When recommendations go viral: how a ‘love bomb’ transformed aspiring musician’s YouTube channel

Dan Bull is a musician who has – it could be said – been born from the internet. The ‘geeky rapper’ records raps and catchy tunes about anything from computer games to internet copyright laws, makes them into videos and then uploads them to his YouTube channel, which now has over 185,000 subscribers. Far from an overnight success, it has taken him a 6 years to get to this point. He hasn’t got a record deal and gives his music away for free, sometimes inviting people to contribute what they feel like it.

But Dan decided last week to help out a fellow musician. He created a ‘love bomb’.

Dan explains, “As well as being a creator, I also browse YouTube a lot and am always discovering gems that nobody seems to know about. There are a lot of things that deserve to be seen by more people, and I realised with my subscriber base I had the power to do that. I also wanted a way to connect with my subscribers and make us all feel like part of a positive movement.”

Syd R Duke was one of many artists who had previously reached out to Dan and with Nick Drake overtones, Dan fell in love with his acoustic style. But despite toiling away recording dozens of songs and videos, Syd only had 37 subscribers. He was the perfect target for Dan’s first ‘love bomb’: an appeal to his subscribers to check out Syd’s work and subscribe to his channel if they liked it.

My connection to Dan was through a client project about three years ago and since then I’ve followed his career and seen how he’s gone on to build up this massive following. After seeing his ‘love bomb’ appeal, I had to check out Syd’s work and, being a fan of acoustic music, subscribed to his channel, downloaded My Witness Is The Empty Sky from his website and dropped a couple of quid in Syd’s donations box (top tunes, in my opinion, a toss up between Apollo and Truth).

I wasn’t alone. Syd’s subscriber base has gone from 37 to 3,166 (at time of writing), generating hundreds of comments on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

“I didn’t know how people would respond to it, I was expecting some hostility or accusations that I was on commission or being nepotistic,” continues Dan. “The response was overwhelmingly positive though. The thing that made me happier than seeing everyone flocking to Syd’s channel was seeing the reaction of Syd himself. He has uploaded a couple of videos since the Lovebomb and is grinning from ear to ear in both of them. That makes me grin too!”

So, what does Syd think?

“It’s been absolutely mind blowing, Dan’s such a generous guy for taking his time to do this for me. And he has wonderful subscribers, I’ve had more enthusiastic, supportive and gratifying comments and messages in the last 24 hours than I know what to do with! Someone even offered to help me update my website.”

And Syd’s story? He’s a 24 year old former Cambridge choir singer who recorded The Time Waster EP as a submission for his music degree at Bristol University. Since graduating he worked for Subway for a year, before becoming a music teacher, which he loves and manages to just about make a living out of.

Interestingly Syd’s dissertation was about how the internet has contributed to changes in attitudes towards music copyright. Syd says, “My favourite comment written in the margin by the professor who marked it: ‘…it almost sounds as if you advocate the acceptance of piracy because of the creative potential.’ This is a far better summary of the dissertation than I could give.”

The internet, and YouTube in particular, offers a more promising opportunity for aspiring musicians than chasing a record contract, as Dan explains. “When I started out making music on YouTube it was more of an ego thing than anything. It was just gratifying to know that someone new was enjoying my work. Then YouTube introduced the partner program, which I joined at the end of 2011, allowing me to take a share of revenue from ads on my videos. Very shortly after that I had a viral hit that dwarfed anything before and since then I’ve gradually built up my subscriber base so that it has critical mass now.”

So what advice does Dan give to aspiring musicians setting out?

“The thing that underpins everything else is that you have to have fun. If you aren’t enjoying your way of working, then it will all be pretty hollow. I think that’s one of the key reasons why corporate advertisers struggle to succeed in the YouTube/viral arena. It is very difficult to emulate the raw passion that amateurs have.”

So, having helped to give Syd R Duke a digital leg-up, Dan’s keen to record more music himself. He says another ‘love bomb’ could be on the cards, but it’s the music he really loves making. I’m sure his 185,000 subscribers agree.

Check out Dan Bull’s YouTube channel and Syd R Duke’s YouTube channel (apparently a fifth album is in the making).

In the meantime, here’s one of Dan’s tunes to play out to:

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