Mutant Bass Records is a digital record label specialising in dubstep, drum’n'bass, grime and other forms of bass heavy electronic music. Everything the label has released is available for free via their Bandcamp page, so M3 approached head honcho Sam (AKA Kanji Kinetic) to discuss the pros and cons of this approach…
First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
My name’s Sam, and I produce and perform music under the name Kanji Kinetic. It’s primarily club-focused, high-energy dance music. I work with a lot of other producers and collaborate on tracks as much as possible. I also run a record label called Mutant Bass Records which has seen increasing success since its inception in January 2011.
What inspired you to start Mutant Bass Records? What is your own musical background?
I spend a lot of time on sites such as Soundcloud, often searching for lesser-known music from emerging producers to play in my sets and so forth. I found a lot of high-quality music that I felt deserved more exposure, and also the particular style that I like to make I felt was under-represented in terms of record label support. I’m into a wide range of music, I played piano and violin from a young age as well as drums and guitar, so I’m a fan of many styles from rock and metal to drum and bass, chiptune, techno and soundtracks.
What was the reasoning behind making all of the label’s releases available for free or ‘pay-asyou-please’ download?
I wanted to maximise the exposure of the music and I feel that the best way of doing that, given that we have the power of the Internet at our disposal, is to offer the music for free. I don’t feel that spending power should be a barrier to being able to enjoy music. Certainly it’s something that I’ve invested a lot of my time and money into but I feel that the free distribution method is, at least in this area of dance music, the best way to make sure you get the highest possible exposure and knowledge of your particular brand of music.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
Having previously also helped run a ‘non-free’ label, it seems to me that fans feel more connected and likely to post feedback when there is no monetary barrier to accessing the release. The breadth of exposure from allowing free downloads is definitely much greater which really is the primary aim of the label. What we miss out on is being part of the big searchable databases you find on sites such as Beatport and Junodownload, which are where a lot of DJs find much of their new music. Also the groups who package and share releases on torrent sites and so on don’t seem to pay as much attention to releases that are only via Bandcamp and the like, so we perhaps miss a little exposure through that.
On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
From experience, the figure is around 10-20%, which I’m happy with. The amount that they choose to pay is sometimes less and sometimes considerably more than what the release would ordinarily be sold for.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Currently, I mostly listen to music in lossless format (wav, flac) simply because that’s how most music is sold in the genres I listen to most at the moment (bassline, grime, UK bass). I don’t have a strong opinion on the debate about vinyl’s ‘warmth’ and so on, I’ve never been a particular vinyl aficionado, although I know many who are and its sound over a big system can be easily as good as any digital file. I prefer not to play MP3s in my sets having heard subtle differences between high-quality MP3 and lossless files over good sound systems, but I think the quality of 320kbps MP3s is often so high as to be indistinguishable from lossless.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
It’s difficult for me to say in the context of the music I currently produce and play because most tracks in the style are released as singles with remixes or 4-8 track EPs. I do think there’s a lot to be said in many genres for the ‘journey’ an album can take you on, with a distinct beginning, middle and end structure, and it would be a shame for that to be entirely lost, but the nature of digital downloads and being able to pick and choose tracks makes it difficult for that tradition to be upheld.
Do you think the internet has rendered traditional concepts of copyright obsolete, or do you think they are still relevant?
The copyright system as it stands is in many ways incompatible with today’s world. The foundations on which it was built are antiquated and ripe for abuse with the event of the Internet and digital distribution. I appreciate the need to safeguard content against actual scavengers and those who would sell it as their own, etc. The Creative Commons organisation do a good job of providing alternative terms of license for labels such as mine to apply to our works.
What do you personally think the future of music distribution will look like?
Honestly, it’s incredibly difficult to see how things will go given the current climate. I think some sites like Junodownload and Trackitdown are doing a pretty good job of online electronic music distribution in some ways but there are a few shortfalls: the sizeable cut taken by the sites, territory-based restrictions and the disproportionate extra charge for lossless files. I hope that sites such as Bandcamp will flourish and evolve as a means for independent artists and labels to distribute their music almost-directly.
Finally, what does the future have in store for Mutant Bass Records?
We’re going to continue pushing undiscovered music alongside our favourite more established artists. We’ve got a big lineup of releases already pencilled in for this year and a showcase of 8 of our artists at Glade Festival in the UK, so we’re looking forward to our profile continuing to expand throughout 2012 and beyond.