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Who is Jonathan Coulton?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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Jonathan Coulton is a popular singer/songwriter known for quirky lyrics, talented compositions, and impressive marketing savvy. His practice of providing his music for free has given him a large cult fan base. Coulton, a former Yale Whiffenpoof, is noted for his folk-song sensibilities, and is frequently compared to artists They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies.

Coulton originally worked as a computer programmer following graduation from Yale, but gave it up to pursue a musical career. His first popular song, a choral remix of the extremely popular “Baby’s Got Back” shows clear influences of his a capella background with the famous Whiffenpoofs. His style continued to develop as a mixture of pop-culture references, unusual song subjects, and music tailored for computer geeks like him.

In 2005 and 2006, Jonathan Coulton undertook a project akin to performance art, called “Thing a Week.” Every week for just over a year, Coulton produced one new recorded song. The intention behind the process was multifaceted; in addition to wanting to push himself as an artist, Coulton wanted to see if digital downloads from the internet could truly be a lucrative means of employment.

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Because of his habit of providing free, full-length versions of his songs available on his website, “Thing a Week” proved largely successful. By 2007, Jonathan Coulton was exceeding his income as a computer programmer through his music alone. The music from the project is now available through music downloading sites as well as his own website, as four compilations of songs. One of the keys to Coulton’s marketing strategy is a continuing refusal to copy-protect most of his music beyond a basic level.

Jonathan Coulton’s website is also extensive and accessible to potential new fans. A user-editable database along with lyrics, guitar tabs and song recommendations based on situation are all provided. Some music critics consider Coulton’s grasp of marketing techniques a considerable part of his music success.

The music of Jonathan Coulton is widely variable in both subject matter and musical style. One of his most popular tracks, “Code Monkey,” features a pop electric guitar part similar to the music of Blink 182. He frequently deals with pop culture icons, in songs like “Ikea” and “Tom Cruise Crazy.” He also sings about with the romantic and personal struggles of strange subjects, singing of the inevitable abandonment of male seahorses in the mournful ballad “Seahorse,” and the self-loathing love life of a lonely giant squid in “I Crush Everything.”

Since his professional career began, Jonathan Coulton has enjoyed incredible success for an independent and far-from-mainstream artist. In 2007, he composed music for the popular video game Portal, and his song “Code Monkey” was used a theme song for an animated show of the same name. He frequently collaborates with comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, and has appeared on the show as a performer. His talent, humor, and marketing intelligence have combined to bring Jonathan Coulton a considerable fan following that continues to grow as his prolific songs have reached a mainstream audience.

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