Interview with Alex Cowles from Cut Records

Cut 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 (note: here), 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! 😀
Simon Van Bockstal Written by:

Simon Van Bockstal, or Hushfield, is based in Ghent, Belgium. He is a freelance reviewer and musician (previously known as ‘The Quiet Orchestra’ and ‘Droidmusik’) raised on a diet of moody ambient and glitchy beats. A turntable with Chopin records and a drumcomputer are his idea of starting a party. He spends most of his time locked in the basement with cables, knobs and netlabel culture.

One Comment

  1. May 26, 2014

    good luck with the new approach!

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