Gamer, Rapper, Digital Rights Activist: Our Interview With Dan Bull

October 21, 2014 by

We sit down with everyone’s favorite British videogame rapper, Dan Bull, and discuss the finer things in life. Check it out!

Videogames, though relatively fresh in the venerable world of artistic expression, have long served as a source of great influence for many other media outlets, providing the creative backbone for movie adaptations, comic series, and music. Chief among those who deftly draw from such a rich community to fuel their creativity is none other than British rapper, Dan Bull.

Concurrent with the release of his first album, Safe, Dan discovered his knack for writing songs about videogames during an extended hospital stay in 2009 with the debut of Generation GamingSince then, he’s busily written and produced more than 80 tunes for games like Skyrim, Bioshock InfiniteGrand Theft Auto Vand many more, thrilling fans with a diverse array of lyrical styles.

While his gaming raps prove to be both catchy and clever, not all of Dan’s work is so lighthearted. As a major proponent of filesharing, Dan also reaches out to the masses with songs about the damaging effects the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), British Phonographic Industry (BPI), and Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) have on the music industry.

We here at GIZORAMA were lucky enough to steal a couple minutes of Dan’s time to ask a few questions regarding his musical endeavors, future goals, and political ideologies in the gaming community.

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John Ohm: With so many gaming songs under your belt (if you wear a belt), you must have a formula for production, right? From start to finish, what is the process and timeline of one of these raps today?

Dan Bull: I am trying my best to build a formula that will allow me to make all the music I want in a really streamlined way. I’ve been putting together templates in my music production software and with my note making, so that I don’t need to mess around with levels and formatting too much. It allows me to concentrate purely on the creative aspect which is what I really love about what I do. I also want to make as much stuff as I can before I die, so this ought to help. A rap can take as little as half a day to write and record. On the other end of the scale, for example in the case of the Bible rap with boyinaband, it took the best part of a year to research and rearrange all those rhyming biblical lines. It was worth it though.

How much time do you average playing a game before digging in and writing sick flows about it?

DB: There is honestly no average time. I have written songs about games based purely on trailers. I’m planning to write one about Prey 2, which is a game that was cancelled in development so we may never see it. All there is right now is a badass trailer and that’s enough for me.

Out of your entire discography so far, which did you have the most fun producing?

DB: The songs that are the most fun are probably the ones full of ridiculous punchlines, puns and jokes, or just silly voices. DLC PLC, Allergic to Broccoli, The Crew, etc. The most satisfying and fulfilling songs are ones where I feel they will stand the test of time, for example my Civilization rap or some of my personal album tracks.

Have developers ever reached out to you and specifically requested a song for their game, and for all the others, how do you go about picking what to rap about?

DB: Yes, and in fact this is partly how I make a living now, which is amazing. When I was little all I wanted to do was make rap music and comedy, and play computer games. Somehow this is now my actual career and it makes me stop and say “how did that happen?”. Choosing what to rap about is not too difficult because of my aim to be as prolific as possible. This means I want to rap about everything. It’s the order that is more tough. I usually prioritise things based on tying them in with major events such as a national holiday, news event or game release. This gives the video more of a chance to be seen by more people, which increases my chance of winning over new fans.

Any sneak peeks or hints as to what game raps to look forward to in the near future?

DB: All of them.

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When you’re not fighting off the Geth, running from Creepers, or supporting the Stormcloaks (please tell me you aren’t for the Imperials…), you lend your talents to a more political crowd. Chief among them being those in favor of the right to fileshare. With albums for sale on iTunes and your website, how do you “do right” by the pirate community?

DB: I used to just upload all my stuff for free so that people could download it. Then I got contacted by a digital distributor who urged me that I should start publishing all my stuff on online stores too. It took a bit of convincing but I’m glad I did as I’m now selling a couple of hundred MP3s a day. The difference between me and many artists though is that I actively encourage fans to pirate, download, remix, and do as they will with the music I’ve made. Buying MP3s is just for people who want to buy and help support my work financially.

So music to you is obviously not about the money, but in offering all your material for open download, have you noticed a trend one way or the other in terms of buying vs. taking?

DB: I can’t be sure as there are too many variables but I reckon that I have a lot more fans thanks to my open approach to sharing music. A lot of people have left comments like ‘I was going to pirate this until I saw you saying it was OK to pirate it, then I decided to pay for it’. That is really cool.

Have you encouraged any of your other musician buddies to do the same, and if so, have you noticed any kind of impact in the British music scene?

DaB: Everyone has their own approach and perhaps it won’t work for everyone. But if someone asked me for tips on how to reach a wider audience I would definitely suggest to them that free is the way to go. The other thing I always suggest is doing topical material because relevancy, although fleeting, is a powerful tool to get your words heard.

You’re given complete and utter control of the music industry, and may do with it what you please. What do you do to “fix it”?

Dan Bull: Get rid of the copyright trolls, the bullies, and the protectionists, and bring in some real progressive minds like Rick Falkvinge, Lawrence Lessig, Kim Dotcom, Peter Sunde, and errr… me? I want to be a CEO.

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Moving back into the world of videogames, what’s your impression of the industry as a whole? Should games be made available for filesharing in the same way you provide your music? 

DBI don’t particularly think games should be made available for filesharing, but I don’t see intellectual property as a valid concept. Thomas Jefferson wrote very well on this notion and it’s worth reading what he said because he put it better than I could. From a business angle, the idea of trying to sell a digital product is rather futile, and the real success stories now are people who realise that you need to sell a service. Free to play is also a phenomenal business idea, although I’m not sure it’s working out so well for the consumer. It’s early days yet, so we’ll see what happens.

Lastly, let’s talk about the latest buzz word in the gaming community. What’s your take on Gamergate and all the social buzz surrounding it?

DB: I still don’t really understand what that is. Whenever it pops up in my Twitter feed it seems to be two large groups whining at eachother about how the other group is whining too much. Have I missed something?

It’s quite possible, but far be it from me to provide my hackneyed explanation on the whole thing. I’m sure you’ve got a laundry list full of things to do, so I’d like to thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure to chat!

Dan recently released his latest album, The Garden, and gets up every morning to contemplate which games deserve his lyrical blessing. Check out his YouTube channel for more!

About Johnny Ohm

When his nose isn't diligently to the grindstone, Johnny can be found skulking around the dark corners of San Francisco's many pubs. You can contact Johnny via Twitter or ouija board.