The video song for "If You Think You Need Some Lovin'," Pomplamoose's most popular original, ends with Conte and Dawn hawking new band T-shirts into the camera. "They're really soft and smooth on my skin," Conte purrs, grinning through his shaggy beard. "'Cause I need silky smooth —"

"Jack's actually taken all of the T-shirts and rubbed them all over his body," Dawn muses flirtatiously into the camera.

"So you get double bonus when you buy a T-shirt," he continues, hardly suppressing a laugh. "Which is pretty awesome, because who doesn't want to smell like me?"

Jamie Soja
Conte and Dawn handle virtually every aspect of Pomplamoose themselves, including recording, mixing, editing video and marketing to fans.
Jamie Soja
Conte and Dawn handle virtually every aspect of Pomplamoose themselves, including recording, mixing, editing video and marketing to fans.

While most popular musicians create images or characters to inhabit, Conte and Dawn play themselves in Pomplamoose — albeit edited, less crass versions of the real thing. Their poop jokes and Home Depot shopping lists are cut, but otherwise, the Pomplamoose of YouTube is really them — with the result that, as Dawn puts it, "people liking our music is also linked pretty heavily to how much people like us."

On September 13, 2009, Kanye West suddenly interrupted the proceedings of the MTV Video Music Awards. Country singer Taylor Swift had just won the award for Best Female Video — an award West thought should have gone to Beyoncé for "Single Ladies." He pushed his way onstage during Swift's acceptance speech. "I'ma let you finish," he said, in what became an infamous pop-culture embarrassment. "But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time." He didn't know then that "Single Ladies" would go on to win Video of the Year.

Conte and Dawn had recently returned from visiting a friend, Julia Nunes, in Rochester, New York. Her breezy ukulele versions of Beatles songs were ranking higher than the original versions in YouTube searches — and getting lots of views. "We went there, and saw what was happening, and then said, 'We need to start doing some covers,'" Conte says. That became priority one: "We would just find a bunch of songs we liked, pick the one with the most hits on YouTube and cover it."

On September 17, four days after West interrupted Swift and near the height of public hysteria over the incident, Pomplamoose posted its cover of "Single Ladies" on YouTube. Conte and Dawn could tell right away that something was different. "It just started getting millions of hits," Conte says. This was when everything began to change.

Only a few months earlier, Dawn had finished her master's degree in French literature. She had planned to get a part-time job, but her parents agreed to pay her a stipend for six months. By this point, Pomplamoose was also selling MP3s on the E-junkie website. "Single Ladies" racked up views on YouTube and moved MP3s, and Conte and Dawn noticed that their original songs were also selling better. Five months out of college, thanks largely to "Single Ladies," Dawn was finally earning a living — albeit a meager one — through her music. She and Conte began to realize that Pomplamoose could be more than a serious hobby. It could be a career.

The next milestone for the band came in March, when Pomplamoose released Tribute to Famous People, an album of well-known covers that included "Single Ladies," "Telephone," "Beat It" and "Mister Sandman." This time, it was available at Apple's iTunes store. The Beyoncé cover had been a surprise, but Tribute launched Pomplamoose to a whole new level of fame and financial success. It sold about 30,000 tracks within the first month, according to Conte, a figure that translates into a payday of about $18,600. "We did have a movie moment, where we logged into our iTunes account and looked at our sales for that month and just fainted," he says. "It was really exciting."

Forging a musical career through social networks was a long-running passion for Conte. His college bands played the "be my friend on Myspace" game, with limited success. But he was at Stanford in 2005, when YouTube was founded, and quickly discovered an online community for which he was particularly well suited. Not only was he skilled in the medium — he got a contract job at Google making corporate videos after graduation and turned down an invitation to study film at the University of Southern California — but the community of musicians posting their stuff on YouTube held a special attraction. "It's not like every other social network, where it's a picture and your favorite movies and your favorite books — sort of bullshitty stuff," he says. "It got to be a great community, really supportive. I thought it was going to be a sort of Myspace-y business thing, and it turned out that it was something really special."

With the success of "Single Ladies" and Tribute to Famous People, it seemed Conte had finally found the path he was looking for — and independence was the key. For every $1 download Pomplamoose sells through E-junkie, the band gets 90 cents. Each 99-cent iTunes download nets Pomplamoose between 62 and 70 cents, with the store taking the rest. But if Pomplamoose were on a label, it would have to split that with the record company — and the company would get most of it. Deals vary, but under a common arrangement, the label would get 53 cents from each download, while the band would keep only about 9 cents. At those pay rates, Pomplamoose's breakout month in March 2010 would have earned it only $2,700.

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