A bewitching Wilmington, Del., singer named Bullette spent three years of "languid and bittersweet study" recording her debut album, The Secrets. Then she gave all the music away.
Bullette made Mp3s of each new song available for free download on her web site, then sent notes to a group of influential MP3 bloggers.
What sort of strategy is this? A winner.
"I'm not the sort to download a full album and give it three consecutive listens at 2:30 a.m. on a weeknight, but that's exactly what happened next," wrote The Mystical Beast. The Beast concluded Bullette had created "the most original and intriguing album of 2005," an eccletic work from an outsider artist influenced by Nancy Sinatra, Marc Bolan, Alex Chilton and Loretta Lynn. Beast raved about "the dropped beats, stream-of-consciousness melodies, unselfconscious lyrics, and ultra-creative-on-a-shoestring-budget arrangements."
David Gutowski, an ex-Philadelphian who writes the Largehearted Boy mp3 blog, was similarly stunned. In an email, he wrote, "Unlike most unsolicited, unsigned artists who have sent me their work, hers is simply amazing."
The singer, whose full name is Monika Bullette and has played in a number of local bands, has posted the notices of adulation on her website, where all of the music can be found - for now. Those wanting hard copies of the music can send her $10. Why pay when it can come for free? To support her. And to receive in the mail what Uncommon Folk called one of her "stunningly designed triple velum covers with a hand painted liner note sheet."
"Possibly my favorite album of 2005 so far," wrote the British blogger Simon at Spoilt Victorian Child, who went cuckoo over Bullette's "Little Bird" song. "Now you know me ...a bit of a miserable bugger most of the time, but I swear this track never fails to raise a big smile, and the whistling towards the end is just wonderful."
The track I'm listening to most? The Stereolabesque "We Are Not From Sugar.
By email, Monika Bullette explained her thinking:
Underground poets, underground writers, and artists have always found a way to get their works to the hands of interested receivers. I want my songs to be heard. They were not made to be haggled over, poked and prodded to gain the highest profit. I am lucky enough to have these songs ready at a time when iPods and MP3s and blogs have converged so that there is an interest in finding music (and not just top 40) over the Internet. With the explosion of podcasts, everyone wants to be their own dj and is looking for songs that not everyone else has heard. I've received some good feedback from http://ipodderx.com:/, http://phlow.de/, http://www.starfrosch.ch/, among others. With DIY I also keep my independence. One glance at the most recent music business sob stories from Fiona Apple to Aimee Mann underscores that with the umbrella of a record contract you lose the freedom to decide - time constraints, touring obligations, "It's not a single", etc. Also see - The Problem With Music - by Steve Albini - http://www.negativland.com/albini.html
The campaign is going well. Every day I find a new venue to gain visitors whether it be a podcast forum, a online music zine, an indie radio station, or blogs - just adding to the snowball that started rolling when The Mystical Beast, Spoiled Victorian Child, Largehearted Boy, and other music blogs paid attention to the email and packages I sent to them. "The Secrets" continues to gather wonderful reviews from all over the world: Taiwan, Iceland, Sweden, France, Italy, UK, China, etc. There have been visitors from as far as Singapore, India, Chile, Hungary, and Malaysia. It is well worth the expense of the bandwidth to know that the songs are getting ears worldwide.
I have a MySpace account which passively streams some of my songs and allows people to make comments, become my "friend", and be directed to my main site: www.bullette.net. Other online communities like Blogger and LiveJournal have brought people to Bullette by bouncing around posts like "Bands to Watch" or "New Favorite Songs".
I released "The Secrets" online on 5/5/05 as free individual mp3s as well as a free zip of the entire album with lyrics and artwork. As of today there have been 1,441 downloads of the full album zip - I highly doubt that in 5 weeks time an unsigned artist with no distribution contract could sell 1,441 albums. And this does not count the individual song downloads and songs hosted on MP3 blogs, download.com, hellthy.com, and other mp3 repositories.
Now the question of "if you give it away, do you have anything left to sell?" - well, not everyone has an iPod, the skills or patience to find new music online, or even access to the Internet.
I have devised a physical album which I sell to people who would prefer a disc and send to radio, print, and web venues that prefer a disc to review. This is a limited edition slimline with velum and hand painted paper inserts of my own design - each unique - for $10 postpaid in US and $15 worldwide.
Although this is not a money making venture, I could see "The Secrets" getting picked up by a limited distribution deal and pressed and packaged as I had envisioned - while I retained all rights to the songs and the distributor gets a cut of the profit. Or perhaps a song will be featured in a soundtrack or TV show. Or with enough interest in my debut album, I could sell my next online with a built-in fan base.
My short term goal is to give the recording industry a little shake - (see http://pforportland.blogspot.com/2005/05/believe-at-least-some-of-hype.html ) and get "The Secrets" heard.