving and designation of “fluke” is a sadly familiar phenomenon. And it’s a shame, because before we decide if the internet is “good or bad,” there are some really important questions we should try to answer first. I don’t know the answer to any of these, but I sure am curious to find out. How much money is actually being made in this space that never gets tracked as part of the music industry? What percentage of full time professional artists are making a living, and how does that compare to the old record biz? From an economist’s perspective, is filesharing/piracy hurting artists, or just labels (or is it hurting anyone)? How can the people who used to work at labels continue to have careers bringing valuable services to artists now that the landscape has changed? What are the efficiency breakthroughs that we have yet to discover, who’s going to figure out how to profit from this shakeup? How can we rethink antiquated intellectual property laws in a way that continues to “promote the progress of science and useful arts?” And finally, how can I keep my arms warm without putting on a sweater, which is apparently such a huge burden to so many people?
I honestly don’t fault Frannie and Jacob for having negative opinions about me or different opinions about any of these issues. And I’m not trying to ignite a flame war or tear anybody down. I’m simply amazed and disappointed that none of these questions ever came up in a conversation about the internet and the music business, on a podcast, here in the year 2011. It just feels like a huge missed opportunity, and it makes me sad.
Actually, I take it back, they did address that last one didn’t they?
I should know better than to write this sort of post, because it will inevitably come across as a peevish and whiney response to being called a Snuggie. It probably is that to some extent, and I’m already sorry about it. I am really trying to transcend that though, because I think this stuff is so important. I wouldn’t have authorized Alex to reveal the horribly embarrassing revenue number that I can’t even comfortably mention here if I didn’t think that it would, to some extent, move this conversation past the point where people equate “Code Monkey” with “Hamster Dance” and call it a day. I’m disappointed that it did not. And it’s not about my personal ego. OK, maybe it is a little, but I truly believe that the sooner we all acknowledge the internet is not actually killing art, the sooner we can get back to making things that are awesome.
Now is a better time to be a musician, or a fan of music, than any other time in all of human history. Discuss…
Andrew Hyde says
Your our iPhone though, dammit.
Retort: *on our*
Haters gonna hate.
Some (Read as "old") people don't like progress (The internet, rock 'n' roll, the talkies). Our job as smart people is to ignore them when they belly ache, and just keep on making cool new things.
Wow, an excellent read. There's a lot of "raw honesty" in this post, if that makes sense. I normally like what NPR does, so I'll have to take a look at this podcast.
Peevish and whiney? Only alittle, perhaps, but I can understand it. And the rest was well-said, in my opinion (being something which is wholly mine).
It's wild how 'non-mainstream' seems to give people a license to belittle or devalue innovation, talent and hard work. The owners of Webs (yarn.com) talk about attending web retailing cons where folks are fascinated by their success, their business model and their numbers right up until they find out that the product is yarn.
You're an inspiration because you found a business model that works for you. Wear your snuggle with pride.
You're more like the iPhone than a snuggie. Here's to hoping people realize what an invaluable tool the internet is for sharing our art. Keep the brilliant music coming, JoCo, I'll keep listening.
I'm not the biggest nerd in town; I just like good music. Novelties aside, you are a really clever songwriter and have an amazing singing voice (I'm really picky about singers.) Those are the facts and everyone else can suck it. I will continue to pay for your music.
What annoys me is that I wrote essentially this exact blog entry (though less long-winded) last night, but didn't post it because I had to go get very drunk and be forced to watch Game of Thrones. Now that you've said it much better than I, there is no point in finishing.
The only good thing that came out of this is the affirmation that NPR's listeners will call them out if needed. The comments on the Planet Money page have been extremely frustrated with the cohosts for missing the point of the discussion and annoyed at Planet Money for not addressing the issues and questions that result from something like this.
I'm glad you responded, I hope they acknowledge the huge gaffe of not recognizing that they sounded like a two bit discussion from 1999 rather than in 2011.
Ken Thomas says
I am both a Planet Money fan and a JoCo fan, and I listened to their podcast the day it aired.
I thought it was fair. Maybe a little dismissive, but not over-the-top. You have to remember that the show is all about taking complicated things and breaking them down into simple, easy-to-digest chunks. That approach was enormously valuable to me when I was trying to understand the 2008 Financial Meltdown, but I'm sure that it left out a lot of the deeper, subtler, and more complicated bits - just as it did in the JoCo show.
It's probably also important to keep in mind that the two naysayers are probably in denial more than anything. Their jobs are heavily invested in the traditional music industry, you know? They probably went all through college dreaming of working for Rolling Stone or something. You have to be patient with those folks. Change is scary, but they aren't stupid. They'll catch up eventually.
Personally, I know the part where they announced how much money you make must have been painful and cringe-inducing for you, but I'm really glad you did that. I'd actually wondered "Is he really making any money doing this?" and it made me happy to know you're doing OK, because it makes me think you'll keep doing it.
Bill Peschel says
I'll check out the podcast, but judging from your reaction, it sounds like they've taken a creator who writes clever, geeky, sometimes heartfelt, musically interesting songs and compared it to a single product that's relentlessly marketed into a massive success.
Which is a lot like comparing the entire catalog of The Beatles to "Friday."
This must explain the steam coming out my ears, because as I've delved more into your catalog, I'm appreciating more aspects of your work.
* Geeky: This is self-explanatory.
* Heartfelt: Taking geeky and adding emotion to it, re "Skullcrusher Mountain." How many times have we destroyed our ponies to make a gift for a beloved one, only to be rejected? Why all the screaming anyway? If you can't grasp that there's a real bit of emotion behind that silly song, you haven't understood what I think JC's about.
* Musically interesting: A heavy metal band writes heavy metal music. Yanni writes a certain type of music. Never shall they meet (although it would be fascinating if they did).
As I'm following Thing A Week (btw, my path came backwards, from the YouTube concert you did, followed by some of the fan vids, so this is the first time I'm getting studio Coulton), I'm amazed at the musical ideas thrown in. This song sounds like They Might Be Giants, that one has a guitar line I'm certain came from an '80s group (Greg Kihn?), toy pianos, rave pops, romanticizing a rap song, found messages. This is great ear candy, surprising and delightful.
So, yeah, the novelty songs are kind of a gateway, an easy packaging of the JC story. But it's not the whole story. If it was, you wouldn't be having the success you're having, and I wouldn't necessarily be interested in getting your new album when it surfaces.
Very thoughtful, and thanks for clearing the water. The point you make about conflating the "Jonathan Coulton business model" with the style of music you happen to create is an important one, I think. Every successful artist finds a particular group of people with whom they can connect (or their target audience/ demographic, to use TEH MARKETINGSPEAKS), and it's somewhat irrelevant whether it's internet nerds or Portlandian hipsters or drunken fratboys or what have you.
What matters, at least from the standpoint of a financially successful career in the creative arts, is how effectively you can turn a potential fanbase into an actual fanbase and get them to pay you for your art. You'd think a podcast titled "Planet Money" would understand that.
Jim K says
By the standard described, literally the entire entertainment industry is a Snuggie.
I'm so glad I'm not the only who took issue with the comments made on that podcast. Now I don't have to worry that I'm taking crazy pills and the comments were a non-issue.
Tim White says
This is the key: "Know only this: to do this you need to work extremely hard, make music that is great, and find people to buy it from you. The end."
If your music sucked, no business model would get you where you are today.
I just put on a Snuggie and lit myself on fire in protest of what they did to you.
Great post. A great response to what was said on the podcast. Also I don't feel you jsut fit into the just the category of "novelty" music. The same as Weird Al or TMBG who I know some have labled that way but your music and theirs is so much more that just a novelty.
I felt compelled to write Planet Money to let them know that they completely missed the point. Success, it seems, is alway a fluke and always due to hard work and talent. How much money does an artist have to make in order to be considered successful in Planet Money terms?
dear mr. coulton, i always felt like you intuitively understood something about making and distributing (and just plain existing within) music that not many others did. it helps of course that you're a talented songwriter. and it didn't matter that i found out about you because of some internet "gimmick." (sorry to propagate the use of that word)... anyway, you've nailed it. keep fighting the good fight.
It's almost a little unnerving to read this post, because it seems like the NPR business analysts are forgetting one extremely important fact:
You are ridiculously and exceptionally talented.
I dislike that people are so quick to brush you off into "geeky novelty songwriter" category, because a) it's a stupid title just meant to trivialize your talent, and b) it's a horrendous oversimplification. It seems like the popular awareness of your work is only of things like "Re: Your Brains" and "Skullcrusher Mountain" which, while they are fantastic and easily likable songs, are only a fraction of your work! I love them just as much as I love songs like "Curl," "Somebody's Crazy," "Seahorse," and "Stroller Town."
It just really infuriates me that people seem to think of you as a one-trick pony when you're really as far from it as possible. If people only know you for your "geeky" songs and fail to acquaint themselves with your greater library of songs coming in every shade and tone than that's their own damn fault, but they shouldn't fault and belittle you as a consequence.
Now is a better time to be a musician or filmmaker or photographer, because we have the tools to create and distribute work and you don't have to be a gazallionaire to do it. It's just so simple to see. I love Planet Money, but. Those guests hosts... Maybe Alex and the team should devote an actual hour long report to the topic - not just to you but to business models that are working.
And I totally understood, within the context of the podcast, and the twitterverse arguments the next day that you had released the figure to Alex with a different intention (you know, or at least with some intention at all) than ended up being depicted on the show (that is, they just kind of used it as a throwaway number.) And it hurt my feelings for you.
But mostly throughout the podcast I kept thinking they were going to say something like "It also doesn't hurt that the man is SMOKING HOT." Which is another part of your business model that they could have at least mentioned, if they're trying to make it so difficult to replicate.
Mike Shea says
It seemed that Frannie Kelley was the one more down on it than the other fella. That said, I'm betting she is either trying to get into the RIAA or will end up working there in the next two years. She sounded like a young version of Rupert Murdoch.
I do agree. We can either sit around pontificating this or we can keep getting out there and making awesome stuff.
Mike Shea says
BTW, hopefully this doesn't blow back on Planet Money - that's an absolutely excellent podcast (most of the time).
Rev. Back It On Up 13 says
I don't know whether it's a particularly good or bad time to be a musician, but allow me to state definitively that you, Mr. Coulton, are NO snuggie.
You are a unique and dynamic performer covering topics that mainstream music refuses to touch. A snuggie is a thing I buy to use on the couch, trip over 45,292,381 times in the process of obtaining snack items, and then finally demote to Dog Blanket. Snuggies then receive such a high volume of dog farts that they become sentient, a walking, highly flammable headless humanoid dog fart monster, roaming the halls at night, wanting to get its arms around people.
You are not that thing. You are better than that. Don't let them get you down.
I think you produce great music. The fact that you've chosen to release it in a way that was unorthodox when you began and is still questioned by the music industry powers-that-be does not in any way diminish what you've accomplished, on the contrary it makes it that much more impressive.
The follow-up "An Internet Rock Star Tells All" points out that the biggest element of a traditional recording industry contract was the resources provided for marketing and PR. You're managed to use the internet to achieve those goals without having to give $.95 of every dollar you make to "The Man". Granted that was made easier by the fact that you write music for the demographic of people most likely to be on the web - the self-proclaimed Geeks of the World - but to me, your music is just one more reason that the internet is so awesome.
Keep up the good work and I'll keep finding ways to pay you for it.
Michael A. says
Love the insight and honesty in this post. I've never listened to Planet Money and probably never will, so I hadn't heard of "Snuggie-gate" till now, nevertheless I want to see album art of you in a snuggie, soon.
You found a different way, your own way, even, to do something that other people had done (i.e. finding a fan base.) Why is this a discussion? Justin Beiber found millions 13 year old girls who throw their panties at him through the power of a "record label." You found your devoted fans through the "internet." No panties, yet, (that I know of) but we could probably make that happen.
Why do we always need to compare everything to something else so that we can break it down? Stupid.
You keep doing your thing and let the blow hards at NPR drone on and on. I don't care what they say, but I'm really excited about your album and I can't wait to buy it. So, in the game of life (and at the risk of whipping out a Sheen-ism) you're WINNING.
One thing that struck me was the complete lack of discussion of the negatives of the label system with regards to the artists themselves. Sure, labels have greater access to traditional media outlets that give artists exposure, but it's not the case that every artist on every label has the full backing of that label. What's worse is that every label deal includes recoupable debt, which is money the artist owes to the label that must be repaid before the artist sees any profit for themselves (and this amount generally includes the costs for presenting artists to the media outlets in the first place). You still owe that money regardless of whether or not the record sells enough copies that the artist's cut (which is a small percentage of the total sale). And the percentage of artists that are able to actually recoup is tiny.
In a real way, you were already ahead of the label system simply by not going into debt. The equipment was already yours, etc. If nothing had taken off, at the VERY least, you wouldn't have been indentured to anybody (with the arguable exception of your wife). If Planet Money had been treating the subject objectively, they would have noted the actual fiscal culpability of the artist signed to a label rather than presenting it as the traditional and therefore safer route. It's not an artist friendly system at all.
Case in point: Atomic Tom. They were on a label and the record had been out at least six months before they shot their iPhone video that went viral (and that was the band's idea, not the label's). Suddenly the label was with them the whole time, and THEN they started getting traditional media coverage. If they hadn't used the internet to their advantage, they'd probably have been dropped by now.
As for the niche, novelty thing, sure, the subjects tend toward the geeky side, but people that share music share SONGS, not just words. The internet is full of geeky songs about whatever, but the reason yours took off were because they're well written, regardless of subject matter. It's the same prejudice in every artistic field: if you want to be taken seriously, you should write seriously. When was the last best picture nominee that was a pure comedy? It's a prejudice a lot older than the internet.
Great response. I am a huge fan of Planet Money, but I found the episode in question to be shockingly dismissive. I was pretty disappointed.
Let's forget about JoCo or "novelty music" or whatever. I know plenty of musicians making "normal" music who are much more successful than they could possibly be without the internet.
I think the underlying problem with the episode was that they picked an artist that can easily be dismissed. Had they picked a more conventional artist, they could have actually taken an honest look at how the internet is affecting the music industry instead of writing JoCo off as some silly, unrepresentative joke.
Beth Anne says
I had much of the same critique that you did, JoCo. I found it odd (and slightly disconcerting) that your popularity was seen as such a fluke. In listening more carefully to the podcast, though, it seems as though the two guests were holding a different conception of what "success" is in the music world when they compared you to Justin Beiber, of all people.
Normally, I think Planet Money does an excellent job, and I was excited when I heard you were going to be interviewed. However, it seemed as though the argument was more one-sided than it normally is.
I was irked on your behalf, not so much for the Snuggie comparison, which was just silly, but because Planet Money took that dollar amount, which you were clearly reluctant to talk about in the audio, and made it the headline and lede all over the radio and the Internet. Sure, you authorized the disclosure, and sure, NPR needed to draw readers/listeners to read/hear the thing, and a big ol' dollar amount is a way to do that, but it still seemed to me to be tactless.
It reminded me of when I was in college and was co-president of a campus organization, and a professor was going to come speak to us on a relatively controversial topic. She had to point out to us (meaning me) that our habit of emblazoning every sidewalk on campus with what we were up to in multicolored chalk was not really the best way to promote this particular event, and, in fact, she would be made highly uncomfortable if we did so. I feel like Planet Money basically chalked up the campus with your salary, and it irritates me.
Added to the missed opportunity in the podcast and all that other stuff, that turned me into a giant, cranky Debbie Downer.
I guess I don't understand why it's an insult to be compared to the Snuggie. Isn't the Snuggie wildly successful and profitable?
I still don't think the comparison is apt, because the Snuggie people marketed their product aggressively though traditional channels before "going viral." But I'm not sure why anyone should be offended on JoCo's behalf by the comparison. Be offended by the commentators' refusal to take him seriously as a businessman instead.
I must admit, I'm a little offended. Not by the podcast. (I haven't heard it) By the way the word "Novelty" has been degraded to something negative you can say about a creation. Being novel should be one of the foremost things on the mind of any artist.
Fresh + new + exciting = novel.
I don't know about the rest of the people here, but I know the albums I have bought multiple times (due to fire, moving, loss, theft) are the albums that were, at one time, a novelty for me. That said, another word for the kind of "novelty" being brought up here is: Genre.
Because you write music that you find funny/interesting, you're being corn-holed into this little cubby of "novelty music". Well, the generic mainstream music industry can blow it out their pigeonhole. This works.
Is your "business model" the future of the music industry? YES. There is no way for the industry to stay stagnant and not evolve after being confronted with the success of the open artist model. Sure, there will be room still for traditional label recording artists. But for those of us who prefer a somewhat more honest connection to our artists, (i.e. some of the money actually reaches the artist) there will be many more "internet success stories". It's bound to happen.
Continue with the sweet music, and the fans will continue to pay. Whether at shows, on cruises, for lightly-related media (Portal 2), or directly through your blog. We'll keep buying. Because this business model works as well for us as it does for you. That's why it will be the future of the music industry. Fans will win, in the long run, we always do.
P.F. Bruns says
Your business model is a sound one to start with, but it's your best practices (i.e.: the way you reach out to fans and connect tightly with audiences) that makes it all work so well. It can be replicated with sufficient talent and empathy.
I have to disagree with the assertion that you're a Snuggie because your music is something I don't need.
1. Your music is the kind of music that I think most of us here would create if we had a hell of a lot of talent. It's not beside the point. It understands us and speaks to us unlike most other music out there. It's intelligent, it's funny, it's catchy and you can dance to it. It is necessary because it's impossible to get anywhere else. I. We. Need you.
2. The Snuggie is, as you mention, a copy. It's not original. It's unnecessary because I own a sweater. it's unnecessary because I own a blanket and am not an idiot. It's overmarketed. It's in my face and makes me wince every time I see it. It is, to be blunt, a perfect analogy for the state of the music industry. Hackneyed, unoriginal, melodyless, overproduced and overmarketed crap that makes me wonder at the sanity of the people who decide they need it.
I find the comparison to a Snuggie really strange. The musical version of a snuggie would be an artist that millions of people bought once and never thought about again. Mr. Coulton, you are far from that. People hear your music (either a novelty song or something more traditional) and buy a few tracks. Then, after getting these songs permanently stuck in their heads they seek out more. This cycle repeats until they own all your tracks and are desperately slobbering for more, and they no longer have a moments peace due to your songs constantly replaying themselves in their mind in nonsensical little snippets.
I kid, of course, but we all have repeatedly sent you money in order to get more JC to satisfy our jones. I know I have, and I will do so again as soon as I can. Where as my Snuggie is a perfectly serviceable product- it is especially handy when I am sitting in front of the TV (aka boob tube) and I get chilly while sorting my Magic: the Gathering cards (yes, I am THAT kind of geek). The Snuggie corporation, however, has likely seen the last of my money. I will use this product for a few years, and then after a time discard it. At that point I will likely not purchase a new one, and will instead move on to the newest sleeve based snuggle technology.
Mr. Coultan, with your music there is no newest thing to move on to, besides the next CD. There is no other artist that can satisfy the maddening cacophony in my mind, and no other artist that can make a song ostensibly about a giant squid, but that actually becomes one of the most meaningful songs for me, about me. You will have a place in our hearts and budgets for as long as you choose to make music, and probably long after. You are no flash-in-the-flash-bang-grenade; you are instead a man who has touched millions, but will never get sued or contract a venereal disease. You are, in short, an Artist. For that I thank you.
I love your music. I love the work you put into it. I love that even with the quirky songs, you don't sell them short just because they're quirky songs. I'm not musically trained, so it took me a while to catch on to this fact about you.
I first discovered you through Portal. Then, I found Code Monkey, Skullcrusher Mountain, and a couple of other quirky songs. I started buying songs one-by-one off your site, then I said the hell with it, and bought the full collection. I listened to each and every song.
I remember the first time I heard "When You Go" and "Womb With a View". Those two songs more than any other really drove home the fact that you're more than a funny guy. After that, I paid more attention to your quirky songs, and started to grasp that you really do put your heart into your songs. "I Crush Everything" also always struck me as more of a lamentation than a quirky song.
You're a wonderful songwriter, both musically and lyrically. We, your fans know, understand, and appreciate this about you. That's why we're your fans. :-)
And we do our best to spread the word.
Just as a side note, if you remember Jack (my friend who interviewed you), he and I went to a Marian Call show and chatted with her for a bit afterward. It was an amazing show, and Jack volunteered advice on potential avenues to further her career. She responded by saying that she was happier controlling her own destiny, even if it meant she wouldn't garner as much fame.
Stephanie Harper says
Getting older is tough, especially today. You spend your career becoming an "expert" in a particular thing, and nowadays you can become a dinosaur who is clueless about how the world works today in just a few years. You must be relentless about staying up to date, and that is hard.
I am not in the music industry, but I have seen the way music is sold to the public explode out of the locked-up studio contract systems in the past few years. I think the pejorative "novelty act" much more accurately describes the low talent but highly styled and marketed product that has been churned out by the big labels for many years.
Truly talented artists are discovering that they can create and market their music themselves, which is awesome. I personally buy all the music I can from the artist directly, either from their own website or from places like Bandcamp. As do most of the people I know.
And artists are discovering that this is a great business model and adopting it in droves, along with things like Kickstarter.
Being "nerd-centric" in an increasingly nerdy world is not novelty, it is speaking to your audience :)
And the Steampunks love you too!
Sorry if this point has already been made but I am way too lazy to read them all! ;) The arguement that the internet is bad for music or musicians is crazy. You are much more likely to get "discovered" by people who will listen to you and buy your product if you get out in front of them. Before the internet the only way you could do that was with radio/TV/movie exposure. A record label that has connections with these formats gives you a great chance of being on. Withe the internet you can record (and as Jonathan mentions you can record yourself fairly easily these days) and put up music on the internet yourself and have total control of your product. The internet has been ignored by labels and they are going to pay the price for it.
Is that bad for them? Yup! But not necessarily for music or musicians.
Evan Prodromou says
I just listened to this podcast, and I found the NPR Music people kind of unreasonable.
Frannie Kelley made a big point that your story is unique, and that you'd have to "prove" that your model was "replicable." All I could think was, "Or else _what_? He has to give the money back?"
There's a weird idea in the music industry that if unless someone can come up with a new way for every single musician in the whole world to make money, and prove to the music industry person's satisfaction that the model is replicable, fair, lucrative, and scalable, then society will concede that the Internet is Wrong and Bad and the entire monster will go back into the box.
And that's just not going to happen. It's just an impossibility.
I think what everyone who wants to run their own business -- restauranteur, musician, artist or inventor -- needs to remember is that there is no recipe you can follow to succeed. You can learn from other people, but you're going to have to be aware of your own environment, your own market, and your own product to make the business decisions that work for you.
Ooh! And Songs To Wear Pants To!
>Now is a better time to be a musician, or a fan of music, than any other time in all of human history. Discuss…
It depends on the type of music and the type of musician. For symphony orchestra players who have to keep their chops razor sharp to perform the "classical" literature, probably not. Contributions are down and grants are disappearing. Worse, "classical" players now have to "compete" with decades of recordings of the "classical" literature.
For jazzers, probably not, particularly for larger ensembles. The more people involved, the more difficult it becomes. Sure you can record jazz, but at its best, jazz is an interaction between the players, the audience, and its environment. Since venues that primarily feature jazz are disappearing, the jazz scene is no longer a thriving one.
For individuals and small groups who aim to play easily accessible, relatively straightforward short pieces for an audience whose musical tastes are generally "unrefined" and whose attention spans are short, then this is most likely a better time to be a musician.
In short, if you're a kid who is just getting the hang of that new Yamaha Pacifica your folks just brought home from Guitar Center, you're in luck. If you're a middle-aged viola player who, after years of practice and sweating musical details, has been bumped from your regional orchestra because of lack of funding, good luck.
Now, concerning the NPR story, the gang seemed to treat your story as a lark: A fun Friday frolic with which to treat their musically unsophisticated audience. The contemporary American business maven wants the "elevator pitch." NPR can't challenge their "business" crowd with nuances. That would take all the fun out of Friday! So they gave you the "novelty" treatment ... and then essentially chided you for not providing a clear-as-day outline for their regular audience of simpletons.
As you mentioned, it would have been nice if they'd have provided a bit more context by mentioning some of the other artists you point out above. Ideally, they'd have gone back to the first (modern) record-label renegade, Frank Zappa. No matter what you think of Frank's music, he said many interesting things about the industry back in the 1980s and then actually broke free and made money on his own. As someone once said on a video, "History, motherfuckers!"
Concerning your success, I want to add one other facet that I haven't seen discussed yet: Social class. It doesn't hurt that you hobknob with Ivy League entertainers. Those sorts of connections certainly don't hurt anything. Likewise, Randy Newman might have been a breakout musician way back when. But having an uncle who was considered the king of film scoring at the time certainly didn't hurt nephew Randy's chances. Most kids - no matter how good they are - will never have the social connections you had to start out with.
I certainly don't hold this against you. You were simply lucky in this regard. I mention it because there are those who think that the best and brightest *always* rise to the top. Obviously that's not true. All one has to do is take a quick look at the USA's political institutions. Many fine musicians will write and play great songs that nobody will ever hear. The Internet won't change that.
Once upon a time, you needed a label to record an album, to get the album into stores, to get the songs from that album played on the radio, and that was how the music industry worked.
Today, a musician with enough acumen can record music, distribute that music via their own website (or Bandcamp, or iTunes; shelf space in brick-and-mortar stores isn't the scarce commodity it once was), and publicize their music through their website (and Twitter, facebook, MySpace).
Labels no longer have the complete control they once had on recording, distribution, and publicity, and if the Internet is killing the labels, it's because they've been rendered effectively obsolete, independent of piracy.
Jonathan is the poster child (at 40) of this post-label music business. Yes, you'll still need a major label to create a pop phenomenon like Justin Bieber, but who needs more Justin Biebers? Independent musicians in this day and age have a lot more options available to them, and that's what Ganz and Kelley are missing. Once, artists had to be "discovered" by labels; now, it's enough to "go viral" to give them a healthy start from which to grow.
Josie D says
Wow. I was going to let this Chocolate Rain-esque internet sensation moment pass me by like many others (including Chocolate Rain-missed that one the first time around and only learned of him during a "social media success" panel at the recent ASCAP Expo) but I am trying to figure out my own new "model" so am interested to see how others are doing it and I do tend to scan Lefsetz' posts while waiting for things like subways. He reposted this entry today. The set up caught my attention and I was immediately sold on your most eloquent, funny and spot on response to this episode. Every word of it.
So I just wanted to tell you it was your non-music writing that got me to even check out your site and finally, yes, your music.
When I got to your music page, I decided I would not listen to Code Monkey first. So I went for songs like Mandelbrot Set, Ikea, and Town Crotch and was so into what I was hearing, I pretty much listened to every song. The titles alone win for awesomeness. I am a fan now too. And inspired.
Even the Snuggie has a pattern. It wasn't just thrown together.
I like my Snuggie.
I've had people mock my love of Twitter, but in all honesty, that's how I've gotten to make lots of friends, promote my custom button making biz & enjoy my life despite being a single mom of 2 (one of which is a challenging autistic child). Being able to reach thru all the bullpucky and hit a target audience of "people like me", it makes me feel like the world isn't so big & that there's a place to be happy amongst people who don't get it.
Plus, I would rather support a community who doesn't mock or cheapen my interests.
Keep doing what you're doing, JC!
Just a note...being a single mom is not a bad thing, so we're clear on that...its just more challenging. I love my kids.
I would really like it if you would do a video. I bet it would rock balls. I don't find you at all like a Snuggie unless you count how happy I am when wrapped up in your music.
MeiLin Miranda says
You said everything I've wanted to say to people like those two about publishing. Whenever anyone makes a full-time living as an artist--in whatever medium, from fiction to music to filmmaking, whether indie or mainstream--it's a fluke. It's winning the lottery.
In independent publishing (aka that dreaded term "self-publishing") everyone's always telling us that guys like J.A. Konrath are "outliers." They won the Kindle/internet lottery. Well, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling won the paperback lottery. And?
It takes hard work, good product and luck to "win the lottery." You've got all three, though increasingly you've made your own luck. I work hard, my books are good and eventually I'll either get my lucky break or make it myself. My "jackpot" probably won't be as big as Konrath's or yours, but I'll take it. I'm already doing okay--phenomenally by indie standards.
You were one of my original inspirations for striking out on my own. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I always come to see you when you're in PDX, and I've paid for stuff of yours I haven't had to. :) <3
Here's an anecdote that explains your business model, the one that Planet Money seems to think isn't replicable.
Before I had ever spent a dime on your music, mainly due to working nights (the nights you were always in town), I was going to be in Austin on vacation on the same night you were playing a show. Unfortunately, there were no advanced tickets, and I was going to be picking up a friend at the airport during the time I would have needed to be in line. So I emailed you and asked for the opportunity to buy tickets, and you responded by putting me and my friend on the guest list.
Between the two of us, we spent a good $60 just that night on merch, and have each paid to see you several times since.
The "industry" will never understand that business model, for they assume all music fans are thieves looking for a free ride, when in fact we're people trying to help out the musicians we like, especially when they illustrate that they appreciate us.
I don't think it's your job to explain it, so I hope we see less of this line of questioning in future interviews, as well. You're more interesting than a business model.
To tell you the truth, I first read your blog and thought you took the snuggie metaphor too seriously and that it wasn't meant to harm...
Then I listened to the podcast. And I understand now. When they mentioned Justin Bieber and your inability to become famous enough to inispire a movie of your own, honestly, I felt the urge to go and shoot one right now. Comparing your financial situation to a major label's one was pointless - you don't have to pay that person who sweeps floors of the company building you own... but does it make you less worthy?
All in all, it was not that bad. The NPR people didn't show any inclination to admit your ways may be useful to other musicians, leaving it to the listener. Not much of a dialogue though.
J Maloney says
As a fellow artist, photographer in my case, I am incredibly happy that you followed your bliss AND made money doing it. Rock on with nerd songs or any other vehicle that feeds you passion and the need to pay the rent as it were. I am very happy for you and wish you continued success!
Zoe Keating says
I'm another DIY artist. I read your blog with interest because recently I've been hearing this pretty frequently from press and music industry wags...i.e. that my success to date is not replicable, it's an anomaly and, therefore, my story is not useful to other musicians. Is it possible that this is what they really mean: They can't figure out how to distill a life's work and network into a simple formula that can be then sold as a "kit" to aspiring musicians?
Sigh. How I will be able to live without being invited to speak on yet another industry panel, I don't know.
Also grateful to live and work in these times.....
The internet has made forms of art possible that never would have even been imagined before. Art isnt something that should always stay the way it was in the past, otherwise we would all be sitting in a cave drawing picutures on te wall. Art is something that evolves.
I was yelling at my iPod while listening to those NPR Music yay-hoos. They made it sound as if Mr. Coulton noodled around on his guitar and got lucky when Slashdot happened upon him. What they don't mention is how much work it takes to get to the point where you might get lucky and how much work it takes to capitalize on the fleeting opportunity such luck offers.
It's not as if DIY-ers like you or Pomplamoose or OK Go are somehow supplanting the traditional music business model, you guys have just found new markets offered by the new media era.
There is a purity to this model that is not tainted by radio payola and mass marketing. The music ultimately speaks for itself. I'm all for it and I hope your diligence and creativity continue to pay great dividends.
Allan Wallace says
"What are the efficiency breakthroughs that we have yet to discover, who’s going to figure out how to profit from this shakeup?" profound - thank you
We are in early times, most folks haven't even noticed the world has changed.
The writer can now touch the readers, and be touched by them. This is a wonderful time to be alive. In the bureaucratic age, change caused fear; risk of failure paralyzed. Not now! There has never been a less expensive time to experiment.
We can fail often and gain knowledge -- learning by failing until we find what works.
And you summed it up well. What works for us as individuals is what's important.
I haven't seen you quite like this since you were having difficulty finishing up "When You Go". It's good to see your passion lit up like this.
The difference between what you do and what others do is that We Believe In What You Do. It's not just that we enjoy it (we obviously do) but we also know that you're a real person earnestly trying to make real music. And we like it when you make music that makes us smile. And we show you buy giving you a dollar and a warm "thank you".
And that's why you're not a Snuggie, motherfucker. :)
Personally I think the "model" that worked is that JoCo is actually talented and that he has a website to show that off.
He can sing and can write catchy songs that people like. Further, he's prolific, has a large catalogue, and those songs are mostly available to listen to, and there is an easy way to throw money at him (paypal, via his easily discovered website). Further to that, he can play live, and does. And still does.
Now to be fair there are lots of people who can do that.
What people call the "fluke" is the hit song. The song that took off. A reason to go looking for him. What helped that along is that he put the songs out for "free" so the hit songs spread like wildfire. And the huge catalog gave people someone to listen to when they found him.
If JoCo wasn't talented, didn't have a big catalog of "other" songs, didn't make them available to hear, and didn't have a way of throwing money at him, it all would have faded away...
It takes a lot of work to keep writing, a lot of faith in yourself to give your music away and hope that people buy it. That's what people admire, that's what people want to try to explain.
But in reality, JoCo just rocks, people like him, and he keeps giving (with new music, and playing live). That's the model.
Personally I discovered JoCo via Code Monkey. Someone emailed it to me. I looked him up, listened to the freebies, found lots of liked and some I didn't. I threw money at him, bought some downloads, bought the best-of CD, bought the Live CD/DVD. I'll buy the new album.
I wouldn't have done any of that if when I went searching I found "Code Monkey" was a once-off "novelty song".
Great post. I appreciate your interest in attempting to transcend the early-stage talking points around whatever is new about your business model-- and, as you acknowledge, there *is* something new, and that's what people want to talk about. I hope you're willing to keep talking about it in this way.
When I hear "can this be replicated?" about niche-mainstream success, it makes me think there's an assumption that the novelty of the business model itself is what drives it. As in, "I've never been asked to pay as I will for music before, I'll try it this once to see what it's like, then I'll get bored and go back to Tower Records." I think this is what's being compared to Snuggie-like products. I think you counter this well here.
This part of the revolution is still in progress. The mainstream is still acclimating to assigning value, and thereby monetary worth, to digital content. I'm in a different part of the publishing industry trying to make this transition, and even publishers are wary of presenting online content as anything but a free bonus, promotional item, or add-on to a corresponding product with a physical presence-- let alone artists. Pay as you will still looks like a tip jar to too many people, and tip jars are believed to be adjunct to "real" income. (Not that you're doing everything with tip jars, but I think that's where this leads for most people.)
Even the big names that had success using older methods now using new methods are perceived to be "experimenting," as if they have other income they're riding on while they're self-publishing online. That affects the perception of the quality, nature, or intent of the content, for better or for worse.
P.S. To the extent pay-as-you-will is appropo (and I think I overemphasized it in my comment), my favorite thing about pay-as-you-go coffee shops is the stark realization that the coffee shop survives off of my income. I always over-pay. I really am the same way with artists, and I admit I have purchased some of your content several times over. I have no idea what percentage of the population has that mindset, and it might be a small percentage. But it's a renewable resource, and I don't think anyone is ripping off my local coffee shop.
Joel R. says
This comment inspired me. http://bit.ly/kTvme4
Find a clever, budding NYC filmmaker to do a documentary of JoCo doing what he does. Studio time, Tours, Cruise Prep, etc. He gets a terribly interesting subject for a (hopefully) great film and JoCo gets even more exposure (no pun intended)
Too bad I'm not an aspiring filmmaker. I'm just a code (sea) monkey. Ook ook.
Crystal SeaMonkey says
I always leave your concerts feeling happy and also feeling like I have seen someone INCREDIBLY talented.
The music you write helps give a voice to the issues/fears/joys of us geeks the same way good music has done for any given group throughout the ages.
Don't let the sad state of what passes for journalism these days get you down. In depth analysis has given way to sound bites. You aren't the first to fall victim to it, and you won't be the last.
My favorite part was where you compared yourself to the Beatles. :)
Seriously though, very well said. I've been trying to tell my musician friends that the industry has changed and have used you as an example of how to "make it" without being "discovered" by the record labels or radio stations. You could teach a seminar on self-promotion and marketing on the intertubes. You took a great product (your music) and went out on a limb and did things differently to get your music out there. And it worked.
Keep doing it right.
I love Planet Money, and I think they were pretty fair to JoCo here. They were a little dismissive of the niche aspect and I think they failed to ever really address the question they claimed to be asking - is the Internet good for artists? But I don't think they were ever mean or unfair to JoCo other than not seeing him as their cup of tea. Which, in fairness, he's probably not. Which is fine. Nobody is everything to everyone.
The problem I found with the story was just how amazingly unable the two music folks were to look at anything outside their framework. They're not dismissive of JoCo, they're just flat-out unable to see anything outside their two constructs: All Label or All Independent. Which of course is just silly. Artists famously get varying levels of support and help from their labels.
I can't think of better proof that they can't see the trees in the forest than their invoking of Justin Bieber. If the goal is to talk about what's good for artists why would you talk about the ultimate outlier, the one megastar of the last few years? Bieber isn't the story of the average musician and it's provable by the simple fact that everyone knows his name.
If you want to talk about what's good for artists you don't talk about the Rolling Stones or Metallica. You don't even talk about Men at Work or other bands that made a short-term success and then rolled off the radar. Talk about the 99 out of 100 who never make back their advance and what that means.
As I said on PM's website, where was the talk about typical record contracts? They wrote off JoCo because he was able to do things himself that a typical artist needs other people to do, but with no mention that a standard contract charges marketing & production & a million other things against their profits.
Is JoCo an outlier in this do it yourselfer attitude? Maybe, probably. But it doesn't change the fact that having a label doesn't make it magic. If you want to say he's unique in that way, fine, but ignoring all the ways in which he's not unique, or what those services cost to get from a label, is just bad reporting.
It's sad, and it wasn't up to Planet Money's usual standard. But everyone throws up a stinker sometimes. It's nice that they did it here where such a passionate group of supporters are going to point out the suck. Maybe they'll take the chance to fix it.
Just listened to the podcast. It's pretty sad to hear the dense thud of new thoughts as they fail to penetrate the two music pundits.
The host did a decent job of talking to them about how many more doors are opened for more people at niche levels, but I think those two would rather see niche-appeal morphed into pop than be able to be preserved.
I didn't hear them talk about what getting "a big break" actually means to artists, including owing the studios lots of money (that most artists don't have when they start) for studio time as well as royalties, production fees, etc. and that these monies are paid back before the artist sees a dime of profit for a song sale. Even when you "make it" you haven't quite made it.
Also, since when do successful people articulate easily-reproducible plans upon demand? WTF? If success were easy, either everybody would be successful or nobody would (and Seth Godin's books would read more like recipe books). Here's a thought for Frannie: "You don't find success by doing what you're told."
As far as I'm concerned, Jonathan, you have every right to be disappointed that these points weren't explored. All the same, keep your chin up; I have confidence that sooner or later someone will pose those question to you, or that you'll manage to track them down.
In the meantime, keep on making the great music you do. Even though you weren't able to reach Jacob and Frannie, you've reached a heck of a lot of us here, and we can't thank you enough for it.
Kathy sierra says
Attributing success to a non-replicable "fluke" lets everyone else who fails off the hook. In every domain, there is a powerful urge to assume those who succeed just got lucky. But while it might keep fragile egos intact, I'd rather my daughters, for example, learn about your *real* model:
"Know only this: to do this you need to work extremely hard, make music that is great, and find people to buy it from you. The end."
Oh, good. I'm not the only one offended on your behalf! Actually I didn't listen to the podcast, just read their website on the topic. The difference (HA) is that a Snuggie is a warm, cuddly, stupid invention for people who can't figure out a blanket. A JoCo, on the other hand, is a clever, funny fellow who writes great music and has the cojones to strike out with his own business model. And that is very cool, but then I already said clever. Party on!
Re: all the people who are writing that Jonathan needs a movie: he has one, you know. Best Concert Ever! Though a second movie would be nice...
Also: I've read this post at least seven times already. And dang it I think everyone knows it but Jonathan Coulton, first by being awesome and talented and generous and second by having this open, adaptable business model, made it possible for me to figure out how to work very hard and make some decent songs and get people to buy them.
I guess that makes me a Ped Egg.
You are my favorite musician. How many other artists can say that? Oh wait, none. Screw labels like Snuggie, or Slanket, or whatever else people might want to call you. The music you put out there is great, and you make a living doing it--plus you seem to enjoy it. As Richard Feynman put it, "What do you care what other people think?"
People are quick to discount things that aren't part of their idea of what will work and what won't. I experienced a bit of that when I started my business selling Cubicle Lawns. People were quick to tell me it was a neat idea. But they were equally as quick to tell me I was crazy to actually *do* it, to put money and time into it.
Hey, for every artist, business, or idea that succeeds, there are dozens ... hundreds ... that fail and are never heard from again. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying!
It doesn't mean we shouldn't take control of our own ideas and make them a reality. Succeed or fail, you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. Gary Dahl didn't just *think* of selling rocks with googly eyes glued onto them... he bought that lottery ticket and hit the jackpot with the Pet Rock.
JoCo won the same lottery. Right time. Right Place. Right work ethic. A perfect storm.
I don't know if the JoCo model is the right model to work for everyone though.
Some artists are *just* artists. They aren't business minded folks. Maybe they need an organization that they can turn to for promoting their music. Maybe they need physical CDs on shelves. What they don't need though, is an organization that eats up all of their profits and then cries about slumping CD sales in a world where CDs are quickly becoming something to use for archery practice.
Hi Jonathan -
Great Music...Great Web site...A Great example for all of us...
The Secret Sauce is heard in the first five seconds! PASSION - Enthusiasm - Integrity
On "Frannie Kelley" an amateur.
Lots of new potential buyers coming your way!
Ralph Haygood says
This is an excellent post - no need to apologize or worry about sounding "whiney." I've posted links to it on my own blog (http://haygoodness.org/), Facebook, and Twitter.
You say, "I don't know why the 'funny geeky songs' thing seems to distract people so much...but it does. I've had a lot of conversations with industry analysts and insiders, and this kind of hand waving and designation of 'fluke' is...sadly familiar." I don't think this is mysterious in the least. "Industry insiders" are exactly the people who will be run out of business by your and similar approaches to making and selling music. They comfort themselves by labeling you a "fluke," but as you point out, the list of such "flukes" keeps getting longer.
As one of your "older" listeners, there are plenty of established musicians who have started up their own labels when they got fed up with, or dropped by, bigger companies. Arlo Guthrie, John Prine, Chip Taylor, Tom Rush... they've all gone independent. Good music will always find an audience and serious listeners will always find the good music.
Tom Anderson says
Who is going to send NPR $65 for a tote bag and a Jonathan Coulton CD? That's wrong on so many levels that it would make a good song! (Go ahead and use that, no charge!)
The NPR Music hosts wondered how someone gets 'discovered' in a system without labels. I would hope that they could get their break by being played on NPR Music. This leads me to guess why this would be unlikely. Perhaps because the median age of an NPR listener is 50, they might as well just shill for the labels, since the labels will keep sending NPR Music 'free' discs for the pledge drive at the artist's expense. It figures that the only way they covered Jonathan was through the business angle, and that they were negative. It is a threat to the NPR business model, which I've heard is already difficult.
I checked out the NPR Music podcast. No chance of that making it into my playlist! Sounds like fingernails scraping a chalkboard.
Ben Walker says
It's good to hear you speak up, Jonathan.
I got into your music through your blog. Not through Code Monkey. Not through the NYT article. In fact, I read your blog religiously for months before idly clicking on a song one day (it was I Crush Everything and I was instantly hooked).
We (people who like your music) like your music, and loads of other people don't. That just means you're awesome and non-bland. But your non-musical voice is a crucial part of this transformative discussion we've been stuck in for a few years. It takes someone like you to make people (one by one) realise that (fame !== success) and that the highest ambition of today's musical youth should not be an easily replicable business model.
Not saying you need to blog like this more often, just that we appreciate it when you do. ;)
Wow - there is some awesome discussion here... unfortunately I am haunted by the disturbing Fart-Snuggie monster conjured up by what Rev. Back It On Up 13 posted. (There's an image RIPE for inclusion in a "novelty" tune...) ;)
As a guy who has been playing in bands for a long time, I've had the opportunity to see a LOT of bands and solo artists over the years; at showcases, or via gig-swapping, etc. Most of these acts were really nothing special, and consequently it was never really that surprising to me when they vanished into thin air before very long. Every now-and-then, however, I'd see someone or some band perform who would just blow me away. Sadly, many of these extremely talented folks never got anywhere because they were consumed with the notion that they had to play the "traditional" label game to find success. Every move was structured to impress some A&R people whose sole purpose was to find the “next big thing” for their corporate overlords (er… protectors?) that could be exploited for a quick profit. They would then be discarded like a used Kleenex when the “novelty” wore off. So much talent wasted in pursuit of the “dream”...
As many folks have already pointed out, you have an incredible amount of talent - the kind that makes hacks like me realize it would be a fool's errand for me to quit my lame day job in pursuit of rock-n-roll glory. The beautiful thing is that you also realized that you didn't need the archaic and bloated music industry to slow you down and bleed you dry – and you evolved your own “model” to reach the masses that has served you well. Instead of burning out from trying to play the old game, you have been able to achieve steadily growing success, and, while I can’t speak for you, I would guess that being your own master gives you a greater sense of freedom and satisfaction in your work than you’d have if you were being pushed around by some music industry pinhead.
Steve Albini wrote a great rant in the early 90's about how the music industry is bad for artists. Negativland posted it on their site here: http://www.negativland.com/albini.html. It's really a great read, and it shows that even 2 decades ago the architecture of the music business was not set up in favor of the artists. (Not that it ever was...)
Keep on keepin' on JoCo. We all have your back.
Have to say that I'm a little disappointed in both NPR (unusually incomplete reporting) and your post (if only for the tinge of self-acknowledged whininess). I'm a fan of Planet Money, and usually they address the economic questions I ask out loud while I'm listening to their podcast. It seemed their discussions quickly devolved into repetitious "he won the internet lottery" phrases. They probably should've asked Jacob and Frannie for commentary on the artistic aspects of your music, and done an actual economic comparison of the music industry before and after the internet themselves. The question that demanded an answer was (as you pointed out near the end of your post) whether the internet has helped or harmed music in terms of monetary value and employment, and listeners were unfortunately left hanging.
Madonna and Nirvana are the Iphone and the Mini Cooper. You are a goddamn snuggie. Don't take it personally, its still a pretty position to be in. But its an accurate comparison. If you prefer you can be a Chia Pet. Or a tamagachi. But youre ego tripping if you think your an iphone.
Hey... I'm more of a Planet Money listener than I'm a JoCo fan, although I think you're rad 'n' all, but I just stopped by to see what the hubbub was about. It's good to see the discussion of independent artist maintaining control continue -- I mean, who doesn't love those old Steve Albini polemics? -- but you have to concede that their point was a fair one. Just at a basic tech skillset level, you're able to make things happen that ordinary people just can't do. Is R Kelly going to register a domain, set up a blog, select an email contact management system, tweak it to meet his needs, regularly send out messages, etc...? Lots of people don't know how to do that. Were those types of skills the reason you succeeded? No, of course not -- you've got talent -- but it set up a situation where you could succeed.
Actually, I'm curious what the situation is outside of rock music these days. What are we to make of the mix tape explosion in hip hop?
I glanced over the summary of the podcast, but didn't listen to it because I was a bit annoyed at the tone-- implying that because something is geeky it's somehow less acceptable than non-geeky things. It's 2011, so I'm a little shocked that Planet Money does not seem to realize that "geek" refers to a really broad range of people that, probably more importantly, are willing to spend plenty of money on niche things. If there is interest, than what the product is shouldn't make a difference. A replica Master Sword is a niche product-- but so are all the very expensive "designer" products people spend large sums of money on.
"Winning the internet lottery" is hardly a fair description. Lots of things are popular on the Internet. Making something popular into a successful business takes a lot of skill, not just luck.
Maybe this Pearls Before Swine comic from Saturday morning is a good sign for you.
Christina from Hudson K says
As an indie artist myself (making a fine living off of music and nothing else) I am happy to say that what I am capable of doing today was impossible even 10 years ago! I'm not rich, nor did I ever set out to be. I am proud of anyone who can figure out a way to make it work, and the only thing that I have figured out is that people are fiercely loyal to what they identify with artistically. It's just a shame that so many waste their time bashing what does not fall into their own category of "like."
Rock on with your bad self...JC!
Erin McJ says
This is so funny to me! I don't think of your success as flukey at all; I think of it as supporting evidence for the idea that creative output depends on regular, patient effort. I mean, yes, clearly you're talented and clearly you also had some luck, but to me the commitment you showed in Thing A Week is the real story. But I guess that part doesn't fit neatly into a Chicken Little narrative, or an internet triumphalism narrative for that matter.
(N.B. I didn't listen to the podcast, but got here from NPR's site.)
Is it possible that the music guys never buy the doughnuts and the Planet Money team just edited the piece to make them sound completely stupid to get back at them?
Snark Wahlberg says
Insane Clown Posse "won" the internet lottery with their paean to magnets. Like Mr. Coulton, they have worked tirelessly amassing a fanbase largely outside traditional media, but where I'd always maintained that the self-aware novelty music of folks like Messrs. Coulton and Yankovic held themselves with a certain dignity and good humor over seemingly un-self-aware novelty music of ICP, reading this complaint over being compared to a snuggie brings to mind Violent J's self-pitying remarks over the dismissiveness that was brought to bear on his band, despite the fact that it is composed of rapping dorks in clown makeup. Now, to be fair, I must either lower my regard of Mr. Coulton, or admit that Violent J, too, has a point.
Your business model is not replicable. You say "I make songs that are GOOD and then I sell them (and concert tickets, and Tshirts) to the people who want them – that’s my business model, and it’s patently obvious that it’s replicable because I stole it from every other recording artist in the world."
(emphasis mine, obviously)
So, define "good." You can't. It's subjective, and it changes. You can say "it has a nice hook and good rhythm." But what does that mean, really? It's not something you can pin down. Your business model is no more applicable than Apple's is because it deals with intangibles. Right now, your songs are good. Good enough for you to make a living. 10 years ago maybe they wouldn't have been. 10 years from now maybe they won't be. Who knows? "Good" as we're using it here is a moving target and therefore, I feel, an unusable descriptor for a "how-to" type of sentence. You may as well say "Apple's business model is to make a good product that people want to buy!" But isn't that everybody's business model?
Also, the "...sell them to people who want them..." bit glosses over a HUGE amount of particulars that must be addressed for this to be a valid discussion.
There's no replicable formula for indie artistic success, because if there was, anyone would be able to do it and High School guidance counselors wouldn't tell show choir kids to "have a fallback career." You DID win the lottery, and that is a point that should not be undercut.
I'm happy for every indie artist that is able to make a living based on their work with supplemental day job income. I DO believe that new technology and distro channels help make this possible.
But I really wish successful indie artists would stop insisting their success can be duplicated by others. It cannot. Others can find their own path to success, this is true, and they may use some of the same tools, this is also true, but every artistic success is a unique one.
Brian Gundersdorf says
The Snuggie is the record label model, not the internet model. A big company ran some tests for profitability, saw that the product would turn a profit, fronted money for production and television time, and contracted a portion of the income to the product inventor. The thing that really sets the Snuggie apart from other As Seen On TV products is that it’s embarrassing to like it. That’s the OPPOSITE of Jonathan’s scenario. What makes his songs go viral is that people want to show off that they love his songs. It’s fun to share funny topical songs with your friends.
I write workplace songs too. They’re good, but they aren’t funny, so they’re far less likely to get passed around the office. My songs feel more like a personal experience, like the Snuggie. I am a Snuggie with no record label. But even though I don’t make $X a year, I still benefit from the internet every day.
Here’s a story about the internet. I do a cover of Birdhouse In Your Soul. Research to cover a song now involves going on YouTube and seeing what other performers have already done. I spotted Jonathan singing this with my old friends Paul & Storm. So I tuned in because of that connection. Then, weeks later, I heard Jonathan on Planet Money. Now he's on my radar. And that's one way that the world works.
Anye (Another Sea Monkey) says
Happiness is sitting on my couch in my slanket (not snuggie!) drinking peppermint hot cocoa and listening to JoCo tunes.
If you were a novelty, you'd have faded by now. You've got enough discography to make anyone proud, and it's as varied as they come. Hundreds of people don't shell out hundreds to thousands of their hard-earned bucks to go sailing (on a boat!) with a novelty.
I am very happy for your success, I like to see creativity and talent rewarded. Since you have a ton of both, I foresee a ton of continued success in future!
So... Illegimati non Carborundum.
T Smith says
I was a music journalist for 5 years at a popular publication, and when listening to the Planet Money podcast I was reminded of a certain attitude/demeanor in that mileu that always drove me crazy. Those people are journalists, and in a lot of ways, their lot is determined in a very similar manner as musicians'. They create content for money, and the revenue model is comparable to the music industry if you switch words like "label" with "publication" and "song" with "article", etc.
And they have a distinct fear of people like you for that reason. They see you as a sign of their own (self-perceived) irrelevance (not that I actually think they are irrelevant). I can recall many conversations with other journalists and industry people wherein they pejoratively derided me for paying so much attention to nichey internety music (this was enough years ago that paying attention to trends online rather than on radios and TV was still rare in the mainstream media).
All that to say, it's their own fears and self-imposed unawareness of the new realities of the industry that make them miss the proverbial forest for the trees, and assume you're a freak because you happen to have an audience that they wrongly assume isn't worthy of the title "music fan."
Anyway, keep it up, and ignore the chattering classes. Your observations in this post are astute and, in my opinion, hugely relevant.
As an avid listener of Planet Money, I had to e-mail them about your success and the 'cast. The bottom line is that your work is quality product for an underserved demographic with an open and honest dialog that makes your fans feel like they're part of the experience. It's like your brand is its own ongoing Kickstarter project.
Keep on rocking. CANNOT WAIT for the new album. Also, if you ever wanted to come to Iowa, I can guarantee two people will show up. Probably even three.
I enjoyed this response... It didn't seem at all whiney. I actually have been put in the position of defending my like for your music. I make music on equipment I don't really know how to use, so that little part made me laugh. Continue to do what you do...
By the way, Kansas City wants you.
E Roos says
I rarely post comments but couldn't resist after hearing the podcast on my NPR iphone app today. Jonathan I think you are brilliant and your achievement is unique and remarkable. I don't think the snuggie comparison was meant to diminish your success. It was a poor analogy and really they(npr) should of been more intelligent when trying to describe your business model. I just want to applaud your intellect that drove you to create this successful business for yourself. I love to hear storys that circumvent unfair 'systems' or industries in place(such as the music industry). Congrats. I'll be looking to download your songs.
If Jacob and Frannie are music biz specialists from NPR's The Record... why on Earth did they say "it's good for him, and it's not that good for everybody else."? What technique are they thinking of that is "good for everyone else"? When did that ever happen? I think you are being way too kind to a couple of pros (apparently) who just put their foot in their mouth.
Success in most artistic endeavors depends almost entirely on one thing: circumstance. Success as an indie artist doubly so.
This sounds remarkably cynical, I know, but think about it; how many excellent songwriters and artists have you heard or seen over the years that have entirely failed to "succeed" (for some undefined value of "success", but that's a different rant of mine)? Rarely can anyone tell me that [really awesome band] wasn't trying hard enough or wasn't talented and wasn't writing songs that people want to hear. It could be anything - they weren't playing the right bar on the right night, or the guy who would kick off some viral revolution on the internet showed up two songs too late, or something. No matter how awesomely talented you are and how hard you work, you can still never get the lucky break you need.
You can go to bandcamp.com and go through page after page of great bands following the same sort of "business model" of Mr. JoCo - indie distro, performer-owned rights, open-source creative commons, etc - who will never sell more than a few thousand albums in their lives. Hell, I'm one of them. The business model will work, to an extent, for anyone, but nobody will ever quite replicate it again, because what got many of the successful artists the press coverage needed to really break was the fact that they were the first ones doing it.
Those that have suceeded? Sure, talented folks. Your Coultons, your Reznors, your Keatings, your Radioheads. But every single one of them could've basically missed it by a day - Trent Reznor could be another weekend warrior instead of an oscar winner if he'd released Pretty Hate Machine a year later. Yeah, JoCo and Zoe tour incessantly, which helps spread the word, but then, a lot of great indie bands tour incessantly, so it's no guarantee. Code Monkey went viral on the internet - but so did cats asking for cheeseburgers, the trololo guy, and Wil Wheaton, so it's not exactly something easily predicted and replicated. Maybe someday social science might have a grasp on that, but until then, it's pretty much luck.
Basically, lots of this could be applied to pretty much any endeavor, especially when money is involved. At least something like "opening a McDonald's" has the benefit of market research and demographics. You can't really do that for a song, not with any degree of meaning. Pretty much ANY advice you're going to get about the music industry will boil down to "work hard, be talented, hone your craft, and promote." That's not exactly a really specific recipe for anything. Beyond that, it's probably best to be skeptical of anyone who tells you they have some great tips for succeeding in music.
What the talent and hard work really get you more than anything is the ability to notice the opportunity when it arrives. That's all. Does that kind of suck? Well, sure. But then again if the only reason you're putting your talents out there as an artist is to just acheive some ill-defined rock-star paragon of success, ur doin it rong.
Hi, just thought I pop in after listening to the NPR episode.
My wife and I think you are the next step in Music business, and that the two "experts" are just nay-sayers who are not really that saavy.
For them, the use of "novelty" was rather crass. Taken in context, all musicians are "novelty" so really, they were showing their biases.
Anyway, I love your zombie song, and it shows a level of creativity that is sadly lacking in music.
David Cortright says
It's not the "novelty" songs that keeps me a fan. It's the well-crafted songwriting. I think it was Steve Jobs who once said something like, "Anyone can kill off bad ideas. The best people kill off the merely good ones too and let only the great ones through." I have no doubt that's what you do, Jonathan. I bet there's some pretty good stuff on the cutting room floor. But what does get through is quite amazing.
I'll throw out one more quote from another Steve (Martin this time): "Be so good they can't ignore you." I think that sums it up for me. You are un-ignorable.
Fuck'em. From out here, it's the rest of the world that looks so small.
Ben O. says
Seconding everything T. Smith said above.
The Planet Money host was asking the right questions, but the NPR music duo's answers were mostly contradictory. ("He's a fluke success who didn't have to work for it!" "It's not replicable because running a site like that would take so much WORK!")
The JoCo model could threaten them in two ways: 1) As paid music critics, they have a vested interest in the existing label-based distribution system; 2) As journalists, they may see an analogy between the music and news industries. Hence the defensiveness and irrationality.
Fata Morgana says
I'm glad you got an interview with NPR. I'm glad they did a show about this topic, even though the co-hosts were so awful. Actually, their ineptness only made them look outdated and clueless, and didn't reflect badly on you at all. And most of all, I hope you get a lot of new fans from that broadcast.
Fata Morgana says
Also, for the record, I have bought all of your music with cash money, even the stuff I downloaded free at first. Some of them have been bought twice, and a few I've even bought three or four times. Every time you visit Dallas, I buy two tickets to your show, even if I don't always have someone to go with. I also donated money once. I'm happy, really pleased that you're able to make a comfortable living doing what you do, and I feel a little proud that some of my money has gone into that number.
Matt Blick says
Novelty? Even if you were just the online geek version of Weird Al (which you're not) it takes a lot of skill and talent to forge a career. Yes anyone can 'get lucky'. But no one stays lucky without real talent.
Forget 'em - these people will be sucking up to you by the time you're inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame.
I was a little surprised by the sentence 'we’ve all decided that it’s fine with us if we reach fewer people as long as we reach them more directly.' I was expecting 'We've all decided that it's fine with us if we reach people without them necessarily paying us, as long as we reach more people.' Or, to quote Tom Smith:
I want my music on Napster,
Where smaller artists are grown,
You want your bloated profits --
Man, I just wanna be known.
Anyway, as I was pulling my towel around me for warmth this fine Towel Day, it occurred to me that you, like a towel, are more versatile than a Snuggie. I have to admit I did momentarily wish my towel had sleeves, but I knew what I was getting into when I left my jacket at home.
The post above seems to show very little understanding of the Snuggie metaphor, and introduce some unrelated facts. I'm going to retroactively imbue it with meaning.
Pulling my towel around me for warmth=listened to various internet-powered musicians on my iPod
more versatile than a Snuggie=more versatile than a Snuggie
Left my jacket at home=left the TV and radio behind
Wished my towel had sleeves=wished more of the internet musicians I discovered had big enough audiences that they'd tour to where I live
Fata Morgana says
Something just occurred to me this morning, and I wonder if it might have been part of your intent in allowing your income to be known. There are artists who have labels right now and have put out CDs, who are making less then you. Heck, there are artists under labels who are in debt (to the label). I would like to think that such artists might hear this podcast, and become hopeful that they, too, might be more successful using the internet, and might find a way to free themselves and make their dream come true.
What I'm saying is, you're providing inspiration here. Which is awesome.
I'm gonna ignore the internet and financial angles of this for awhile and focus on the genre snobbery.
I think "novelty" music gets used as a pejorative. It's like saying, "You had to use a gimmick". Nay, "People only like this for its gimmick." There are certainly artists that go for novelty music with their hearts and souls. I don't think Parry Gripp would describe what his recent solo efforts any other way. But I'd classify you more as powerpop - music à la Cheap Trick, early Cars, They Might Be Giants, Fountains of Wayne - rock music engineered to be enjoyable by many through just anything that would be pleasing to the ear. The way someone would try to make a pop record back when records could be hits by being catchy and fun.
Certainly some of your more jesting Thing-a-Week entries (pants and the fanciness thereof come to mind) certainly conjure up the "novelty" label, but in the sense they use it, I think they're trying to diminish the artistic integrity you brought to the table. Almost as if they're going "don't try this at home, kids, he's just writing joke songs". As if When You Go and A Walk With George don't round out your discography wonderfully. Just like BNL will probably always be known for One Week instead of Call and Answer, but those who were on board know the whole story there.
They call you a fluke as if you're the first of your kind, but you're part of a trend. Artists doing more and more without the major labels. Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead getting their music out there was inspiring to me as a musician, but I was well aware they already had their fans. The fact you got discovered without major label promotion is very impressive, but once again, I like to think of it as a start of something, not a fluke.
I'm sure they tried to diminish it as "an internet thing", but who's gonna use the internet to discover an artist and make him a superstar? Us geeks will do it FIRST, that's no surprise, but they're ignorant if they think other niches won't follow suit.
So to these panelists I say, "You're wrong. Kids, DO try this at home. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66knvY3vxsA <-relevant, especially in this context.) Write the music you want, do is much of it as you can on your own, and when you're stumped, ask your friends for help. Put your soul into your music and see how far you can get it out there - the resources are there to get it further than ever possible."
I just listened to the podcast and visited your website. After I finished reading your blog post and began reading the comments, I realize your fans and commenters are leagues above other commenters. Well done!
Tori Adams says
As an economist I do think they missed the point – that is, which business model best provide goods (i.e., music) to people at the price, quantity and to a quality they desire. From an economic POV, this is the only real question.
What happened (and tends to happen with these discussions in general) is that discussion of the best way to meet market demands get confused by discussions of individual property holders right to an economic rent (i.e., the value that can be obtained beyond the cost of bring a good to market). Thus, musicians and the music industry are rent seekers (in an economic sense). That is, they attempt to manipulate the political, legal and economic conditions to increase the price the customer pays for music beyond the cost of production. This is perfectly normal – it is much easier to be a rent seeker than to come with new products that meet consumer demand. For example, it is much easier to bring out new sets of old songs by famous bands you know are popular and to which you own than to find new bands and market their material.
Over time people naturally come to believe their rents are “rights” – they develop complex moral and practical arguments that explain why their rents are natural and necessary. This is human nature – very few people like to be thought of as unnecessary. In reality their “rights” are simply the result of a set of legal, technological, political and economic factors that coincided to allow them to monopolize production and marketing at some time in the past.
Thus, musicians (sorry) and labels have no more "right" to a certain income that do harriers, buggy whip, milliners, glove makers or four-loom weavers. It hard but true – market demand and technology throws up opportunities and takes them away. Businesses continue to exist because they produce goods people want. People are prepared to pay a certain price for a good (in this case music of a particular type) and entrepreneurs enter the market to sell it to them. If the good meets peoples requirements, then it sells and the entrepreneur win - if not they exit the market. Smart entrepreneurs figure out a way to deliver the good at the price people will pay and make a buck – dumb ones (aka record labels) don’t and go bust.
From an economic POV, Jonathan’s business model works in the 21st Century. He delivers a good people want and he makes a living that is sufficient for him to stay in the market. The labels do not. They have a business model that needs to pay for very high salaries for a lot of people (most of them not involved in the actual production of music) and support huge production and marketing costs. This system worked well in an industrial setting but does not work in the current economy.
This becomes apparent when you think about music from a historical POV. Historically most musicians never made much money -- music was "free". Anyone with talent that knew a song could sing it and try to get paid. People probably didn’t have all the music they wanted – most of it was probably pretty bad and unless you happened to have a talented musician in your community you could call on whenever you wanted, you didn’t get enough of it. Only when a rich patron or large music hall appeared could musicians make big money and only the very rich got all the music they wanted (e.g., Louis XVII could listen to a string quartet in perfect fidelity at any time).
Then technology changed and music (along with a lot of things) became industrialized and was pumped out to mass audiences. People could afford a lot more music and musicians that were popular could earn a lot of money (they did loose variety as they did with other industrialized products but the quality/quantity issues made the trade worth it). Furthermore, the industrialized producers of music (i.e., the labels) made a ton of money too. Ultimately the drive to meet the demand for music meant that the cost fell effectively to zero – when a little extra bit of technology came in and supplies could no longer enforce their property rights, the industrial model collapsed.
At this point, musicians and labels found their monopolistic, rent-seeking model didn’t work. What was actually happening was that music was becoming pre-industrial again. The only way to make big bucks is a big concert hall or a rich patron. What Jonathan and others found were a series of little patrons – for the privilege of being given tremendous access and enjoying his music, we are prepared to pay him to do whatever he likes in the hope that it turns out to be something we like (just like Mozart in Vienna).
Seen from this perspective, industrialized music was a roughly 100 year phenomena that started with the phonograph and entered with digital revolution. The label had their day and are on their way out.
It was this kind of discussion that was lacking – Planet Money (which I love) – really missed the opportunity to have a good economic discussion and got stuck in an argument about “rights” and the necessity of one business model.
Some of the comments on Planet Money were dismissive, but others were fair and all in all it's an EXCELLENT podcast. More importantly, the outcome of this episode is I've found a GREAT artist I probably wouldn't have heard of otherwise. I'm glad they ran the episode. I don't listen to much modern music, but will be listening to yours.
I'm a regular Planet Money listener and recent fan of JoCo. The piece in Planet Money I paid attention to was your interview, which was geared towards explaining to the public that traditional labels are lumbering dinosaur models and that it is possible to make a decent living on your own. PM did a decent job of discussing the benefits of each model. As much as you cringe over discussing your net revenue, I was surprised you didn't clear more from your sales (that may be due to people like me buying albums through iTunes while, now, I'm clued in that I can buy directly from your website).
These people from NPR Music (I was surprised they have a music division) aspired to reduce success to a formula for songs leading to sold out stadium concerts and their own ideas for a cushy job at a record label. They completely missed the part where some of those traditional mega-stars clear less than $0.5 mil as a band and the jobs they aspire to (professional music reviewers, most likely) is not necessary in your success pathway.
John Rohde Jensen says
I agree, that particular podcast was not Planet Moneys finest hour.
They basically said that musicians don't know how to promote themselves. Excuse me, but if they don't have an exhibitionist streak then what are they doing in the entertainment industry??? Self promotion have always been an essential part of the business.
And the technical challenges. Give me a break.
Fata Morgana says
@Tori Adams: Thanks for the overview analysis, it was a great read, and much more informative than that Planet Money podcast. They should have had you on as the guest host!
It was kind of weird but I almost detected jealousy in their voices. This could have been a misinterpretation of resenting change but the fact is that the internet has lowered the barriers to entry. People no longer have the excuse that they have talent but the system works against them.
Fata Morgana says
I'll tell you what it made me think of. It was like Alex Blumberg was trying to explain how the internet could be helpful to artists, and he was explaining it to his elderly Aunt Frannie and Uncle Jacob. And since they hardly use the internet at all - only for forwarding emails that Uncle Jacob gets from his ex-military buddies, and Auntie Frannie doesn't even use it for that, she just plays solitaire on mahjong on the computer - so they just don't understand how that thing you send emails on could be used to sell music. Is JoCo sending a bunch of emails, is that how he's selling? It must be some kind of fluke! Normal people can't make any money on this new-fangled interweb. That's crazy talk.
I do want to stress that Alex Blumberg was great, though. But he always is.
Scott McDaniel says
I did find it fascinating how they really dug in their heels to keep their position - not just sticking by it, but denying any evidence to the contrary.
I'm sure they're lovely people, but it was like listening to a political debate.
Michael Rasmussen says
What surprised me about Frannie and Jacob's response was the insistence that "not everyone" could do it. Alex didn't challenge them with "not everyone" can make it with a record label. From their insistence it would seem that anyone who gets signed on with a label is assured a comfortable income. It cuts both ways.
As to your net income, yay! and YAY! for sharing it. Hopefully it will inspire other musicians. After all they just have to be 10% as successful as you and they'll have a higher than US National median income. If you can't reach for that you're not trying at all.
There seems to exist this perjorative attitude towards things that are internet-based in general-an Us vs. Them kind of attitude. People talk as if they have some sort of preconcieved and dissmissive notion that only cartoon-cliche-nerds, lunatics and anonymous dwell there, and that internet-based businesses are the new hula-hoop. I think it's natural for people to want to dismiss what they feel they are dismissed by-though they do themselves a huge disservice. At first glance internet culture may seem nerdy and full of inside jokes, but it's a mistake to think of it as nothing but nerdery. People who do so close thier minds to the opportunities of a global presence, a wider viewpoint, an easier ability to connect to what might be important to them as an individual. (I suspect that perhaps people who are unable to connect on a peronal level to the internet may simply be baffled by options.) Business-wise, the internet is an amazing way to reach an audience that might be otherwise unaware of your work. It's a smart use of the technology available. It saddens me a little to hear it trivialized.
Speaking of trivializing, I have a severe distaste for the term "novelty music", and reject the use of it. People connect with music on an emotional and intellectual level. Your music is as honest, interesting, catchy and poingant as it is funny. Your talent and versatility are incredible. Just because you can have a giggle at a song doesn't make it dismissable, or any less valid than any other song. So, either all music is a novelty, or none of it is.
I'd also like to say thanks for releasing karaoke versions of your songs-I know of no other indie artist that does so, which is a shame. They are always a hit at our local pub-especially First of May. And it helps us spread the JoCo love! Great idea.
I sense a new JoCo vengeance song coming on: "I'm Just a Snuggie" - it'll be your best song yet. Do it! And be super snarky. Heheheheh
Fred Leo says
When I first learned of Jonathan Coulton I was first impressed by the music itself, which I thought was really pop literate, well-crafted, nicely performed etc. Next I noticed the clever lyrics, and after listening to all the songs, I found that some are far more than clever. (I'm still not convinced "I crush everything" is absolutely literal in its giant squidness.) I never thought Joco tunes as novelty songs, really, no more than TMBG or FOW songs. They're refreshingly unique and musically solid, and for me, that alone is victory for artist and listener.
Still need to dig into the rights and economics underlying the Snuggie metaphor, but what worries me these days is the lack of cultural glue we have with entertainment products. There's more music (books and movies) than time and ears. The fact that this community exists and flourishes based on the music and the artist in a straight pipeline, however, does make me grin.
Rev. Back It On Up 13 says
Yep. Upon reading the rest of the comments in this thread, I am convinced. The snuggie thing was an attempt at cleverness, a failed metaphor. Snuggie Debunked.
J Smith says
HA! I should try the Slashdot route .. ; )
I'm in a different industry experiencing a very similar struggle between traditional publishing and independant writers.
http://jgordonsmith.com (and click on 'post categories' for kindle).
Theobroma Cacao says
"Any publicity is good publicity" might be appropriate here. I suspect your music (and business model) has been introduced to a not insignificant number of new people as a result of the Planet Money interview (it's why I'm here: never heard of you before despite being a long time geek and reading Slashdot since before their parent IPO'd).
Listening to the podcast, I got the impression that the NPR Music folks (_not_ Alex Blumberg) were trying to compare apples to oranges, while Alex was attempting to point out that perhaps the existing label business model didn't need to apply. The response from the people with NPR Music appeared to be the normal reaction of people vested in the existing mode of operation when disruptive change comes along. Sort of like the telco folks reacted to this weird Internet thing back in the early to mid-90s. Over time, the labels will evolve or die (most likely, the majority will take the latter option, just like the Baby Bells).
Marc Gunn, The Celtfather says
Great point Jonathan and very true. If there's anything I've learned in the music business (and biz in general) is that anything that is a huge success is repeatable. It gets props not just for the novelty, but also for the ingenuity. Ye done good! Keep it up!
I would suggest that a 'novelty' song is one whose chief appeal is some gimmick that doesn't hold up to repeated listens. Say, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," or "Roly Poly Fishheads." What you write are not novelty songs. Many are funny, sure, but they are musically, lyrically, and emotionally complex and practically beg for repeated listens.
I can imagine someone listening to most of the White Album and concluding that the Beatles write only novelty songs, by whatever definition they're labeling you. And that's just silly.
Designer Dan says
This touches upon several problems creatives have to endure:
1. If you are humorous, you are considered shallow.
2. If you are extremely creative, people will say you have too much time on your hands.
etc... I could name more instances, but these seem especially pertinent.
No matter! These same people love and enjoy the creative and humorous work that we create, even if they don't understand the process or why they themselves enjoy it.
Two things really bothered me about the podcast
the first thing that struck me as just completely wrong was the assertion that you "hit the internet lottery" and that your still living off those winnings. I don't think that's true at all. Every week, heck every day someone "hits the internet lottery" someone's video goes viral thanks to facebook / twitter or youtube and they become quasi famous. that actually is NOT all that unusual in this day and age. Sometimes people are able to monetize that momentary success (antoine dodson, the david after the dentist family, etc) but that success and income is not only temporary but it's extremely fleeting. What are the chances that william hung, antoine dodson, or the owners of "clark griswold" (the dog from the viral talking dog video - "what was in there?") are going to be able to parlay their 15 minutes of internet fame into a long term successful career and revenue stream? Going viral over the internet is not unusual, making something out of it long term though kinda is.
which brings me to the second thing that irritated me. The podcast kinda tries to paint you as if you're lazy which is really unfair. They point out that you post on facebook / twitter, release a song to the internet, write a blog post and they say "That's his job" and then in another portion of the show talk about how you weren't willing to do it "The hard way" and drive around in a van getting one or two more people per show each show. I don't think that's fair at all. First of all staying on top of social media, staying connected with fans, writing and recording new material etc has to be a ton of work without even factoring in the business side of things that you aren't having handled by a label. Just because you didn't want to follow the old model that was discussed in the podcast doesn't mean you're lazy. It means that for whatever reason you don't see the benefit of doing it that way. You don't believe the reward is great enough for the effort you're putting in or the enjoyment you get out of it.
John O'Leary says
Tim Ferriss and Seth Godin have been talking about the niche market for years. Thousands of people make money through businesses set up to fill a need or a demand in a niche market. Music is no exception. I am doing the same with my band and my music and I was completely inspired by your story! Thanks again for making me feel excited about my music!
Monique Rio says
It really bothered me when they kept saying that your success isn't replicable. As you said:
"I make songs that are good and then I sell them (and concert tickets, and Tshirts) to the people who want them – that’s my business model, and it’s patently obvious that it’s replicable because I stole it from every other recording artist in the world. "
The important thing is finding your fans, and if tapped, the internet can make it much easier to find fans and get your music into their ipods. 5 years ago having geeky fans was useful since the distribution methods were new. Now it doesn't matter since so many people are on facebook. As you said, you can now write a song about curling and know how to get that song to the curling community. Equally, if you wrote a more mainstream song about being a teenager in love, there are places you can target to get a lot of exposure.
I think the big deal is that there is no way for a musician to make a living with music skills alone. You either have to be open to learning about the business side of music or you have to find someone who can help you. The internet makes it easier to do it on your own, but it's still not easy. Lots of musicians don't want to have to think about websites or paypal or bandwidth or wordpress themes or whatever. For them, your method isn't replicable.
Also there are plenty of ways to spend your day doing music stuff without banking on "winning the lottery." Example: A combination of teaching private lessons, playing weddings with your band, and publishing your own songs on your blog. Sure it's not as glamorous as code-monkey or Justin Beiber, but it still could lead to a rock-star life and you don't have the starving artist problem. It is not all or nothing.
Bill Scherzinger says
I had never heard of you until I heard the Planet Money podcast, and I thought the same thing as you when listening to their comments. They missed the point.
The fact is that there is a market for music that won't be diminished by the internet. And now people's choices are not limited. This will spread the distribution out a little bit.
You hit the nail on the head. Artist don't have to sell out MSG.
I like your stuff - keep up the good work.
I had never heard of you before the PM podcast but I really admire what you're doing.
My real point in posting is that from a music fan's perspective, it absolutely blows my mind that the music reporters from NPR didn't know about others with a similar model. I traded Grateful Dead tapes all through my 20s and that business model worked BEFORE the Internet.
Obviously this is nothing new to you. Thanks for giving us the run down. I'll always dig the Planet Money team and I hope they never invite those god-awful music people back.
Roz Warren says
When Planet Money played your songs, they were participating in the continued success of your business plan. By bringing your music to new listeners. Some of whom will become as addicted to it as I am. The fact that they were creating new JoCo fans while blathering away about whether or not your business plan is viable is actually pretty ironic.
Preach on, Johnny, preach on!
I hope the NPR people have read this post of yours. Not to spite them or anything, but maybe to influence their future interviews to be more insightful and less scathing.
I admire your success, and your ability to make full use of the opportunities that the internet-age of music has offered you (low overhead, connections with your fans, full ownership, etc etc etc etc).
Now please write a song about Snuggies. That would be oh so fantastic.
Chris Vaaler says
"First, writing novelty songs is actually a real thing that you can do, and many talented people have had fine careers doing it, so let’s not go around denigrating it, shall we?"
Really? Please elucidate. Name one besides Weird Al.
Nirvana a novelty act? We have been listening to Nirvana for 20 years now. We will not be listening to you 20 miinutes from now.
the radford says
(completely off-topic - JC, you know that Alex and Nicki are really old friends, right? I assume so but still, small world.)
Chris Vaaler: He didn't call Nirvana a novelty act; he gave Nirvana an example of "a new thing that somebody invented and marketed and sold to enormous success." Just like a Snuggie. The point being that the comparison isn't entirely inappropriate, merely indicative of Kelley choosing a dismissive metaphor.
As far as writers of novelty songs: Tom Lehrer, Frank Zappa, They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, Tiny Tim, Stompin' Tom Connors, the Arrogant Worms, Tally Hall, and Moxy Früvous are all known for funny songs. I'm not a big fan of the genre though; those are just some well-known acts that might count.
Thomas Meyer says
While I was angry at their dismissal of you and your accomplishments, I would be remiss in not pointing out that I own two snuggies, and think them a fine product. Likewise do I provide a lot of green paper to the furtherance of the magnificence that is JoCo.
They linked to your post...
Chris Vaaler says
Frank Zappa, They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies are NOT novelty acts - and Tom Lehrer was big 50 years ago. As for the rest of your examples, they are obscure and prove my point.
Fata Morgana says
Chris Vaaler says: "Frank Zappa, They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies are NOT novelty acts – and Tom Lehrer was big 50 years ago."
No one said they were, nor did you ask for a "novelty act." For the record, Jonathan Coulton is not a "novelty act", either. What you requested was someone who writes "novelty" songs, as if this is some kind of a put down. TMBG is pretty well known for writing what could be considered "novelty" songs. They are my favorite band in the world.
I think your objection to the term is the negative connotation that you're assuming from the word "novelty." That it's the kind of song you listen to for about a month, then you get tired of the 'novelty' of it because the song has no depth. But not all humorous or "quirky" (jeepers, I hate that word worse than "novelty") songs have no depth, as TMBG have proved. Birdhouse in Your Soul may just be "a silly little song about a night light", but it's an absolutely brilliant one that I have listened to countless times, and will listen to more in the future. Similarly, Jonathan Coulton's "I Crush Everything" may be "a silly/sad song about the yearnings of a giant squid", but it is a brilliant one which I never tire of.
Also, Tom Lehrer may have been popular 50 years ago, but he's still friggin' amazing. Does music die after 50 years or something? Is this a thing? Do I have to stop listening to Puccini now?
Chris Vaaler: I'm not entirely sure what your point is. You not being familiar with an artist means they don't have a career? Writing novelty songs is a terrible crime that must be derided, but if one just writes funny songs that are popular it's somehow ok?
I wasn't interested in JoCo's music when I first heard it, because--as I said--I'm not really into novelty songs. (BNL is the only band I listed that I was ever a fan of--the rest are just artists I can think of who are known for funny songs.) I get not being into a style of music; I don't get your apparent need to insist no one else likes it.
If you're mad at JoCo for dissing Nirvana: *my* point was that he didn't.
Reading my post over, I think it comes across a lot bitchier than I intended. My apologies.
I can forgive people for not liking the music, and even for not understanding JoCo's appeal, but it irks me when anyone tries to invalidate the fact that he's actually a talented and clever songwriter, which is part of why he is so much more popular than most people who post funny songs on the internet.
When business and art collide, business cannot understand art and dismisses it. I see it all the time at work (at a financial company).
What's truly irritating is that these so-called music experts can't tell how good these songs are. Did they even bother to listen?
Joe G. says
Jonathan Coulton. Heard the podcast, and I came to check you out online. I am currently sending myself and a friend your website. Nice. As far as the podcast, you bring up the questions that I went away thinking. With number one, how can someone take this idea and aid other artists that are trying to do what they love to do and, at the same time make some amount of side income or be their main source of income. Yeah, yeah, we know social networking is the key, but the interesting thing is how well you do it, and how well it works for you. The point that I liked was the fact that this worked for you, meaning, that we cannot go build a template and repeat it for everyone else. You're aren't a Snuggie cause we can't make any more of you. You're not a fluke because your YOU and this is what you do. Now if I hit a 95 mph fastball over Wrigley Field, now that's a fluke, but if I'm Arod, that's a different story.
So my point. My point is this. I called on of my friends who is an indepent muscian (I'm a business guy), John Rumpza, and told him your story, or at least my variation of it. He loved it, it was inspiring, but John goes on to say that, WOW he put a lot of work into that, I wouldn't be able to do that. And that's what hit me, look at what you built, look at your creation, some how I found you on Planet Money. This isn't a fluke. Your business model is this = Jonathan Colton!!! no matter what you do, you're gonna stick to it. You can't fail. Unlike companies or other artists, they have a certain product they sell, a specific image they are showing. I work for a company that says, "oh, no Joe, we can't do that, that's not in our bag of tricks."
Now I believe there is a service here that is availible, if we just peel back the layers of the onion. One that respects the artist and work, one that is as uniquie as the organizm that created it. But, yet again, I get caught in a fairy tale. Where greed doens't exist, and the fact that there is some amount of profit to be made, but whereas the company would actually charge a fee that is reasonable and fair (not 40%).
I wanted that discussion. Thank you for doing what you do.
Chris D says
Don't feel bad! You weren't whining. It was a shockingly lame episode from a team that normally produces top-notch work. I got to the end of it and I'm thinking, "That's...that's it? That's all you're going to do?" They couldn't do a simple Google search to try and find other non-label musicians?
It was, sadly, ordinary journalism, where they looked at one example, ignored it while crying out "Internet: THREAT OR MENACE?" and called it a day.
I only recently started to listen to Planet Money on my new Android phone. I have enjoyed the prior episodes of Planey Money that I listened to so far. I was disappointed with this podcast, since as you say, they did not really talk much about the "business model", how you actually did it (make a living as a musician without a record label or contract). But on a positive note, I had never heard of Jonathan Coulton before today, so at least I now have heard your song, "Code Monkey", which I enjoyed!
NPR focused on the novelty songs. As a computer programmer (almost 30 years) and part-time musician and someone who likes novelty songs, I say "good for you". I think the NPR Music hosts are just a little bit jealous of your success.
You are more than just a musician, singer and songwriter. You also have done a decent enough job of recording your work, so you have some recording / audio skills. As a computer programmer, you can setup your own website / blog. You obviously enjoy writing. And, you can create and maintain a spreadsheet. A lot of full time musicians I know, who are great musicians, don't possess the diverse set of skills that you brought to bear to your small but successful music business.
I think Planet Money's regular hosts do a fine job, but when they brought in the NPR Music folks they were not able to focus as well on the economic and business side of what you do (and what Planet Money is really about).
Also, for someone to do novelty songs, one must sing well enough and enunciate such that we can understand the words and appreciate the humor. Many other songwriters and singers do not always sing clearly enough for the audience to fully grasp what they are singing. But I found your delivery and singing was done well enough for me to understand your lyrics. Bravo!
As a guitar player myself, I liked some of your chord progressions and melodies. Many singer songwriters today are just "repetitive chord progression" writers and/or "repetitive melody" singers. However, you demonstrate more skills in this regards than the average singer songwriter these days.
Best of luck!
Adam E says
Just heard the Planet Money podcast you were on and you now have a new fan. Can't understand what was up with the NPR Music folks. It was a waste even having them on. You're an artist and as far as I can see you have the same business model of every other artist. You work your butt off to create something, promote it, and make a living off it.
The NPR Music folks seemed distracted by the crazy internet thing. When what they shouldn't of been asking is why are the folks still using the traditional studio/label model so lazy? I was actually yelling at the radio every time they started yammering.
Anyway, I'm glad they had you on because now I can partake in your awesomeness.
Dane Golden says
Really enjoying this discussion. As a follower of both Planet Money and JoCo, I don't come down on the either-or argument as being right. Planet Money does some incredible reporting, but no matter how much research they do, they can't be specialists in what Jonathan does. No reporting can possibly master all the facts and nuances of a given topic, but overall I think they did quite a good job exploring a multi-faceted topic.
Nor do I see Jonathan's tone as defensive (as one might when compared to a Snuggie), but a well-written elaboration and disagreement. As I tweeted before, which seems to jive with what he's saying, is that fluke=extraordinary. Not everyone makes it in entertainment, thus anyone who does can be seen as a fluke.
I thought the Planet Money piece was a good debate, and worth listening to, whether you agree with it or not. I think Jonathan's post and the Planet Money podcast offer two sides of a coin, both worth a read and a listen. Here's the Planet Money piece:
Owen H says
I found it strange that two (young?) people who work for NPR could be so entrenched in establishment thinking. The whole issue with the 21st century music industry is that they are trying to sell was is largely an obsolete product (physical reproductions of music). What's more, small labels benefit from the internet tremendously in terms of exposure and aesthetic, able to form a much more coherent identity through digital means than before. By and large, they're cultural critics, and I'm sure they have a bias considering that they deal with labels a lot in order to get content delivered to them. In the media world (I'm talking news media) there's a huge amount of work to be done in terms of sheer logistics in order to get material put together, as well as significant turn-around time when journalists do a piece. If you want to submit a new product (book, CD, game) for review in a major media outlet, you often have to do it months ahead of time! I imagine they probably love labels in that, as companies, they are more organized and punctual than a whole bunch of musicians.
That being said, I think they're mixing up the connection between art and economics, and ultimately falling victim to the rationale that record companies would have us believe - that through the shoring up of hapless artists, labels are what allow creativity to happen. This may have occasionally been true years ago when everyone had to work through physical distribution networks - now it is blessedly just the opposite. With a little education and a reasonable amount of effort, musicians make significantly better profits by interacting directly with their customer base.
Ultimately the host seemed to come down on your side, though - and he even seemed a little bewildered by their responses. Go Alex!
I think that they also miss the point when they talk about the "bare bones" website. This is the problem with a lot businesses in my mind. They want to make things so slick that usability loses.
I think the lesson from your case (JoCo) is to make good content (music, blog, wiki, forums, etc.) and make it easily available to consumers. It's not rocket science and you've said this before, possibly with slightly different words. I think that Apple gets this too with the app store and itunes, but some people still don't get it. If you make it easier and/or more convenient to buy music than to steal it, then people will buy especially if it's good. (the snuggie, available at every walgreens)
I tried to stick up with you on the discussion off the post from the moment I saw that ridiculous "Is this man a snuggie?" headline, but you put your finger on the issues and the blinders of the NPR music people so much better than I could have/did.
You're awesome. I'm going to go listen to the Jonathan Coulton Station on Pandora now...
Kara Capelli says
I listened to the podcast with intrigue, but left feeling the same disappointment as you that most of the questions popping in my head were not addressed. This blog post is fantastic.
I discovered JoCo because of WOW (Machinama:Code Monkey), and being a guitar player for 30 years. Because I have a slight hearing challenge, I was not, at first, paying attention to the lyrics. The music was so good!. The chord progressions, his use of creative rhythms, Exceptional chorus and song structure.
I have recorded myself on the computer since Windows 3.11 days.
It is difficult and challenging to a musician.
Then I finally listened to the lyrics and was hooked for life.
But it was the Expert Song-Smithing, that caught my attention first.
This has been commented on pretty relentlessly, and it's old news but I heard the podcast today. I'm not even a big fan of your work, the first exposure I ever had was portal, which I am lead to believe is fairly late in the game for you.
I don't care about the genre-sneering, I'm sure you'll have it for you entire career, just like the Barenaked Ladies and even Weird Al (which is a fairly obvious target wouldn't you say?).
What got me was that this show usually does a good job looking at a lot of details. I get the feeling that this has a lot to do with why they went talking to people from a music commentary background. What gets me though is that had they gone to two other people (like the folks at All Songs Considered) they might have gotten a much different response, and they seemed to ignore that. Or not pay enough attention to it anyway, it's one thing to have two economic scholars, but something else entirely for music journalists to comment on the economics of the industry.
The biggest point they missed and NEARLY HIT was the "Middle-class musician." Your success is replicable, just maybe not your pay. Moby also got "lucky" in that he made a good album and allowed every song to be used commercially, it made him money and gave him a platform to stand on, but that's STILL an exception. What the internet allows is for ANYONE to make and sell music, they don't need to be breaking the bank, but they can easily pull in money. Someone like Bomb The Music Industry has been giving away music for free for years and worked a part-time job. The Misfits have even said that they couldn't completely live off of the band but that it at least broke even enough to maintain, if only for the passion of playing. Hell, the really early Misfits years are a pre-internet example of indie music. Danzig would send letters to fans personally (hand-written!) and send them small gifts like stickers or CDs or shirts. They toured and interacted on such a level that built them a massive reputation. Nothing in that says they have to be rich.
If I made 30,000 a year just from being a musician, and music related endeavors like marketing and networking, I'd gladly do it! I'd learn to live on that money. That's not a terrible wage to live off of, not ideal, but it works. The internet allows that. I can locate and book my own touring venues and map-out the tour. I can get albums printed in mass quantities, I can even have on-demand printing for higher expense if the audience needed it! Professor Elemental made 20 dollars off of me because I heard his music and liked it, on the internet. I bought his albums and should likely do so in the future. Is he rich? Probably not. Is he better off for the internet? Definitely.
We need to re-think the music industry as being a bunch of incredibly rich artists with lavish life-styles. That's nonsense that has always hurt the industry and the bands. Plenty of working musicians simply play in bar-bands and there's nothing wrong with that, they make their living doing what they enjoy. Creative musicians can also make a living, it just doesn't need to show up on MTV Cribs to be worth while.
I was disappointed by the NPR Music guys.
They seem to be in as much denial as the music industry.
The Planet Money people did okay, I think.
Michael vilain says
I just heard the Planet Money podcast and really felt they just don't get the internet music business model. If they'd done their homework, they would have found LOTS of musicians who, while not as successful at revenue generation as you, are still promoting and playing their music. Yale's Sam Tsui got mentioned twice in Tom Hank's commencement speech. Peter Lee Johnson's violin covers of popular songs are just a download away or on Youtube. Alex Goot makes videos and records out of his basement in NY. Alex and Sam have written their own stuff. But there's something to be said for someone who's music is fun, can actually sing, and had the technical skills to setup their own business. The Planet Money people 'just don't get you'. Sad.
"Do you know who else is a Snuggie? Nirvana, Ben Folds, Madonna, and the Grateful Dead. " Exactly right! Everything new in music was once considered a novelty. . . even if it didn't have fabric sleeves. . .
Maya Lynn says
I actually came over here /because/ of the Planet Money podcast and I'm delighted to see such a thoughtful and mature reply to the commentary on the show. I was also rather disappointed by the lack of consideration that the music reporters gave to the story of your success and use of the internet. It is indeed a new era, with new tools and a new paradigm for music production and distribution. There are companies and individuals out there achieving what you have achieved, each with their own unique products and ideas.
If a successful, internet-savvy musician is a 'fluke' then... damnit, I lost my train of thought. I'm glad the podcast brought me here though, I'm looking forward to staying a while and looking around.
Thomas Dubai says
The Planet Money podcast was how I found out about your work, and I must admit that I'm glad I did. If I was able to attain the success that you have, I certainly wouldn't mind if they compared me to a novelty blanket. . . even if it does have a bit of a silly name. . .
One fan's response the pontificating ponces in that podcast:
As far as I'm concerned,
Your first fluke was "Code Monkey."
Your next fluke was "Re: Your Brains"
Your next fluke was "Skullcrusher Mountain"
Your next fluke was "Chiron Beta Prime"
Your next fluke was "Mandelbrot Set"
Your next fluke was "Still Alive"
Your next fluke was "Want You gone"
I eagerly await your next "fluke".
Rock on, JoCo.
Doctor Tony says
The internet has let musicians of all types perform for the entire world. All artists, not just musicians, can now create something and then send their creation out into the world to see what happens. For the first time in the history of humanity, someone can make music in some backwater town in the middle of nowhere, and still be heard all aver the planet. It's a wonderful thing :-)