When Chris and I are driving somewhere we spend a lot of time listening to NPR, especially All Things Considered. And Chris is guaranteed that at some point I will gripe about some trivial story that received ten minutes of national airtime. The best example, still burned in my brain, is the segment on people accidentally dropping cell phones in the toilet.
Now, I’ll grant that some of those stories I’ve griped about unfairly, because they aren’t so much trivial as they are uninteresting to me. And about a week ago I was on the other end of the stick, when they aired a story which was likely just mildly amusing to the average listener but very much of interest to me.
The story was about a band called Pomplamoose, which isn’t so much a band as a musical project being pursued by a young couple, Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn. They are in the business of covering songs, recording all the parts themselves in a spare bedroom and making videos of the process. They post these videos to YouTube for their fans, and also sell downloads of the audio through services like iTunes. The videos are not at all elaborate; Conte and Dawn say they take about a day or two to lay down the tracks, and then another few days to edit the video together.
The videos are great fun. Here is their most popular one, viewed over four million times at this point.
This is ephemeral music, but so what? I’ve never heard the original, but this strikes me as responding to it with a childlike delight. I like that, and I might like it even more than I would like the original because of what the process filtered out.
Conte and Dawn don’t perform live, don’t have a record label, and yet they can say this:
WERTHEIMER: I was just going to say, how do you make a living? Is this a career?
Mr. CONTE: Oh, yeah, yeah. We…
Ms. DAWN: Oh, definitely.
Mr. CONTE: Yeah, we make our living off of MP3 sales.
Ms. DAWN: Full time. We don’t have any other job. […]
Mr. CONTE: Yeah, I mean, what does it mean, really, to need a label? I mean, we’re making a living. We’ve got a sustainable business. We’re growing every year as a good business should. We’re happy. We don’t have to do things that we don’t want to do. We don’t have to please people that we don’t want to please. We get to make the music that we love.
Yeah, we’re not on the front page of Rolling Stone magazine, and we’re not getting $10 million checks in the mail, but we don’t need that to have a nice life.
Ms. DAWN: And also, our goal has never been to be a huge hit band. We just started…
Mr. CONTE: We want to make a living doing what we like to do.
Ms. DAWN: Exactly. We’re just making a living.
There’s a growing excitement among musicians over what Kevin Kelly calls the 1000 True Fans model, the idea being that an artist can make a living if they can enlist enough fans that will regularly and reliably pay for their creations (buy their CDs, come to their shows, buy coffee mugs and T-shirts). It’s not clear that it is actually possible to make a living this way—see Kelley articles here and here that explore the limits of the model—but there are musical projects emerging that closely approximate the model, and Pomplamoose is the closest yet.
I’ll be writing in more detail about the 1000 True Fans model on the music weblog, but I thought the Pomplamoose story was fun enough to be worth a mention here.