Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A case study of Pomplamoose: 10 tips to be a successful internet musician

Hello all! As an assignment for a potential internship (I'll tell you more when/if I need to) I've been asked to write up a case study about the band Pomplamoose and how they've become a financially successful internet band. I figured this would be a good blog article to have out in the world for posterity and reference, so I'm taking my assignment digital.

Pomplamoose has, in less than two years, become one of the most successful independent bands on the internet: they are in the top 100 most subscribed to musicians on YouTube, they have racked up over 2.5 million hits on their cover of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" and are completely financially self-sustaining; meaning: they don't need day jobs.

Before I explain the various marketing and artistic tactics made by band members Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn, I must define "internet musician": what does it mean? According to Nataly, it means "being a bad musician." Yes, there are many musicians that can be found on YouTube that aren't very good; and some have enormous followings. But there are also some very talented people out there and just like the regular traditional music industry, they have to figure out clever ways to rise above the rest. But when the internet is your only resource, you can call your own shots. You don't need a record label. The internet has given musicians and artists ways of connecting with their fans directly: no middle men needed.

Here is the main question: How has Pomplamoose reached the hearts of their fans? And how have they gotten these fans to spend several bucks on mp3s and merch?

This is key: being a successful artist isn't really about being rich and famous, it means being able to devote all of your time to your art, and you need money for that.

The way I see it, all the traditional ways of having a financially successful music career have gone out the window. Pomplamoose has eradicated managers, record labels, promoters, live shows, and even actual CDs. Granted, there are many successful internet bands that use some of these (like CDs and playing live), but Pomplamoose has left all of these behind. They've only played live twice and they don't even have a physical CD you can purchase, all of their music is digital.

If you want to be a successful "internet musician," take one of these 10 tips from the Pomplamoose model:

(much of this information I got directly from the mouth of Nataly and Jack in this interview)

1. Be good at what you do
Just watch a Pomplamoose video. They are are great fun, and the music is good enough to take offline and listen to when you're not looking at YouTube. Nataly has a gorgeous voice and her harmonies are well constructed. Jack's musical abilities are varied, well thought out and the mixing and editing is flawless.

2. Make interesting videos that people want to watch over and over again

Pomplamoose works in a new medium called "VideoSong" and it has two rules:

1. What you see is what you hear (no lip-syncing for instruments or voice).
2. If you hear it, at some point you see it (no hidden sounds).

Snarkmarket has a very good discussion of the characteristics of Pomplamoose's VideoSong and why it is so enticing to viewers:
-Nor­mal duds, nor­mal envi­ron­ment. No span­dex, no fog machine.

- Gear. Lots of it.

- Sub­di­vi­sion of the video frame: over­lap­ping tracks visu­al­ized as over­lap­ping views.

- Per­for­mance! This isn’t just a hid­den cam­era in the stu­dio. It’s nat­ural, it’s unpretentious—but it’s still a performance.

[Pomplamoose's VideoSong] is show­ing us a com­pli­cated, vir­tu­oso per­for­mance, but mak­ing it really clear and acces­si­ble at the same time. It’s enter­tain­ing, but it’s also an exer­cise in demystification—which of course is exactly the oppo­site objec­tive of every music video, ever. Their pur­pose has been to mys­tify, to mas­quer­ade, to mythol­o­gize in real-time.
This demystification is one of the most powerful tools that Pomplamoose and other video bloggers use. Music lovers crave something "real" which is why if they think your music is good AND they like you as a real person, you've got a way in.

3. Be charming: make viewers care about you
This is true of any successful blogger (video or regular blogger). You have to be cute, funny or on the flipside, totally horrible. Either way, you have to present yourself in a way that people will want to keep coming back to see what you're doing and what you have to say. Fans think of the musician/blogger as their friend, someone they'd want to hang out with. Nataly and Jack are the most adorable couple: she is a smart self-deprecating cutie-pie who likes cereal. Jack is a goofy multi-instrumental smartypants who is obviously totally in love with his girlfriend. They have amazing musical chemistry as well as a social chemistry that you can see when they sit in front of their computer and chat.

4. Use several sites to spread the word - variety is key
Pomplamoose is on: YouTube, twitter, myspace, facebook, digg, iTunes, E-junkie and I'm sure many others. It's true that the average person is probably only on a couple of these sites, but many of these services are free, so why not take the time to set up and account. Nataly and Jack said that two-thirds of their sales come from iTunes and the other third comes from E-junkie. But they like E-junkie better because you can post a song immediately and E-junkie takes a smaller cut than iTunes.

5. Encourage fans to help shape the band's identity
Nataly and Jack have asked their fans to contribute designs for virtual album covers and t-shirt designs. Many of these designs can be found online for all to see, for example as the Pomplamoose myspace profile picture. People love to see their own names in print, they also love to see hard work acknowledged and available for others to see. Fans eat that up, it makes them feel truly appreciated by the musician.

6. Offer free stuff
Covers must be free due to copyright issues; Pomplamoose has used this to their advantage. Nataly and Jack put just as much work and time into covers as they put into their originals. I downloaded all of the free Pomplamoose mp3's off of E-junkie. If I decide to spend another $10 or so to get the originals, it would feel like a 2 for 1 deal. I also want to support my "friends" so that they can keep making more music that I love.

Covers also get viewers who aren't fans yet to take a peek. I saw "Single Ladies" posted on facebook, and since I like the song, I was curious about a cover. Unlike some other artists I've come across, Pomplamoose's originals are just as good, if not better than their covers. So if a viewer is impressed with the originals after seeing a cover, he or she will be more likely to spend a little bit of cash.

7. Get creative with your merch
There has been Pomplamoose soap (handmade by Jack's sister) and dongles (flashdrives). Who else sells stuff like that? They told me that they'd like to do more merch sales that help support and promote artists and craftspeople. Both the soap and dongles completely sold out and were sent to 30 countries. People LOVE to support Pomplamoose. Their fans are very loyal.

8. Have an online network of artists to interact with
I really love watching bloggers have some sort of relationship. Pomplamoose are fans of Julia Nunes and talk her up on YouTube. Julia and Pomplamoose talk to each other through their YouTube videos and fans can watch these coversations. Pomplamoose goes to Julia's house and produces some tunes with her. They make a video about it. Julia's fans mesh with Pomplamoose's fans. It's a big love fest. Nataly and Jack really think of YouTube as a community, they get crap for it, but it makes sense to me.

9. No need to make a big push to play live
Pomplamoose has only played twice in the last two years, this is one of the main things that set them apart from almost every other band. They played their second show ever at the Brainwash Cafe last month in in San Francisco. There literally wasn't enough room for everyone who showed up and folks were outside on the sidewalk.

Pomplamoose has fans all over the world. Until they're financially successful enough to tour extensively, they'll focus on what they do best: videos. Also, preparing to play live is a whole other skill and takes up a good amount of time, so they have chosen not focus on that.

10. Keep it interesting, change it up
I was actually wondering where Pomplamoose was heading and what they might have in store for the future. The VideoSong format is really cool, but it might be losing some of its novelty value. "Come on! Keep impressing me" says the fan. But then I checked Pomplamoose's twitter feed: They're looking for horn players. Nice. Step it up! I don't know how they're all going to fit in Jack's little recording studio, but it will be interesting.

There are many other ways to be a successful "internet musician." One of my favorites is Kina Grannis. She's got another style all together and each musician will. But you have to cover all of your bases so that you win the hearts (and pocket books) of your fans. As I said earlier, being a successful artist isn't about being rich and famous, it means being able to devote all of your time to your art, and you need money for that. If your fans really love you, they will support you.

I mean, look at this video they made me just because I asked...


Hua said...

what a wonderful way to be introduced to to Pomplemoose :0)

i'm now a fan.

mission accomplished.

Che said...

I love her voice! And the video is interesting!