Pomplamoose's DIY Revolution

"How often do 'maybes' get used?" she mutters to no one in particular.

"Never," he shoots back. "But they take the pressure off."

Pomplamoose are dealing with more pressure now than Conte or Dawn ever imagined. The project began as an accident: About a year after they met and started dating in college, the couple made their first videosong. (Both had, and still have, other musical projects.) The combination of accessible pop, rich instrumentation and the chemistry between Conte and Dawn found an enthusiastic viewership on YouTube. The project grew as they cultivated their songs and personalities into a signature style—one that involved disheveled, pajama-clad performances in Conte's childhood bedroom. Their popularity exploded in 2009, after they hit upon the unoriginal but savvy idea of recording covers of big-time pop hits. Up until then, Pomplamoose's catalog had been all originals and lesser-known covers. And, after the epidemic popularity of their version of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," came the biggest surprise of all: Fans wanted to buy Pomplamoose's MP3s in large numbers—large enough for neither of them to need a day job and for Conte to buy a house while still in his mid-20s.

The "videosongs" Pomplamoose post on YouTube are never lip-synched, and show Conte and Dawn playing every instrument used in a song- along with them eating cereal, making faces and flashing homemade signs.
The "videosongs" Pomplamoose post on YouTube are never lip-synched, and show Conte and Dawn playing every instrument used in a song- along with them eating cereal, making faces and flashing homemade signs.

Soon major labels came calling, and industry professionals were trying to drag Pomplamoose into the machinery of the music business. Other artists who found fame through YouTube, such as OK Go and Justin Bieber, had assimilated into the world of the major labels, and Pomplamoose got offers to do the same. But Conte and Dawn said no, thanks. They didn't want to work with big-name producers at major studios. They didn't want to share their income with a record company. And, most important, they didn't want anyone messing with how they made music.

"I've dealt with a record label in the past," Conte says. "The label breathes down your neck, changes your stuff, changes your vision, changes your direction, hires your producer, picks your studio, picks your instruments, picks your sound, picks your freaking guitar strings."

So Pomplamoose didn't sign a deal, and in the process became something other than a regular pop band—and something different from the daily viral sensation. Offered a chance to join the crumbling empire of the recording industry, Conte and Dawn instead decided to pioneer an alternative to it. They ended up forging a new path to a sustainable, independent career in music.

"It shows that there's another way that an artist can be successful outside the traditional way," says Tom Silverman, a former record executive and label founder who has studied Pomplamoose. "They're thinking out of the box. They found a way to generate enough revenues to live comfortably doing what they want to do."

Yet for all their idealism, neither Conte nor Dawn believed that merely selling MP3s online—and getting some revenue from YouTube each time a video was watched—would finance a career for long. Other revenue streams would have to be found—ones that wouldn't force them to compromise their vision.

Most musicians, especially up-and-coming ones, depend on touring to make a living. But Pomplamoose aren't set up well for live shows. The band has only two members, and its songs use dense arrangements that would require many more instrumentalists to reproduce onstage. The band also lacks live experience—a gap that was glaringly obvious at its third-ever live show on New Year's Eve in San Francisco. Adding three members helped fill out the instrumentation, but Conte and Dawn lost much of the quirky character and sonic dynamics that illuminate their work. Onstage, with Dawn seated and Conte standing behind a keyboard, their attention was largely on playing their songs, rather than performing them, as an experienced live band learns to do. Pomplamoose seemed to be trying to please existing fans, not seduce new ones. It didn't make the band seem any more exciting that it was followed by the Dresden Dolls, a cabaret-punk outfit whose two members are masters of live theatrics.

Bringing enough musicians on the road to fully perform Pomplamoose songs would greatly dilute Conte and Dawn's tour income, anyway. But another revenue stream presented itself last fall, when automaker Hyundai contacted the band about doing some TV commercials. Company executives had seen Pomplamoose's cover of the '50s classic "Mr. Sandman," and wanted similar-sounding versions of Christmas songs for a series of holiday ads.

Neither the car company nor the pop band had any idea that they were planning one of the most successful—and infamous—TV ads of the 2010 holiday season. The deal would give Pomplamoose a chance to increase their fan base and make some real money. But the ads also put their DIY image at risk—and, for some, cast the inborn frivolity of Conte and Dawn's relationship in a terribly unflattering light.

"Everyone tells me to put a ring on it," Conte quips, tossing a look at his girlfriend. They are standing in their kitchen on a recent afternoon, warming up leftover Chinese food while trying to sort out their personalities from the popularity of their band. Conte and Dawn aren't married or engaged, and that frustrates a great number of Pomplamoose fans—especially since the group's best-known cover is a treatise on the pitfalls of failing to propose.

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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......


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.


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


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...


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


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.


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.


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!


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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