Pomplamoose's DIY Revolution

With Tribute, Pomplamoose had built a sizable fan base, found a way to make a living playing music and even cracked the charts. So far at least, their revolution was working. But there was a problem: Selling songs online wasn't likely to provide the steady income Conte and Dawn would need to support themselves long-term. Both believe that the days when fans will actually pay for song downloads—instead of perceiving all music to be free—are numbered. And their MP3 sales spiked after a new release and fell off quickly thereafter. In order to last, Pomplamoose would need other ways to make money.

Watching Dawn in the opening seconds of one of Pomplamoose's Hyundai Christmas commercials, it is difficult to imagine the kind of hyperbolic anger and irritation the ad would cause.

Dressed in a gray sweater and a scarf, she sits in front of a microphone. The opening shot is cut quickly so that the car, while remaining still, appears to rotate behind her. As the ad continues, Conte and Dawn perform their usual diversions around the red sedan: He pops out of the trunk and throws fake snow. She eats cereal while leaning up against a tire. They quarrel for the driver's seat.

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.

Hyundai had been looking for more than just an existing song to use in an ad. It wanted a TV spot that would reproduce the feel of Pomplamoose's videosongs. But Conte and Dawn wanted to make sure Hyundai didn't treat them like a label would. "I said, 'We can only do that when it's just the two of us in the room,'" he remembers. "'If we're going to do this, you guys can't be in the room.' They said, 'Great!' And at that point, we were like, 'Oh, you guys are cool.'"

Conte and Dawn shot the spots alone in their garage over three days, though Hyundai's producers watched via a live video feed. Dawn edited the footage and turned over the final version. She and Conte were more than pleased with the results. The ads started airing in late November.

The initial response was positive. The ads were generating a positive response, so Hyundai ran more. Then more. And more. Then, around mid-December, as the ads' rotation crossed over from frequent into ubiquitous, the backlash arrived.

"I've seen them on YouTube and they seemed fine," wrote one viewer commenting on a blog post about Pomplamoose. "But now, seeing them five times an hour with their Hyundai commercial, I want to slit my throat and wrists."

The ads inspired streams of similarly negative comments across the web, including on Pomplamoose's own YouTube page. Even a sportswriter at the Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, couldn't resist mentioning them. "Pomplamoose is the couple who did those annoying, musical Hyundai commercials that played over and over again during the Bowl games," one football story began.

Vitriolic comments fired at high volume—some calling Dawn and Conte hipsters, some calling them talentless, and some calling for them to be creatively executed—were a new thing for Pomplamoose. But some negative reaction was predictable. Here was a band that had hoisted itself to fame solely by its own innovative means that was now shilling for an international automaker. And Pomplamoose wasn't just letting Hyundai use one of their songs, as they had in the past with Toyota and a few other companies. Conte and Dawn had deployed their entire aesthetic for the ads. The spots almost exactly reproduced the style of Pomplamoose's YouTube videos, and prominently featured the couple. And even those who didn't object to the collusion of a radically independent band and a big car company found something to hate with the ads becoming a near-constant fixture on holiday television.

But the commercials, like Pomplamoose's career, were revolutionary. Criticism of the spots focused largely on their regularity and on whether the band had tainted its image by allying with a large corporation. But for Grant McCracken, an anthropologist at MIT who studies the intersection of culture and commerce, the ads reversed the usual process of companies "force-fitting" cultural content to sell their products. "It really is one of our first glimpses of somebody like Hyundai saying to them, 'You just do what you do and we'll use just what you do,'" he says. "That's a pretty big development."

Still, McCracken says, Hyundai made a major—although not fatal—mistake by playing the ads so frequently. "There's something about this cultural form that makes repetition especially deadly," he says. "It was charming if you saw it X number of times, and once you'd seen it X-plus-one times, you were really done with it. You just can't tax whimsy without it becoming the opposite of whimsy."

For Conte and Dawn, the Hyundai ads were both a payday—"We're making a comfortable living; we don't worry about cash," she says with a laugh, declining to get more specific—and a way to gain fans. Although they agree that the ads ran too frequently by the end, they say the project also informed—and tested—a big idea of theirs: that working with big brands could help artists survive without any creative interference.

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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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