SCAN Meets… Dan Bull

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If you consider yourself to be verging slightly towards the geekier end of the social spectrum, then there’s a good chance you’ll have heard of YouTube geek-rap superstar Dan Bull. This prolific spitter of rhymes is well known for his hilariously funny rants about terrible politicians, out-of-touch popstars and video games, but he’s also well known for his forward-thinking approach to the music industry and file-sharing. His latest single, a diatribe on the culture of over sharing on Facebook and Twitter, is also part of a ‘storm the charts’ campaign. ‘Sharing is Caring’ is out now, and you can either buy it from iTunes, Amazon and the like or download a copy for free, perfectly legally!

Dan Bull - Sharing is Caring is out now

Hello there Dan! Thanks for talking to us. Can you please give an introduction about yourself for people who might not have heard of you?

I’m basically a geeky rap musician and I’ve been building up my YouTube channel for some time now with videos about computer games and about digital rights. I am pro file-sharing so I don’t really believe that copyright laws are helping artists that much so I’m trying to find ways to distribute my music and still make a living as a musician, while allowing my work to be downloaded for free. I prefer people to buy it, but I understand that not everyone can, and not everyone wants to, and so I’m trying to find different ways to incentivise people into buying it and supporting me.

So how is that working out for you at the moment? This is quite a unique business model for a musician who wants to make it into the charts, is it working well and would you recommend it to other musicians looking for  alternative ways to distribute their music?

I think it’s working well for me, one of the reasons I guess is because not many other people are doing that; a lot of people are sort of clinging onto the ways that things used to be where you’d spend ages recording a record then you’d keep it secret and hidden and you’d only let people who’d bought the record hear it. I do the complete opposite, I make sure that people can hear everything straight away, and then afterwards if they like it I give them the option to buy it. I mean I can’t speak for everybody and say it will work well for everybody but certainly for me it works.

Aye, and I imagine it works especially well for you with the issues you like to make music about; your tech/geek lyrics are obviously going to go down well with the file-sharing ‘market.’

Yeah, and another thing is I’m covering topical issues like that means that my songs don’t have longevity so for me I can’t wait around getting a CD manufactured and stuff like that. When I record a song I will put it online straight away the next day, so the way I operate with my music is a lot quicker than a regular band might operate.

That makes sense. The next question I wanted to ask you is about your genre of music, which is rap. You’re a geek who raps, and I think to a lot of people these two things would seem a bit antithetical, because in general rap is very aggressive and masculine and very “I’m an angry bloke.” So what made you decide that rap would be the best way of getting your very geeky messages across?

Well rap is all about word play and just being really direct. I mean a lot of rap is quite aggressive and violent, but it doesn’t have to be. It can still have that directness while talking about any issue. I mean I listen to all sorts of music, but for me rap is the best way to get a message across that I want to make, because if you listen to lyrics and a lot of genres, like indie rock, there is a meaning in the songs, but they are sort of shrouded behind a layer of metaphor. I prefer to take a direct approach when I say “this is what I think, this is what I’m questioning” and within that I can still sort of do wordplay and silly rhymes and puns, and it is just my favourite genre to work in really.

That’s alright, music needs more puns so keep going with that. Do you find the rapping quite a cathartic thing then? Your latest song is even very passionate, do you feel like it is the best way of getting your anger about these issues out of your system?

Yeah, people ask me what my influences are and why I sit down and start writing. Usually I read something in the news or something will happen to me that just kind of makes me feel restless and it feels like the best solution to that restlessness is to sit down and write my thoughts on it and arrange them and once I’ve got those thoughts written down in an organised manner it is kind of like they are off my mind and off my chest and I can move on, so that’s really important to me.

You’ve made plenty of music before but you’re trying to get into the chart with this attempt. This is something we’ve seen a bit more of recently, with artists with large internet followings but perhaps less ‘mainstream’ support trying to get into the charts. Do you know Alex Day, for example?

Yes, I am familiar with Alex Day, in fact when I was doing the research for how to approach my campaign I was having a look at some of the methods he was using. He sold a number of remixes of the single because when people buy those it contributes to the place in the charts. So I am using that technique with mine as well; I’ve got 10 different versions of the song and I am hoping people will buy those. I am trying to encourage people to not just buy one, but buy all 10. I have just announced that I am going to do a video with a song in it where I will announce the name of everyone who has bought all 10 and try to fit their names into the rhymes. I don’t know quite how successful that is going to be, because obviously the more people that do it, the more work it is, but it is balanced out by the fact that I am really happy that more people have bought it!

So obviously with Alex’s success [he reached number four at Christmas and number 15 the other week] and the remix strategy in place you have reason to be hopeful. How optimistic are you about getting your single in the charts by Sunday?

I’m certainly hoping I’ll make the charts, but I’m just trying to have fun with this and get more people to hear the music. I’m not really expecting to break the top forty – in which case I will probably celebrate having a number 0 rather than a number 1 which is an achievement in itself! Whatever happens I am having fun with what I am doing. I am not signed to major label so it is almost cheeky of me to think I have a chance at all, but the important thing is I’m having fun and learning, and just making a point that you don’t need to be part of the record industry circle in order to get stuck in and have a go. So whatever the outcome is I think I will be
pleased with what I have done.

Well lovely, I mean you’re doing an excellent job so far from what I can tell so you deserve to be proud wherever you come and hopefully you will get in the top 40, which will be an added bonus.

It would be great!

As you mentioned earlier, you’re well known for your pro-sharing attitude to the music business. How does this work in reality, do you use Creative Commons to license your music or something else?

Usually I don’t put any license on the songs at all, but with this new single “Sharing is Caring” a friend of mine suggested that I put Creative Commons license on it because the Creative Commons community are a very creative community so if I put the license on there and shared it with those guys, I was thinking first of all that it would show some respect for what they are doing, and second of all it might encourage them to get involved and do some remixing and re-appropriation of my
work. So yeah, I think the Creative Commons idea is a really good one. There is also another licensing system called ‘copy-me’ which is a little bit different, and that’s a process where it allows a file to be copied as much as people want and it is even encouraging people that they should copy it, so that’s another option of licensing for music.

Do you not feel that using that kind of approach is almost in direct opposition to your chart attempt?

D: That’s kind of the point of the campaign, I want see if even though I am embracing file sharing and using it as a way of promotion and distribution, I wanted to see if I can do that and still encourage people to buy using the more traditional methods of using iTunes and that kind of thing. I wanted to see whether they can sit side by side and how that would work, though I don’t quite know yet. I am getting a lot of Twitter messages from people saying they have bought it, but I don’t really have any figures yet so we will have to see on Sunday!

Obviously if this does work it will be quite a powerful message that these two business models can co-exist. Do you think if the future heads in this Creative Commons, easy to remix, easy to distribute direction, do you see the whole system of charts changing to understand this new kind of ‘popularity’?

I think the charts and the way things are now will only really change if it becomes more profitable for another way of doing things. So even if my campaign is a success, it is still really only a one-off, so I would like to think that it could be a start of a different way of doing things. But the industry is very conservative, and they like clinging onto the old ways of doing things and the ways they make money in the past and don’t want to take risks and move into new areas unless it has been tried and tested properly.

I want to talk a bit more about the actual song now, ‘Sharing is Caring’. Obviously it is about the general culture of ‘over-sharing’ on social networks. Do you see that as a big problem? Do you not think that social networks like Facebook and Twitter inevitably tend towards these really banal exchanges between everyone?

I don’t think it is a serious issue really, it is a tongue-in-cheek track. I wanted to make a song about Facebook and Twitter and I thought about what angle I could take and I had a browse through Facebook and Twitter and it is just filled with boring aspects of people’s lives and I thought that I would lay into that. I am not complaining about it because I think that it is a serious issue and that it is damaging society or anything like that; it’s just a bit of fun really.

Have you had a lot of good responses to the lyrical content on the likes of Facebook on Twitter then?

Overall, yeah the response is good. There are always some people that don’t like it but generally if you look on the video on Youtube there are a lot more thumbs up than thumbs down for it, so I think it is a success really.

When I had a look through I think the top comment was someone slamming someone else who was quite negative about it, which is quite funny and has like 50 thumbs up.

Yeah the Youtube comments can get quite… Well, it seems like people take sides quite quickly and it can get quite nasty, so I try not to get involved with those and if someone is mean I try to reply with a polite comment saying “well I hope you change your mind”. It is best not to get involved in those squabbles!

You say this is quite a tongue-in-cheek, humorous song, in the past your songs a lot of your fame on the internet has come from your passionate, political songs about digital rights and such. Do you see yourself going in any particular direction in the future or do you see yourself continuing to alternate between the two?

From song to song I kind of just… it depends what mood I am in. If I am in a serious mood or something is upsetting me then the song that I write will reflect that. If I am in a silly mood and want to make a few jokes then I will do a song like that. I get complaints from people who like one of the types of songs and they say “why are you doing these comedy songs? You should be doing serious stuff.” Other people will say “why are you doing this boring political stuff, make something funny again.” I kind of have to just take all those on the chin and realise you can not please everyone so you may as well just do what you enjoy doing at the time. Overall though, I feel like humour is a really good way of changing things, of trying to change political attitudes and trying to change popular ideas. And not even ‘ha-ha’ funny, but witty, satirical stuff that will make someone look at a situation again and see it in a different light. If I can make people think differently with any of my songs then I’d say it was a success.

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