Dear Dan Bull: A Case Study In Musical Innovation
from the dan-bull-will dept
You may recall, about a year ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle involving singer Lily Allen -- who had built her (major label) career, in part off of releasing a bunch of clearly infringing mixtapes of other artists, mixed with some of her own music on her MySpace page and her official website (controlled by EMI). And yet... she suddenly posted a rant against file sharing, talking about how it was destroying the industry. She even started a blog about how evil copying was, but amusingly plagiarized an entire Techdirt post. We were fine with it (our material is free to use however you'd like), but thought it was an interesting teaching moment about the value of copying, and how even those who claim they're against it implicitly seem to recognize that copying is "natural." While Lily apologized to me, as we noted there was no need to apologize -- the content was free for using. We were hoping that she would understand how her actions went against her own words. Instead, she blamed everyone else, claimed she was "attacked" and shut down her blog.
However, soon after all of this, a musician in the UK, named Dan Bull, wrote and recorded a musical "open letter" to Ms. Allen, for which he created a video, and posted the whole thing to YouTube, generating a ton of attention. If you haven't seen it (or even if you have...), check it out:
The first thing, of course, is that his music career was completely transformed by the original Dear Lily video. Even though he'd already released an album, this one song, changed things. As Dan told me:
I've been putting my songs on YouTube for years without anyone really noticing, so I didn't expect anything different with Dear Lily. I uploaded the video, e-mailed the link to the P2P blog TorrentFreak, and went to bed. The next morning I woke up to find my inbox was broken due to responses arriving every couple of seconds. The video seemed to have struck the right chord at the right time, and I was summarising what was on everybody's mind. Except Lily Allen's.He pointed out that the video got 80,000 views that first night, and the MP3 (made freely available, of course) was downloaded over 20,000 times. And, despite all the claims that folks who support file sharing or think that copyright has problems are just a bunch of freeloaders who want stuff for free, this song made Dan money:
I made more money from music that week than I had in my entire musical career previously. I'd say it was split 50/50 between sales of my album, and donations from people who just wanted to show their appreciation. It goes to show that filesharers aren't cheapskates; they're happy to hand over a bit of cash if they know who it's going to.He also pointed out that, if all of the interest in his songs had been monitored by the folks who create the charts, the song actually would have ended up on the UK singles charts.
But, of course, was this just a flash in the pan, one-hit-wonder sort of thing? Not according to Dan. He notes that he had a decent group of supporters before:
But this was when I first started to feel like I had a real fanbase, and that there are lots of other people out there who feel the way I do. Plenty of the people who saw the video have stuck around to check out my new stuff too. It's also made it easier to get my other songs noticed, and I've been on television and radio a few times as a result.And, in talking about attention from elsewhere, it's not just limited to music about copyright. He's becoming a go-to guy for music about all sorts of political issues, including a successful (and brilliant) UK Election Debate Rap Battle. The tech/copyright songs are still the songs that get the most people excited, but all of his new works are getting more and more attention. As Dan notes, the way you build a career is to continue to keep building, rather than relying on old works and copyright complaints:
I enjoyed the wave of publicity I had from the novelty of the Dear Lily video, but instead of trying to milk it I decided to carry on and write more songs. Each one I do gets a little more attention and it's very satisfying when new fans get in touch with me. It's good to discuss the issues with people who disagree as well - it makes me think hard about whether my beliefs are right.Oh, and finally, I did wonder if he ever heard from either Lily Allen or Peter Mandelson in response to his open letters. No such luck, apparently, but he's heard from a reliable source that Allen has at least seen the video, and he got to perform Dear Mandy right outside the houses of Parliament in front of a bunch of TV cameras, so he's hoping that maybe, just maybe, Mandelson got to hear it "drifting through his window..."
Once again, this is another case of an artist really finding a way to connect with fans in a fun way, encouraging the free sharing of his music, but recognizing that fans are more than willing to pay, if given a reason to buy. And, of course, I do wonder how folks who insist that no "real" musician would ever speak out against copyright respond to folks like Dan Bull.
Anyway, thanks to Dan for taking the time to answer my questions, and stay tuned for his latest song and video...