English rapper Dan Bull has been causing a stir of late with his politically conscious wordplay, leading a prominent campaign against the Digital Economy Bill and addressing the issue of file sharing. Dan has embraced the internet as a tool to distribute his music freely, and is taking the concept of scarcity to its logical extreme by only producing one physical copy of his new album – and charging £1,000,000 for it. M3 caught up with Dan to talk copyright, the music business, and why kicking back with a classic Blue Note record beats all…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Dan Bull – I’m a rapper from the UK, and I work mostly online by releasing videos about current events and geek culture.
What inspired you to start making music? What is your own musical background?
I have always enjoyed music and I sort of slid into making it myself. For my 12th or 13th birthday I got a copy of Magix Music Maker upon which I used to make dance music. From there, I got more and more into it until I reached where I am today.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I listen to MP3s most often for sheer convenience, but sitting down with some whisky and a classic Blue Note vinyl on the record player feels like a real treat.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
I don’t think so; it’s just that there is so much music out there, that people spread their attention across more artists. But if you find a particular artist that you love, the chances are that their albums will hold up to a high standard too.
Why did you decide to make your latest album available for free download?
I think it’s the best way to promote the music in the album. If it’s free, it will be heard by more people and hopefully reach someone who really finds it special. The album is also on iTunes, Amazon and other stores for people who would still rather buy it. I’m also selling one CD copy of the album, for £1,000,000.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
Some people don’t like the idea of an album not existing in physical form. I used to feel this way, but came to the realisation that it’s not the plastic and paper that matters, it’s the sound of the music. And the sound is all entirely there in a digital release. Another complaint people have is that releasing something for free implies it has no value. I disagree strongly with this, too. There are certain things that we give for free and not charge money precisely because we value them so much. Nobody says that having sex without asking for money implies that sex has no value.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
It doesn’t bother me too much, as I stated above, music itself is very healthy. The various business models that come and go around the music aren’t that important to me. I think second-hand record stores and market stalls will be around for a long time though, and they are a pleasure to visit and dig through.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
Traditional copyright laws were barely enforceable before the digital age. Now they actually just look completely silly. I’d like to see a world with no copyright at all, or as a compromise, one where you don’t need permission to use the work of another, as is the case with song publishing now. A songwriter can’t stop an artists performing one of their publishing song, however, they are entitled to royalties. I think this is the system that is most likely to evolve in the future of copyright law.
Similarly, do you think some copyright laws could be seen a threat to certain artists’ creativity (those who make use of a large variety of samples, for instance)? Do you think actions with music, film, or any kind of copyrighted media for non-commercial purposes should be subject to legal sanctions?
Definitely. In fact copyright laws encourage un-creative sampling. Artists who make a piece of music using dozens of cleverly interwoven samples are going to have a much bigger chunk of their royalties taken away than someone who just lazily loops a chunk of one song. Legal sanctions for non-commercial use? Definitely not.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
I have no idea how it will evolve, however, unlike the dinosaur entertainment industry, I am not worried about it. I intend to be the first to embrace whatever new methods arise, rather than clinging desperately to the flotsam and jetsam of the old ones.
Finally, what does the future hold for Dan Bull?
Hard work and plenty of fun I hope. I have a number of projects in the pipeline, as I always do, but I don’t like to discuss them much as they are so subject to change. Better to surprise you with them when they’re finally released.
For more information about Dan Bull, you can visit his official website, and find him on Facebook and YouTube.