Bring Your Questions for Web Pop King Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton

Singer/songwriter/Internet celebrity Jonathan Coulton may well represent the future of recorded music. A folk rocker perhaps best known for his hilariously deadpan acoustic cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back,” Coulton has demonstrated an uncanny ability to merge music with technology. A major Web presence with a pioneering attitude toward offering free content online, he holds the titles of “contributing troubadour” for Popular Science magazine (where he does a regular podcast) and “musical director” for comedian John Hodgman‘s popular Little Gray Book Lectures.

Coulton’s Web profile exploded a couple years ago when he began recording and publishing a new song every Friday as a free podcast called “Thing a Week,” and later released the songs in a series of albums on his own label.

Now, rather than sign with a known label and release songs subject to digital rights management, Coulton continues to post much of his original music on his website under a “pay what you want” model (sound familiar?), with all of his work falling under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial 3.0 License.

As such, fans can download and use his songs in their own works (a concept with which mega-artists like Prince aren’t so comfortable), and can even create their own music videos.

In his bio, he describes himself as follows:

Coulton’s is the voice of every spooky elementary school kid who could never quite keep his shirt tucked in or shoes tied; every lovelorn mason and mad scientist; every one of us who has ever sat despairingly on the floor, surrounded by parts of an Ikea endtable, weeping over our allen wrenches.

He has agreed to field questions from Freakonomics blog readers, so fire away.

Addendum: You can read Coulton’s answers here.

Dominic Pody

How do you think your popularity, recently skyrocketed with the successes of "Still Alive," will translate to actual professional successes?

Ken Macdonald

How do you think Outdoor F**king season will be affected by global warming?


Mr Coulton,
What is your secret to staying motivated?


Hello there, are there any plans on the board to work with Valve again? I certainly hope so, and I think there's widespread support for it. I've heard a couple of phones going off to the tune of "Still Alive".

John Hodgman

When will Valve release a video game that is also a full musical comedy?

That is all I want to know.



What is are your long term ambitions and what are yuor goals in your music career?


Did John Hodgman actually find you as a feral man-child in the Connecticut wilds?


Will you ever go back to the moon? It was my favorite podcast and I miss it.


When you were forcing yourself to do a song a week you were able to turn out really good music surprisingly frequently. What did the experience of forcing yourself to create such an unusual volume of work teach you about creativity? Are there limits to it? Do you feel that you could you continue making a song a week forever? And do you find that it's in the financial best interests of a song-writer to be prolific, or to carefully limit one's output?


All your songs are available for free listening from your web page (except Still Alive, I suppose), with an option to buy mp3's. Do you think that model makes you more money than a standard album? Do you think having the music available for free will make releasing some of it on a traditional album more difficult?

Also, and this is perhaps related, why aren't more of your songs available on Yahoo Music Engine or iTunes?

Mark "Code Monkey" Lee

Will you ever expand your solo acoustic live show to include a full rockin' band? If so, I would drop everything I'm doing now to play guitar for you.

Mark in the West

Do you own an iPod (or mp3 player)? What's on it? I guess I mean "what's in it?" because there might be spilled bits of meals on it? What ten little known songs would you recommend?

Bridget Magnus

Have you considered any collaborations? With whom? Has anyone approached you about working together?


Do you purposely set out to write songs on "wacky" topics, like the annoying coworker who writes you a memo about wanting to eat your brains, or is that really what pops into your head when sit down to write a song? Also, what instrument do you write songs on?


How much attention have you paid to fan creations based around your work? Not that I'm accusing you of not paying attention to your fans (heartless monster that you may well be), though. Have you seen any of these creations - music videos, mostly, I suppose? What did you think of them?


What guitars do you use? I personally prefer Taylor.


When you wrote Still Alive for Portal did you have any idea how well the synergy would be with the game? I don't think that there has every been ending credits in any media that has matched the love that people have for the end of Portal. In a similar vein have you been asked to work on any other video game music since the release of Portal?


How were you able to continue coming up with original content during the Thing a Week project? I know how hard it can be to consistantly produce high quality songs within a time contraint, but you pulled it off with ease.

Also, feel like doing some shows without the 18+ limit? My teenage son wants to see you live.


Regarding your recent success - what do code monkey think?


How does music solve world problems?