Pomplamoose's DIY Revolution

On an improbably sunny midwinter day, amid green pastures and meandering cows, two unassuming musicians are waging a revolution against the established order of the recording industry.

Here, inside a dim shed formerly used as a dog kennel, Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn are recording their next album as Pomplamoose—a musical project that is half traditional band, half social-media experiment and entirely an insurrection against how things are normally done in the music business.

This insurrection, by the way, is often prosecuted in pajamas. That's just one of the many perks that come with working according to your own rules and working at home. The central theater of Pomplamoose's campaign, the renovated shed and nondescript ranch house in which Conte and Dawn record their music, sits on a spread in rural Sonoma County in Northern California. And aside from the sprawling collection of musical instruments housed here and the youthfulness of the residents, this property stands out in another important way: It was purchased with money earned by selling MP3s on the Internet.

Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn handle virtually every aspect of Pomplamoose themselves, including recording, mixing, editing video and marketing to fans.
Jeff Marini
Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn handle virtually every aspect of Pomplamoose themselves, including recording, mixing, editing video and marketing to fans.
The first time Conte and Dawn tried to record music together, it was a disaster- they dated for a year before trying again.
Jamie Soja
The first time Conte and Dawn tried to record music together, it was a disaster- they dated for a year before trying again.

Yes, despite what you may have heard, it is actually possible to make money—a living, even—by selling songs online. That is, in fact, the only place you can buy the music of Pomplamoose, a band as striking for what it doesn't do as for what it does.

Pomplamoose don't release music on CD or any other physical media. The group has no deal with a record label. It also doesn't tour—in three years, it has played only three live shows, all of them in San Francisco. The band has no publicist or traditional manager; the only outside professionals it uses are a lawyer and an accountant. Conte and Dawn handle every other aspect of Pomplamoose themselves: arranging songs, recording and mixing tracks, editing video, posting new songs online and even marketing to new fans. And they retain a sense of humor through most of it.

Any list of Pomplamoose's appealing aspects would have to begin with the teasing, sarcastic and flirtatious relationship between Conte and Dawn. Their deadpan jokes and natural banter make viewing the band's "videosongs"—which show all the instruments used in the song and no lip-synching—feel like more than just watching two talented musicians in a room. Filmed at home, the videos are two-thirds performance and one-third messing around. There's no psychedelic footage or legions of writhing dancers. There's just Conte and Dawn recording, flashing homemade signs, eating cereal and making faces.

Yet despite the levity—or, actually, because of it—Pomplamoose have attained a level of success that is rare for any independent artist and unique in the way it was achieved. The band's releases have found their way onto the Billboard charts and major television networks. Its videos have been watched millions of times. And it sells digital songs at a rate that provides Conte and Dawn with a pretty desirable lifestyle: instruments galore, a spacious home and studio set among rolling hills, and the freedom to do nothing but write and record their music—just the way they want to.

An immense blue sky is begging for attention, but inside the darkened studio, today's work is grinding along slowly. Conte's long, narrow frame is bent over the keys of a black Bösendorfer grand piano that seems to take up the entire room. He's trying to nail a small piano part for a new original song. And he's been trying for about half an hour now.

"Euugh!" A bellow of frustration booms through the room after Conte misses another take. The passage he's recording is only about 15 seconds long, but it requires a complicated series of notes played with precise timing—slightly behind the beat, to underscore the jazzy poise of the song. Last time, he played too quickly, so he hops off the piano bench and dashes over to a laptop, which is connected to the video camera recording him. He hits three buttons on the laptop's keyboard and looks across at Dawn, who is sitting, her doll-like face placid, in front of another laptop that serves as an audio recording console. With the camera rolling and the recording gear ready, Conte yanks his headphones back around his head and plays the passage yet another time.

As he pounds the keys, Conte launches his neck out over the open guts of the piano. Its bronze strings, as thick as adult fingers at the lower registers, consume the room with a giant sound, barely under control. The veins raise up on Conte's neck as he sticks out his jaw and tightens his mouth into an oval. His head tilts mechanically in time with the swinging groove of the song. When Conte finishes muscling through the take, he launches off the bench, slightly out of breath.

"Oh, that feels great!" he shouts, rushing over to Dawn. They lock eyes, her sitting, him standing, as the take plays back. But at the end, neither of them is satisfied.

"Let's keep it as a 'maybe,'" he says, already heading back to the piano and video camera for another try.

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10 comments
IronicHummerDrivingBro
IronicHummerDrivingBro

I was going to buy a Hyundai, then I remembered they are total garbage. Kind of like the moronic twee shit this band calls music. Total DIY sellouts. Keep sucking that corporate teat PumpLameAss......

waugs
waugs

they have attained this level of success because those stupid Hyundai commercials were running nonstop a couple months ago.

Not to mention their music totally unoriginal hipster horses*&t. This woman totally ripped her vocal style from Jolie Holland....a true musical talent.

HillFlock
HillFlock

It's a revolution! A real, honest-to-God revolution!

6StringMercenary
6StringMercenary

This article, while interesting, is lazy bullshit when it comes to the reality of the music business - you see, we professionals who lament the death of the Online Guitar Archive (OLGA) understand there's this little thing called copyright. Yeah, they may have sold a shit-ton of downloads on iTunes but they made their name with material still owned by "the major labels." Just because they're popular darlings of the internet they don't have to pay mechanical royalties? The Harry Fox agency and the RIAA haven't sued them into oblivion? What the fuck? Maybe I'm just ignorant as to the new normal of "how to make it" but I'm pretty fucking sure I can't go selling covers of me playing Lady Gaga tracks without some industry goon jabbing me for cash...tell me how they can make money without getting fucked by the system and you've got my vote for a Pulitzer...

Me
Me

Speaking of total garbage.... your comment just makes you sound bitter.

Shill
Shill

Yeah? Did it occur to you that Pomplamoose legally obtains copyright permissions, pays royalty fees, etc? Its really not that difficult, you know.

Apparently, this possibility never crossed your mind. Wow. Really. Just wow.

You're probably one of those people who might listen to a song by one artist and when you hear a similarity with a song from another artist, you immediately "Plagiarism!" and "Rip Off!" without realizing the original artist was properly credited in the derivative version of the song by the artist you claim is stealing.

In fact, this is something that's very common. Any idea about why that may be? Check out the documentary "Everything is a Remix" for insight into the creative process.

http://www.everythingisaremix....

Creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Artists "steal" in the sense that the creative process entails taking bits and pieces of different experiences and inspiration and mixing it up into something new and making it their own.

There is a difference between transformation and imitation; between remix and rip-off; between credit and plagiarism. Its one thing to blatantly copy something with no ideas of your own to add and without giving credit to your sources. Its another thing to use bits and pieces of ideas or concepts from different sources of inspiration as seedlings to develop something new by adding your own ideas and experiences. You can't grow new flowers without the seeds from old flowers. Oysters can't make pearls without putting a grain of sand into it. Freezing water can not form into beautiful snowflakes around nothing i.e. it needs a dust particle from the air.

Most artists are actually flattered to be an influence on other artists. In fact, a really good artist use those tributes from other artists as motivation to take it up another notch. Because that's what winners do.

Haters see someone doing well and it bothers them. If you're a hater, you think that there is only so much pie in the world and if someone else is doing something great then they're taking up all the pie and there is no room left you. That is a terrible way to look at the world. There is plenty of room for everybody. Winners see others doing something great and it INSPIRES. Winners don't get jealous. Winners have a special kind of attitude that allows them to bypass the ego and use other people's accomplishments as motivation to take it up a notch i.e. step up their own game.

If you don't have to filter everything through your ego, you will find that a whole new world is opened up from this vantage point. You should try it sometime.

KMH
KMH

They have managed the copyright permissions through a proper attorney. Nat is a friend and she and Jack explain the process candidly in a video on Youtube. It is all legit, and as it turns out, remarkably seamless. The legal process is surprisingly accessible to artists.

It is not an original observation that you are making. Journalists have asked and investigated. Legal analysts have been consulted. It is refreshingly legit, and that is why it is getting so much press.

It is called freedom of artistic expression and the legal world has gone to great lengths to both simplify the legal procedure and encourage its proper use.

They'll take that Pulitzer, with our without your vote, thank you!

Lauren
Lauren

Just FYI, Pomplamoose has paid for the rights to every song they have ever covered -- they did all of this legitimately, and are doing an awesome job of it.

 
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