When I started Song A Day in 2009, I was out of a job. I had been writing singing video game reviews for (the now defunct) 1up.com, and doing various freelance songwriting gigs — but I had nothing consistent.
About two months into the project, I discovered a website called OnlineVideoContests.com. All across the internet, every single week, there are literally thousands of video contests in various states of completion. I started entering them. A lot of them. I folded this practice right into song a day: 12 days, 12 contests. I’d win 2 or 3 out of the 12 and that was that. Pretty good money.
One of the contests I entered was a jingle competition for Microsoft’s recently launched search engine, Bing. The Bingle contest was simple: Make the best jingle and video showcasing Bing and win a $500 American Express gift card. It wasn’t a lot of money but the due date was just around the corner, and the contest would be decided by judges, not votes (these were my two biggest requirements for entering a contest) so banged out a song in under an hour and in another 45 minutes had posted my video. Another day, another contest.
About a week later, I found out that I won. On the one hand, this was surprising, because I thought that my song and video sucked, but on the other hand, my closest competition was a man staring into the camera singing, “You’ve got to Bing it Bing it, You’ve got to Bing it Bing it.”
A few days later, a friend linked me to an article on TechCrunch. MG Siegler, a preeminent tech writer, had written a scathing article with the headline:
Now, I’m quite used to being made fun of on the internet. It comes with the territory. The best thing you can do is ignore these types of comments. This was different though. TechCrunch was so high profile and MG was such a well known commentator that I felt like it begged a response. So I wrote a song about him, using text from his post as lyrics: “Sure, the song will get stuck in your head/ but so does the sound of seals barking or cows dying.”
I posted the song and sent it to him, and within minutes, my song-response was up on TechCrunch. He loved it even though (or maybe because) it made fun of him. This led to a strange relationship between me and TechCrunch — I was unofficially their official songwriter. Anytime I wrote about something tech related, I’d send it to MG and most of the time, he’d post it. I played at their annual “Crunchies” award show. I even learned that TechCrunch’s founder, the controversial Michael Arrington, used my MG Siegler song as his ringtone for a few months.
So. Fast forward to 2010. I had just learned that I lost a big video contest, and I was feeling pretty down. It also happened to be the eve of Apple’s “Antenna-Gate” press conference. The anti-Apple hype was at a fever pitch, and I thought the whole non-story was ridiculous. I decided to write a song defending Apple. I hoped that MG would post it, and maybe I’d get some decent traffic. I wrote the song in about 2 hours and spent another hour on the video. I posted the song, sent it to MG and went to bed.
The next morning I woke to a flurry of activity in my inbox, including an email that appeared to be from Apple. I read the email and decided it was fake — someone was trolling me. I was in the shower when my phone rang. It was Apple PR. For real. Could they use my video to open the press conference, they wondered? Um, yes. Sure, uh, how should I send it to you? Jesus Christ.
Later that morning, I watched online as the song and video I had made in 3 hours the night before played before an audience of journalists at Apple HQ. Then Steve Jobs came out on stage and said, “Thanks for coming. We found that on YouTube this morning and couldn’t help but want to share it.” It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I heard later from the PR rep that Steve had been dancing off stage as the song played. If you watch the video of the event, there’s a few seconds, right as my song ends, that you can see him bopping his way on to the stage.
A few days after the keynote, I got commissioned to write a birthday song for Steve Wozniak. I was invited to his 60th birthday party, where I met the cofounder of TEDMED, who commissioned me to write a birthday song for the founder of TED, Richard Saul Wurman. The following year TEDMED had me back — this time performing songs written on-the-fly about the conference. This practice, fun songs written on the spot for conferences, company meetings and fun, has since become responsible for the bulk of my income.
When I look back and trace the lines that lead me here, from unemployment and song a day, to the video contests, to Bing, TechCrunch, and Steve Jobs, The Woz, TEDMED and my current gig, it’s dizzying.
And it all came from making and sharing with abandon on the internet.
I’m Jonathan — the song a day guy. I make custom songs on the spot for conferences, corporate events, and fun.
@songadaymann | jonathanmann.net | firstname.lastname@example.org