Pomplamoose: Making A Living On YouTube Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte of the YouTube sensation Pomplamoose are making a living as a successful band, but they've never had a CD printed. The story of their success reflects the changing nature of the music business, as well as artists' ability to survive without the backing of a major label.
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Pomplamoose: Making A Living On YouTube

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Pomplamoose: Making A Living On YouTube

Pomplamoose: Making A Living On YouTube

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(Soundbite of song, "Single Ladies")

POMPLAMOOSE (Music Group): (Singing) All the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the sing ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies, all the single ladies. Now put your hands up...


Add this song to the long and growing list of YouTube sensations. It's the band Pomplamoose doing their take on Beyonce's inescapable hit "Single Ladies."

(Soundbite of song, "Single Ladies")

POMPLAMOOSE: (Singing) ...if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it, if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it. Dont be mad once you see that he want it. If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it. Wo oh ooh oh oh...

WERTHEIMER: Pomplamoose does not have a record deal or a publicist, but they have had almost four million hits on this music video. Like all of their other videos, the duo appears in one quick shot after another, playing multiple instruments, and they're both jammed into a spare bedroom of their house.

Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte are the Pomplamoose. Jack explained to me that the band has rules when it comes to how they shoot what they call video songs.

Mr. JACK CONTE (Pomplamoose): There's no hidden sounds. There's no lip-synching. There's no overdubbing. What you see is what you hear. So basically anything that you see in the video is exactly the take that we've used.

Ms. NATALY DAWN (Pomplamoose): Right, so if you see me singing, it's that actual vocal take that we used in the final mix.

Mr. CONTE: Right. So sometimes, there might be two or three Natalys harmonizing with herself, and then you'll see those three videos juxtaposed together on the same screen.

WERTHEIMER: I see, okay. In this video, there is what you might call no glitz, a serious absence of satin, as they said.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Jane Austin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: You're wearing comfortable clothes. You appear to be in a bedroom. You can see the wallpaper and the wooden door. Are you opposed to glittery music presentation?

Mr. CONTE: I guess I kind of don't like how there's such a pedestal for music culture and especially for band culture. It just feels fake; it feels like smoke and mirrors. And I feel like music doesn't have to be like that. It can be something that's very normal and very accessible.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the song "Single Ladies" is featured on what you call on your Web site an album, "Tribute to Famous People." Can I just walk into Borders and buy that?

Ms. DAWN: Afraid not. We haven't really printed any of our albums. And...

WERTHEIMER: So they're sort of virtually albums, or...

Mr. CONTE: You know, we don't have any physical CDs. We've never had a physical CD.

Ms. DAWN: No. We do...

Mr. CONTE: But we make our living off of album sales.

Ms. DAWN: We do.

WERTHEIMER: I was just going to say, how do you make a living? Is this a career?

Mr. CONTE: Oh, yeah, yeah. We...

Ms. DAWN: Oh, definitely.

Mr. CONTE: Yeah, we make our living off of MP3 sales.

Ms. DAWN: Full time. We don't have any other job.

WERTHEIMER: And people can just download your music or your videos as they want to?

Ms. DAWN: Yeah, that's right.

Mr. CONTE: We sold about 100,000 songs last year.

WERTHEIMER: Well, let's listen to another one of the covers. This is the Earth, Wind and Fire hit "September."

(Soundbite of song, "September")

POMPLAMOOSE: (Singing) Do you remember the 21st night of September? Love was changing the night of the pretenders while chasing the clouds away.

WERTHEIMER: This video has only been seen 1.2 million times. So I guess this is not one of your bigger hits. Let me ask you about this. Pomplamoose is one of the first bands that was accepted into YouTube's Musicians Wanted program. Tell me about that.

Mr. CONTE: It's ad-revenue sharing. So YouTube will run an ad next to or on a video, and they'll share the revenue of that ad with the musician. It's a 50-50 split. It's a great system because YouTube doesn't have to do it, but they want to encourage people to upload content.

WERTHEIMER: So is it totally old fashioned to think of a record label as the best way to become a hit band? My understanding is that ultimately, if you really want to make the big bucks, you've got to have the record label. You've got to have their distribution, their promotion. That is the way to go still.

Ms. DAWN: There's no simple answer to the question, I don't think.

Mr. CONTE: Yeah.

Ms. DAWN: I mean, if you can't just do it all yourself, then you do need help. If, for example, you're somebody who writes songs, like Lady Gaga, and you need everything, you know, that's going to make you Lady Gaga, then you need a big, fat label. But if you're just a band, I don't think we're in an era anymore where you need that sort of major backing.

Mr. CONTE: Yeah, I mean, what does it mean, really, to need a label? I mean, we're making a living. We've got a sustainable business. We're growing every year as a good business should. We're happy. We don't have to do things that we don't want to do. We don't have to please people that we don't want to please. We get to make the music that we love.

Yeah, we're not on the front page of Rolling Stone magazine, and we're not getting $10 million checks in the mail, but we don't need that to have a nice life.

Ms. DAWN: And also, our goal has never been to be a huge hit band. We just started...

Mr. CONTE: We want to make a living doing what we like to do.

Ms. DAWN: Exactly. We're just making a living.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. Now, Nataly mentioned songwriters, people who produce original music, which you also do. We've played clips of covers, but let's take one of those original recordings, as well. "Centrifuge," this is called.

(Soundbite of song, "Centrifuge")

POMPLAMOOSE: (Singing) Drink drink, baby, down that margarita. There's no passing grade. Dream dream, baby, like there's no tomorrow, like you're getting paid.

WERTHEIMER: Each of you plays a number of instruments. There's a lot of quick cutting in this video. It looks like a fairly complicated process. How long does it take to produce a video song?

Ms. DAWN: Not that long.

Mr. CONTE: Yeah, it's very deceptive.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Mr. CONTE: We write the song, and then it only takes a day or two to record all the parts, sometimes three, and then Nataly does the editing in about a day or sometimes two days.

Ms. DAWN: I prefer to do it in two days. Just to be safe, we'll say it takes about a week from start to finish.

Mr. CONTE: Right.

Ms. DAWN: From writing the song to uploading it onto YouTube, it takes about a week.

Mr. CONTE: But yeah, I mean, when we want to do something, we do it right away. Like when that Lady Gaga song "Telephone" came out, we liked the song. We wanted to cover it, and we literally did that audio recording in 24 hours. And then Nataly edited it the next day, and in 48 hours of deciding to do that song, it was posted on YouTube.

(Soundbite of song, "Telephone")

POMPLAMOOSE: (Singing) Stop callin', stop callin'; I don't wanna think anymore; I left my head and my heart on the dance-floor. Stop callin', stop callin...

WERTHEIMER: So what happens if Lady Gaga turns around and says: Wait a minute. Did I sell the rights to that song and just don't remember it?

Mr. CONTE: Oh no, we make sure that we have all our ducks in a row. We bought mechanical licenses to all of our covers before we put them on iTunes. So it's all legit and legal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: We were sort of curious about that because I think that would be one of the parts of the process that wouldn't be so cheap.

Mr. CONTE: Oh, yeah.

Ms. DAWN: Yeah. No...

Mr. CONTE: No, but it's really easy. You go onto harryfox.com. You click buy mechanical license, and boom. You...

Ms. DAWN: That's the thing. People think that, like, all of these things have to be done by, like, geniuses from, like, behind huge desks or at the top of skyscrapers, but actually you can just go online and do it yourself.

Mr. CONTE: And buy rights. Yeah, it's really easy.

(Soundbite of song, "Telephone")

POMPLAMOOSE: (Singing) ...anymore; I left my head and my heart on the dance-floor.

WERTHEIMER: Can you go out on tour with a video-song band? Does that work? Can you play in a club, or are you just not dealing with that?

Mr. CONTE: We don't love well, that's not true. We do love playing live. It's just a lot of work right now to set up a live show. And the thing is, because of how we record our songs, we have to relearn all of our songs if we want to play them live.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONTE: So we don't, like, know our songs.

Ms. DAWN: Mostly me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONTE: Yeah. But what we do is we play with a drummer, and what we lose in orchestration we hope we make up for in energy. It's a really fun, crazy show with lots of screaming and silliness.

Ms. DAWN: Yeah.

Mr. CONTE: And...

Ms. DAWN: Yeah. The last song we...

WERTHEIMER: Diving for different instruments here and there.

Mr. CONTE: Exactly, yeah. We bring a bunch of stuff. And I guess when we played at Brainwash six months ago, we had about 400 people there. So it was pretty I mean, I think we could go on a tour if we wanted to at this point.

Ms. DAWN: By 400, we mean 200 inside and 200 outside, listening through the windows.

Mr. CONTE: Right. Because it was a tiny club.

Ms. DAWN: It was a tiny venue. We were just not prepared for it.

Mr. CONTE: Yeah.

Ms. DAWN: But and we went outside into this little alley, and all the, like, 200 people gathered around us, and it was just Jack with an accordion and me singing "La Vie en Rose," and a bunch of taxis were slowing down and stopping to watch us, like what is going on?

Mr. CONTE: And then everybody sang along. It was, like, it was really fun.

Ms. DAWN: It was great.

(Soundbite of song, "La Vie en Rose")

POMPLAMOOSE: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn are Pomplamoose. Their newest album, virtual album, is called "Tribute to Famous People." You can see their work all over YouTube. They joined me from member station KQED in San Francisco. Thank you both very much.

Ms. DAWN: Thank you.

Mr. CONTE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "La Vie en Rose")

POMPLAMOOSE: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: You can find a few of their video songs at our Web site, nprmusic.org.

And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Guy Raz returns next weekend. Thanks for listening. Have a great night.

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