How Jonathan Coulton Became An Internet Rock Star On The Cheap

Jonathan Coulton quit his programming job in 2005 to become a full-time musician. He's met with some tangible success and this month shared his budget conscious approach in, of all places, Popular Science. Here are the highlights:

  • Jonathan Coulton
    "…you've got a more advanced recording studio in your laptop than the Beatles had when they made Sgt. Pepper's, so record your music yourself."
  • "Skip the cookie-cutter MySpace stuff and get a full-fledged content-management system like WordPress or Drupal, which will allow you to build your empire as you go: a blog, forums, photos, videos — all in one place that you control."
  • "If you don't know HTML or PHP, find a sucker. . . er, a fan to build it for you."
  • "Create merchandise on demand with CafePress, Spreadshirt or Zazzle to avoid buying boxes of T-shirts that'll sit in your basement."

  • "..for $4 each, CD Baby will store, sell, and ship your discs. It will also push your music to digital outlets like iTunes and Amazon MP3."
  • "…use eventful.com, which lets people request a show in their town. Why slog from city to city in an old van unless you know you're going to sell some tickets?"
  • "Promote yourself on Twitter, broadcast live shows on Ustream"
  • "Send out a million pieces of yourself to interact with potential fans. If they're out there, they'll find you — and hopefully sometime after that, give you money."

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    1. Wow – since his music is, frankly, less-than-stellar, this guy should jump onto the business side of things and just become an artist manager!

    2. “…you’ve got a more advanced recording studio in your laptop than the Beatles had when they made Sgt. Pepper’s”…
      So what? They had something Jonathan and guys on a laptop don’t: a highly gifted and innovative producer backed up by equally gifted engineers. If you don’t understand the importance of those two roles in making records, you shouldn’t be in the music making sphere.

    3. @venusinfers – I agree, I’m not a big fan of Jonathan’s music either, but it really says something when a guy can create so-so music and still make a decent living off of it. He enjoys making music so I think he should stick with it.
      @John – No doubt the roles of producer and engineer are valuable and important for creating a complete and timeless musical work. But Jonathan proves that neither is necessary to make a career of being a singer/songwriter.

    4. I think Coulton’s music has an audience – it made me laugh just listening to the itunes shorts for “First of May” and “Tom Cruise Crazy”. He’s got an energy like Loudon Wainwright or Tenacious D. I might even pay for a tune or two. But I think that he IS on the forefront of a new generation of DIY iconoclasts and for an old/new folkie like me, the sparkle is still recognizable.

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