Talking to: musician/songwriter Jonathan Mann

There’s a lot of musicians who live over here on the West Side; this weekend, I’ll be highlighting a few of them, starting first with Jonathan Mann.

Jonathan is a prolific singer and songwriter who is probably best known for his Song A Day project on Youtube. Every day, he writes and makes a video of himself singing about an issue in the news or that’s on his mind, producing catchy, memorable songs you won’t be able to get out of your head. With millions of Youtube views and guest appearances on Rachel Maddow, CNN, and Anderson Cooper, he’s become an undeniable, self-made star, mixing his personal charm with his quirky, homemade videos and songs. 

It took me a while to realize that “that guy” I’d seen around on the internet and my neighbor jogging in the park were the same person (I’ve been known to be a bit slow about these things). I’m really impressed with not only how hard working Jonathan is – it takes an awful lot to write all those songs and make all those videos every single day – but also how he’s been able to turn his talents into a sustainable practice. There’s also a lot to be said with how he’s managed critics. Last night, I actually broke my own internet rule of “never read the comments” to check out some of his, only to find that he’s cracked the radar of the so-called “alt-right” in a big way, and they are not happy about it. The level of the comments – personal, anti-Semitic, often violent – were pretty shocking. But his response to this was refreshing: through his work he laughs at them, doubles down, and keeps going. I found this very inspiring.

So, scroll through for a Q&A with Jonathan and check out some of his videos on the way! 


How long have you been doing Song A Day? How did you get started?
I started on Jan. 1st of 2009, so I’m in my 9th year. It’s 3000+ days. I tell the story of of I got started here.

I like that your website describes you as having a “superpower” to be able to distill complex stories down to a song. How long does it take you to write a song? 

It depends on the song! It can take all day or it can take 20 minutes.

What’s been your most popular song? What’s your favorite?

Hmmm. Well going by views on YouTube, this song that I made out of one of the Trump/Clinton debates is the most popular with over 2 mil views. I don’t really have a favorite. I recently made a Spotify playlist of some that I like, though.

 

What kind of music do you make other than Song A Day?

Part of my mandate for Song A Day has always been to take songs that come out of that process and polish them up a bit, and releasethem as a proper album. So that’s some of it. I do a lot of commissions for people, both on the small, personal level, and the bigger, corporate level. I do a thing where I call myself a Conference Troubadour, where I go to conferences and make up songs.

 

I know a couple of months ago you started getting threats from some “alt-right”/nazi viewers. Can you talk a little about this?

I’ve been getting hate and death threats since well before the beginning of Song A Day. I got my first death threat online in 2006 when I posted about The Mario Opera, a musical I made out of Super Mario. Then, during GamerGate, which in many ways was the breeding ground of what we now call “alt-right”, I made a series of videos that they really didn’t like, and things intensified. There was a moment back then that it got really bad, where I was getting threatening phone calls, and people were trying to hack my email, find my address, etc. Of course, all the stuff that I deal with is only a fraction of what women and people of color deal with on a daily basis. I’m over here actively kicking the hornets nest and it can get scary, but for other folks, they don’t even have to DO anything and get far, far worse. Anyway. If anyone is ever in a position where they feel truly threatened by anything online, a really great resource is the Crash Override Network.
 [Ed. note: my favorite of his videos that seems to have gotten quite a lot of attention from this crowd is #BetaAsFuck which he did with Peter Coffin. Wordpress won’t let me embed it for some reason, but check out that link – it’s pretty hilarious!]

You and your family live on the West Side. What are some of your favorite parts of our neighborhood? What sort of improvements or changes would you like to see?

The snow removal this year was really abysmal. I’d love to see that improved. My wife takes the bus a lot, and she’s always wishing there were just more service. It’s to get to Journal Sq., but the one bus she could take to our son’s preschool doesn’t come very often, and doesn’t show up on the NJ Transit app (and it’s a super long walk). We also wish there were places for our son to play indoors during the winter. There’s a few things downtown, but nothing up here.