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Interview: Geek rocker Jonathan CoultonJoCo joined Tom Merritt on CNET Live to talk about musicians making it on the Web. He played some tunes, too.
>> Jonathan Coulton, welcome to CNET Live. >> Thank you, [inaudible] be here >> Thank you for coming to California... >> Sure. >> So that we would have a chance to drag you in here. Jonathan is a musician who has done his entire career pretty much online. >> Yes. >> You started by quitting your job around the time your baby was being born, is that right? >> Jonathan Coulton: Yeah. >> Okay. >> Jonathan Coulton: Yeah. >> Tell us how that worked? >> Jonathan Coulton: Well, it didn't seem like a great ideal at the time... >> Yeah. >> Jonathan Coulton: It felt like, it felt like a pretty stupid and lame [assumed spelling] thing to do. But, you know, [inaudible], my daughter was just born, and I'd always wanted to make a living as a musician, and it seemed like the last possible chance. >> Was your wife able to like keep working, and you... >> Yeah. >> Spun [assumed spelling] it like I'll stay home with the baby... >> No... >> [Inaudible]? >> Jonathan Coulton: No, I spun it like I'm going to quit my job, and be a Rock star. She was... >> And she [inaudible] that, that's love. >> No, she was like, well let's see, Mr. Fancy Pants... >> Okay. >> Let's see how it's goes. >> And [inaudible] of one of your songs... >> Yeah, that's right. I just quoted myself that was weird. >> So anyway, you, I guess, was it a friend of yours who suggested doing the thing a week podcast? >> Jonathan Coulton: It was somebody that I worked with at the software Company that I worked with. He said, he said, what are you going to do after you quit. And I said, I have no ideal. He said, you should write a song every week. And I said, well, that's impossible. >> And then how did you come up with the ideal of making it into a podcast because you did it for an entire year as a podcast? >> Jonathan Coulton: Yeah, I, you know, it's just seemed like, it just seemed liked a convenient way to get it out there, and, you know, I wanted as many people to hear it as possible because nobody knew who I was at that point. >> Well, I think that's one of the things that is differentiated, and probably helped you, is the fact that you're not worried about controlling the music, you give a lot of your music away free. I know you had a recent thing on your blog where you talked about how somebody made a hack video of how... >> Yeah. >> To steal all your music, and you're like well, it's there in a podcast, kind of free dude... >> Anyway. >> So, but what's your theory on that, how did you come about with that sort of open policy? >> Jonathan Coulton: You know, I had read, I had read a lot about creative commons [assumed spelling], and the sort of growing theories about abundance in the digital world, and what that means about commerce, and all this stuff. So I, I, and I was sort of under the impression that I sort of agreed with the ideal that that obscurity is a much bigger enemy then piracy, you know, and so... >> Except for maybe Madonna. >> Jonathan Coulton: Well, except for maybe Madonna. >> Yeah, before that. >> Yeah, but what chance does she have of, of being, becoming obscure... >> Yeah. >> Even at this point. >> That's a whole different business plan. >> Yeah, exactly, exactly. So it just seemed like the greatest way to reach as many people as possible, which was the most important thing. >> [Inaudible], I sort of took that under advisement [assumed spelling], I hope you don't mind. I know you saw the blog posting where I invited people to boss you around. >> Yeah. >> And we got several comments directly to me through Twitter [assumed spelling], and on the blog, and The Future Soon edged out, as the song that they most wanted to hear, so you mind playing a little bit of that for us. >> Jonathan Coulton: I'd be happy to, this is sort of musings that you might have if you were 13, growing up in the 1980's, and reading Harmony [assumed spelling] magazine a lot. >> It's called the Future Soon. ^M00:02:50 [ Music ] ^M00:03:54 >> Actually the whole song is quite a bit longer then that. >> Yes. And you can get it at your website. >>Yes, www.JonathanCoulton.com. >> We can plug after every time you play, we can plug your website. >> All right, it's www.JonathanCoulton.com. >> Now, interesting, it's interesting to me how you come up with the ideals, not because I'm going to ask you right now in the interview. But because whenever I think about like, I wonder how he came up with that, I can go to your blog, and you blog about pretty much every song you've written, and you've got a little bit of the back story there. >> Jonathan Coulton: It's true, yeah. And it's, it's kind of a strange thing, and it gets stranger still. You know, it's something that I've become addicted to, is this ideal of opening up the creative process. Because I've also starting doing these live, when I record, I actually setup a camera and do a live webcast of that, you know. And that also felt very strange, but now, I can't see, I can't really think of how I could do it, otherwise. >> What do you get out of that, that you wouldn't otherwise, just, it sounds that's really scary as a musician to show the works, and all of the whole composition process? >> Jonathan Coulton: It is, it's very scary, and I think that, that one of the things for me. Well, first of all to be perfectly crass about it, it's a thing that I think people will be interested in, and pay attention to it. >> Sure. >> Jonathan Coulton: But on another level, and more personally, it's, you know, I'm sort of conflicted as a creative person. It's hard to be creative. It's hard to allow myself to be creative, and so, the more I sort of face these barriers head on, these fears head on, the more I imagine I'll be able to get pass them. >> It's the close your eyes, get on the Roller Coasters and go... >> Yeah, exactly. >> Sort of approach? >> [Inaudible] If you were afraid of snakes, then you should hug a snake. >> All right... >> I'm, I'm not a doctor, so [inaudible]. >> And there, you know, I read a story in the paper today that Boa Constrictors are headed to California. >> Great news. >> Hopefully, they'll be gone before your show tomorrow. >> What do you mean Boa Constrictors, like, a big, a big mass of them? >> Like one big, massive ones from Florida are on their way to California. The Burma [assumed spelling] Pythons, my producer tells me. >> The Burma Pythons? >> Yes. >> Good, good. >> Not Boa Constrictors... >> When are they suppose to... >> Burma Pythons. >> Get here because I have a show? >> Your show's Friday's... >> Yeah. >> At 9? >> Yeah. >> I think after that. >> Okay, great... >> [Inaudible] so you'll [inaudible]. >> Because I don't have any tickets [inaudible]. >> My producer is goating us to get you to play another song, [inaudible] is going to leave it to your choice. What do you want to play? >> Why don't we do, you mentioned The Secret Layers before, why don't we do, this is a song Called, it's Called Skullcrusher Mountain. >> It's a love song, song by a naval [assumed spelling] genius. ^M00:06:03 [ Music ] ^M00:07:08 >> I never noticed the yet before. >> Yet. He hasn't decided, he hasn't decided. >> Now, did the He-man people ever contact you about that? >> No, I wish that they had, though, I liked... >> [Inaudible]. >> He-man as a child [inaudible]. >> And [inaudible] you also have a store where you, I mean that's one of the ways, you're giving away your music, but you're also charging for it... >> Yes. >> If people want to buy it? >> For sale, and for free, depending on where you look. >> So it, it depends on where you look, or which is what you feel. I mean I have... >> Yeah. >> Actually downloaded your songs, all the ones from the podcast for free, and then went and paid for them later... >> Yeah. >> Just because I wanted to. >> Yeah, you know, I hear that from a lot of people, I get, I frequently get emails that say, you know, I just brought your whole collection, even though I already own it. >> Yeah. >> Jonathan Coulton: You know, thanks, thanks for putting it out there. You know, and it, it's, it means, it means so much to me, you know. And it really, I really think it's true that if people know that the money is going mostly to the artists that they, that they like, they're willing to support them. >> But you also have also have a T-shirt shop... >> [Inaudible]. >> [Inaudible] merchandise, and you have a skullcrusher mountain shirt. >> That's right. >> Is that skating the line at all with the... >> It, no I don't think, I don't think that's infringing of any, any copyrights. >> I hope not. >> Yeah, me too, now that's, now that we've mentioned it here, thanks a lot. >> Yeah. We could edit that, right? >> No one sees the live show, anyway. >> So if people want to follow you, they can follow you on your blog, they can follow you on your live stream? >> Yes. >> They can just listen to the music. >> Yeah. >> How can they get you to come play live? >> I use a website called www.eventful.com. And they have, this thing called demands, where you can go there, and sign up with your email address, and say I want Jonathan Coulton to play in this town. And, you know, at this point, I've played in enough cities; I know where I do well. But there, we're always sort of discovering new cities, and we really do use those numbers. So, you know, if I see that there are a 100 people in whatever town in the United States, I know, I sort of have an ideal of how big that's crowds going to be, and I can sort of figure out how to make it make sense to actually go there and play. >> So unlike, when I was growing up in Greenville, Illinois and just had to wait for the whims of artists to come to St. Louis, and drive 45 miles an hour, or 45 miles an hour. Well, that was back in the days when the cars didn't go that fast. >> It was safety first in those days. >> I would drive 45 miles to go see the show. I could actually try to get enough people in my county... >> Yeah. >> To request you, and you'd come? >> Jonathan Coulton: And that's the ideal, it's sort of, it's sort of a street team ideal. If you can, you can actually prove to me that there's enough people there, then I'll come, I'll come and do a show. >> Is that how you got the show in San Francisco or... >> No, well, at this point, you know, I've been to San Francisco a couple of times, so I know that they're pretty big crowds. But the first time I used that, it was actually for a show in Seattle. And I'd never played anywhere near the West Coast before. And it was sort of overnight, I realized there were 75 people there on eventful, and I went and played a show, and then there was like a 100 people showed up, it was great. >> The last thing I want to talk about before we have to get out of here is the DVD you're recording. >> That's right. >> So this is another way of delivering content to the fans, right? >> Yes, exactly, a lot of people have asked for live versions of the songs. And, you know, they're all studio recordings. And some of them have changed greatly, as I've learned to play them with just this guitar in front of people, so we're shooting that on Friday. >> In fact, the cameraman's in here right now. >> Yeah, in fact, we have a cameraman... >> There he is. >> [Inaudible] shooting the DVD. >> You can kind of seeing him back there, lurking in the [inaudible]. >> Yes. >> Hi, Jeremiah. >> And so we're shooting that this Friday, and we'll edit that, and release that, yeah. >> When do you think that'll be out? >> This fall, sometime, I'm not sure exactly when, it depends on how much money I have to make it, [inaudible] >> Now, okay, I'm told we're like; we spent way too much time, because I just enjoy talking to you so much. But can you play us out with one more song. The second place song on the blog was Code Monkey, which is probably one of the more popular ones. >> I think that's appropriate... >> All right. >> This is a song about how it feels to be a software developer. ^M00:10:42 [ Music ]