In the last year, he's earned nearly 1 million plays on Last.fm, more than 400,000 YouTube views and 20,000 Twitter followers. Billboard estimates that his 2010 debut full-length, "8Bit Heart," has been downloaded 150,000 times through his website since its release last March. Oh, and the album? It's free.
"I don't look at giving away the album for free as a missed opportunity for making money," says Curtis, 24, who has yet to hire a music manager or publicist. "I look at it as a really great first step, as an artist building a successful business." An artist that's building a business -- and buzz -- as his readies the release of his sophomore set, "RΔ," later this spring.
It's not that Curtis prefers flying without the safety net of a label's support; he just didn't want to buckle to long-term demands, a move he considered after starring in Nickelodeon's 2009 TV musical movie "Spectacular!" and being approached by Sony through Nickelodeon's Nick Records. Curtis says Sony offered "one of those really big, scary contracts that included taking my publishing for the rest of my life." Curtis instead spent 13 days writing and recording "8Bit Heart" with producer Jeff "Jadion" Wells in 2009.
Curtis started issuing singles from the album to various music blogs, and promised to release the full-length online for free once he had 8,000 Twitter followers, a mark he hit a year ago.
Curtis says that his live performances -- which included an opening slot for the Backstreet Boys' A.J. McLean at a Los Angeles show last May and "Glee" star Cory Monteith's band in January -- helped spread the word about the free release. The "8Bit" buzz started growing thanks to references to Lady Gaga and Britney Spears in "8Bit" tracks like "Beat Drop" and "Brainwash": Popular Gaga fan sites like Gaganews.com and Gagadaily.com began chattering about Curtis, driving traffic to his Twitter account and website.
Curtis currently has two shows lined up this spring: a gig alongside Sky Ferreira, DATABOY and She's the Queen at Arjanwrites.com's Superfraiche New York showcase on April 1, and an appearance at EQ Live in London on May 14. Meanwhile, Curtis wants to release his sophomore set "RΔ" this spring in a more conventional manner: with a price tag and a label, the latter of which he's currently seeking.
Listen to this exclusive megamix of four songs from "RΔ," an album Curtis says is a "diary of where my mind has been during the past year of my life, dealing with deep betrayal, heartache, sex and the exploration of what lengths someone will go to in order to achieve his destiny." He continues, "Whereas the last album was a plea for love, this album doesn't want anything to do with it."
-Additional reporting by Keith Caulfield