How To Become A Rock Star (re: Jonathan Coulton)
This post with Jonathan Coulton photos.
February 19, 2008 — by Wow Jones
Below is an aesome article on a star online web musician. Check out the crucial point regarding how his ‘fans’ are more like a community than anything else. Anyone else seeking stardom in this brave new world should take note.
The link also includes a 3 minute video news story segment on the subject. Check it out.
Now will Jonathan Coulton make you moist?
Probably not. In the Yahoo article listed below, Jonathan Coulton himself admits that he isn’t Elvis. But hey, ask the people who support his music.
In any event, this guy has taken his bit of notoriety and made quite a living for himself.
— The Wow Jones Report
How to Become a Rock StarJonathan Coulton went from being just another “code monkey” to the Godfather of “Geek Rock.” Here’s how he did it.By KEVIN SITES, SUN FEB 17, 1:12 PM PST
If Jonathan Coulton were to write a song about his own success as a rock star, there would be little mention of the booze, drugs, one-night stands and lonely road laments that typically play out the power chord mix of mythic guitar heroes and music idols.
Instead, Coulton would refer to escaping a life awash in Fritos and Mountain Dew, stuck at his desk writing computer code — “The Office,” set to music. It is, by his own admission, a fairly accurate description of his own former life as a software engineer.
“There’s very little Elvis in me,” — Jonathan Coulton
“There’s very little Elvis in me,” Coulton says from his light-filled two-bedroom condo in Brooklyn. “Any rhythm that I have is here in my fingers. It’s nowhere else in my body.”
But those same rhythmic fingers, adept at multiple instruments — along with his gift for writing catchy, quirky songs anchored in sharp observation of the human condition — helped turn Coulton from just another “code monkey” to “The Godfather of Geek Rock.” And he owes much of his success to the Web.
How he did itIn the fall of 2005, Coulton told his wife he was quitting his software job to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a rock star. He could have barely picked a more inauspicious moment. At 36, he was bearing down on middle age — and his wife had just given birth to their first child, a daughter.
“I have known some bitter people in my life who never did what they wanted to do, and I didn’t wanna be that person,” — Jonathan Coulton
“I have known some bitter people in my life who never did what they wanted to do, and I didn’t wanna be that person,” says Coulton.
He also rationalized that letting go of something safe for something uncertain would be a more courageous example for his daughter of how to live.
When he was packing up his office cubicle to begin his new adventure, a colleague suggested that Coulton try to write one song every week for an entire year.
The idea both scared and intrigued him. Creativity on demand week after week was a daunting prospect, but it appealed to Coulton’s desire for at least some kind of structure in his path to making a living through playing music.
From a tiny, converted closet studio in his home he began musing about the world around him — writing songs, recording them, then posting them to his web site. He called the project ambiguously, “Thing a Week.” It was rarely an easy process.
“There were a lot of times when I would have an idea that I thought was really bad, or stupid, but sometimes that would be the only idea that I would have, and so I didn’t have any choice but to do it,” Coulton says. “That’s definitely how a lot of those songs ended up being about such weird things, or news items.”
He became a master of observation of the things that surrounded him. A Shopvac inspired a tune by the same name about a life of suburban angst and regret.
When he saw a photo online of a giant squid, he wrote a song called “I Crush Everything,” in which a lonely giant squid wants to play with the ships he sees sailing above, but fears he’ll destroy them with his innocent but deadly embrace.
Coulton also found a rich source of material from his former life. A song titled, “RE: Your Brains,” tells the story of an office worker being besieged by a co-worker-turned-zombie, who of course wants to eat his brains.
But Coulton is perhaps best known for the tune “Code Monkey,” about a software engineer who dreams of a better life. The song has become an anthem for downtrodden office workers and has helped propel his fame.
Coulton also broke through to fans on the Internet with a couple of unexpected cover songs. His rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s hip-hop ode to the bountiful behind, “Baby Got Back,” was retooled as a softly crooned folk-love song. Listeners loved it.
But while Coulton’s online audience was growing — his bank account was not, mainly because he was offering his songs for free under a creative commons license and asking for “tips.”
When he gave his fans the options of buying the music outright for a set price, making a donation or downloading for free, so many began ponying up that he was soon making more money than he did as a software engineer.
It’s not surprising his fans are intensely loyal. Seeing Coulton as a kindred spirit, they don’t just buy his music, they build their lives around it, creating music videos, art books and even sending him stuffed animals based on characters in his songs.
“I like seeing somebody talented get out there and make the music that they want to create without really having to compromise at all,” — Jonathan Coulton fan Brian Richardson
“I like seeing somebody talented get out there and make the music that they want to create without really having to compromise at all,” says Coulton fan Brian Richardson.
“As fans we try to reward Jonathan for that. There’s a reason … people go out and make music videos for his songs. It’s because they understand what he’s giving to them, and they really want to be able to return it in kind.” Coulton nurtures this contact, now spending three or four hours a day interacting with his fans online, absolutely certain that this contact is critical to his success.
“My fans are geeks,” Coulton asserts. “People who like science fiction, playing video games, who enjoy zombies and robots.”
They also pay to see him in concert, which he organizes on the Web through a site called Eventful. When enough fans request he play a show in a certain city — Coulton says 100 is usually the tipping point — he will try to book a show there. It’s a nearly foolproof way to play a packed house.
Coultan knows that when he is standing in front of these Internet-built crowds, guitar in hand, singing about zombies and giant squids and nearly everything in between, he’s truly living the rock star dream — albeit without the sexy groupies and hangovers — but one which might inspire us all to live a little more fearlessly.