Interview with Alex Cowles from Cut Records

Untitled-2Cut Records recently changed their release model from a pay-what-you want model at Bandcamp to a subscription model. 12$ gets you 12 releases. We talked with Cut founder Alex Cowles about his own music, running Cut and the recent changes.

Could you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Hey – my name’s Alex and I produce as DFRNT, AGC Esquire and Hero Hero. I run Echodub and Cut labels and I’m a writer for The Baltic Scene, here in Latvia. I also have a few other projects under my hat – I guess I’m a jack of all trades.

How did you get into netaudio?
Well I’ve always been a huge internet user – I spend vast swathes of time online soaking up information and doing research. Disappearing down Wikipedia-holes and so on. Coupled with a love for music, it just seemed like a natural thing – I spend loads of time online listening and exploring music and sound – and the rise of free labels and netlabels over the past few years has meant an abundance of material for me to immerse myself in. When I see something I like – I often like to try and get involved, so it made sense for me to give the whole netlabel thing a go too – which was how Cut started, back in 2011.

You produce music under a whole array of aliases. Why not just use a single name (to rule them all)?
Haha, well – I tire sometimes of the whole “DFRNT” no-vowels thing. I don’t really like telling people. It’s easy to type – but a nightmare to explain in person. “oh it’s different, but without the vowels and only one ‘f’ and it’s not D-front” blah blah – it seemed like a great idea when I came up with it – back when really only a couple of people had done it – namely MSTRKRFT and maybe one other I don’t recall. Now it’s kinda played out. Everyone’s got their little all-caps no-vowels alias on the go!

So because I was a bit sick of it, I’m always open to trying new names, and I always feel a new genre should probably have a new name, so I’m not driving my audience crazy with a complete genre-body-swerve. I think people have certain expectations, and if you push that too much, it’ll turn them off. So the AGC Esquire stuff is kinda cheesy retro-futurism stuff, and the Hero Hero is strictly hip hop. DFRNT is there for house/techno/deep/electronica stuff. I actually have a couple of other aliases too – but I’m trying not to divulge those.

When and why did you found Cut Records?
January 2011 – and I wanted to present music that was free, but felt like it was properly done – giving value to the whole free music thing. Before then I felt people would see “free” and assume it was crap. Off-cuts from artists who didn’t care or something. I wanted to dispell that myth and show people it could be done properly – so Cut was born. It worked for 3 years I guess!

Do you focus on specific styles of music?
Well, it was a specific “feeling” for me more than a genre. It had to be music that made me feel good – deep music was always going to be the style I went for – but it had to have that sort of emotional quality – and there was no pressure to make it dancefloor friendly for sales figures either. That was nice. It felt like a very easy-going organic thing when I started. Still does I guess.

What is your philosophy for releasing new material at Cut?
Right now, I want to put out music I like – stuff that fits with our catalogue so far (which I’m really proud of) but also stuff that doesn’t get too comfortable. I need it to be deep (as ever) and probably have some sort of emotional impact on me – but really, the remit for a release is that I have to like it. It has to click with me in a certain way.

Let’s not beat around the bush any longer. The new subscription model. Could you explain why you chose to switch to this model?
Well I put a big explanation on the site which you can still see, but basically it’s like this… Putting out free music properly costs money. It got to the point where we had 14,000 people on a mailing list who I would email every time we released something. To email that many people required an app like Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor – and if you check their pricing models you’ll see that it was costing me upwards of $100 to email that many people. Add to that the mastering costs, and the fact that I had to buy Bandcamp credits – and we’re talking a fairly hefty fee for each release when I was putting it out – and the kind people who donated some money for each release wasn’t quite providing enough to cover those costs (nowhere near in fact) which was a shame.

For a while it scaled really nicely – but if got out of control about a year ago. I tried to include sponsorship or ads, but it didn’t really work – and so it felt like time to switch and try something slightly different.

I really wish I could have done it all for free – but alas, you live and learn – so I’m trying “cheap” instead of free – and hoping that it doesn’t reflect badly on the releases.

Did you get any feedback on the switch yet? How did the fans take it?
Well it was just a small percentage of people who signed up from the 14,000 – but those who decided to have told me it was a good move. People don’t seem to mind such a small charge – and a handful of people have actually even asked to pay up-front for 12 months of releases and stuff – so I think slowly it’ll build up and we’ll get a strong list again – but it feels a little bit like starting from scratch.

I don’t mind too much – but the setback now is just convincing people that the label has an audience – with considerably less subscribers, and a sort of barrier to non-members, people’s music won’t get so widely heard, which is frustrating, but that’s just the way it’s going to be for a while.

What about the artists? Do they get a cut? (no pun intended)
The artists will get a cut of anything that people buy through bandcamp – each release is actually available through bandcamp still – at a premium. $3 or $5 – which is the cost of 3 or 5 releases if they were a subscriber – so there’s an incentive to subscribe – but basically I’d like to get through this stage to a point where I can give artists an up-front fee. I give them x amount for each track, and then they’ll probably end up getting much more than they would with just a 50% of sales deal. That’s the ideal – but it’ll probably take a few months or a year or so before I build up that size of a membership. I’m hopeful though.

Could you give us a sneak peek at the next thing you have in store for subscribers?
It’s just come back from mastering, and it’s this beautiful EP by a Lithuanian producer called Fingalick, who’s doing big things at the moment – he goes from strength to strength every time I see him perform, and I’ve been wanting to put some of his music out for about a year now.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Well I guess it’s worth mentioning that Cut is now accepting demo material again. For a long time it was a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” type of thing – but I’m very keen to hear new music now – I welcome it. I love discovering new producers, and with release slots opening up now, there’s no better time to be accepting demos!

This interview was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.

J. Butler – So Long, Voyager

00_-_j_butler_-_so_long_voyager_-_cover_image_fullWhen I’m shuffling through my playlist, I’ve more than once been delighted by some tune I didn’t remember downloading. A surprisingly large amount of those releases have something in common: a heart-shaped cover. The trademark cover design by the Basic_Sounds netlabel is present for ‘So Long, Voyager’ as well, and I imagine many of our readers might be just as intrigued as I was when I first heard this release.

From the Basic-Sounds website:

“Pittsburgh based sound artist, J. Butler creates masterful contemporary ambient works with guitar pedals, custom electronics and tape loops”

Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a romantic and a gearhead (the two are not mutually exclusive, but try explaining that to your significant other), but I always love when electronic music is made with more than just DAW’s and software sequencers. While sounds may not always be tweaked to perfection, there’s often a lot of what can only be described as “heart” to be found in compositions made this way. You can actually hear this pretty well in all three tracks on ‘So Long, Voyager’. On a somewhat unrelated note: I’m still surprised by how loud these ambient pieces actually sound. So much so, in fact, I went ahead and had a look at the waveforms of these tracks. Warning: (some) compressing has been done.

Yes, yes, get on with it. What does the release sound like? You mean you haven’t clicked the audio preview at the bottom of the article yet? ‘So Long, Voyager’ is an ambient release, so you can pretty much expect there to be no drum lines or even much rhythm to shape the tracks. Faint guitar notes and synth pads are compressed into oblivion, and then brought back to life with copious amounts of reverb. All with a pleasing dose of crackling and pinch of noise in the high end of the spectrum.

‘So Long, Voyager’ is not the most subtle ambient release I’ve ever listened to, nor the most soothing. Yet, there’s something here that I connected with almost instantly. And did I mention it is loud as hell?

J. Butler – Heliosphere

 

Links:
Release Page
J Butler Homepage
Bandcamp
Twitter


This review was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.