(Photo by: Daniel Parisi)
I got to sit down with Dj Cutman, one of the world’s most recognized video game music remixers to talk about being a full time musician, owning a own record label, and how he has turned his love for gaming and music into a sustainable career.
CL: For those unfamiliar with your music, how would you summarize the works of Dj Cutman and your label GameChops?
CUTMAN: As Dj CUTMAN, I try to best represent the diverse worlds of chiptune and video game music, through remixes, DJ sets, and performances. My record label GameChops is the world’s largest licensed provider of high-quality video game remixes and cover songs.
CL: Being Dj CUTMAN and the labelhead for GameChops is now your full time job, but it wasn’t always that way. When did you decide to cut the cord on your 9-5 job and what was the tipping point?
CUTMAN: The honest answer? My job got cut, it wasn’t my decision. I decided, rather than hunt for another desk job that left me feeling unfulfilled every day, to try to make my rent through music. I hustled to get every show I could, and released any music I had been sitting on in hopes of making ends meet. By the end of the month, I had covered my rent! And I’ve basically just kept doing this, finding new ways to make my art and make a living off it!
CL: Remixing copywritten material sounds like it could be a logistical nightmare, not only from a legal standpoint, but a creative perspective. Can you walk us through the process of getting clearance and how you stay motivated when someone says no to a remix?
CUTMAN: I work with a San Francisco based company called Loudr to help my license my remixes for GameChops. They handle all the dirty work, contacting rights-holders, withholding license fees from sales, and all that stuff. I love video game music, and as a DJ remixing comes naturally to me. It’s my way of paying homage to the composers and producers I really admire. If I can’t get a license to a remix, I usually just put it out for free, or keep it on my DJ computer to play at shows.
CL: Do you think doing music full time has taken away from the fun of producing material, and if so how have you stayed motivated?
CUTMAN: Oh yes, definitely. Since moving to music full time, I do less actual music production than I did before. Managing GameChops is a lot of communication with artists and musicians, technical processing (mastering, design work, website maintenance) and generally keeping track of a thousand things at once. But I like it! I usually find I need to close myself off from the world to actually get some of my personal music done. I just released an album called Fantasy Grooves [ music.djcutman.com/album/fantasy-grooves ] that was 10 months in the works, the only way I could finish it was during my vacation in Europe when my phone/email wasn’t working! I guess I gotta take the creative time where I can get it.
(Photo by Villecco Media)
CL: Your music and brand seems to of found a good home among video gaming conventions and the like. Was this the end game you were shooting for, or is it something that kind of just happened over time? And with that do you think the convention scene has been a large factor in your success, or rather you became successful and then started playing cons?
CUTMAN: The Dj CUTMAN brand definitely happened organically. I started going to conventions in 2010 and I knew I had to contribute to the scene. It’s just so cool, so many people coming together to celebrate video games or whatever they love. My goal with GameChops was to “legitimize” video game music and remixes, which is why I decided to license our albums, all while providing opportunity for the remixers and producers who create music based on games. I remember two of my favorite video game remixers, Ben Briggs and bLiNd. They had made some of my favorite songs of all time… and I had found them on Facebook and learned they weren’t working on music professionally. These were my favorite producers! I thought to myself… there’s got to be something I can do to help. When I met Ben at a MAGFest, I told him I was thinking of starting a label for game music, and he told me “You have to!” the rest, is history I guess.
CL: Tell me about your fanbase, or as you endearingly call them, the “CutFam.” You seem to have alot of super fans that are very vocal online about the content you produce, what do you think makes them so dedicated?
CUTMAN: I like to think I have a relationship with my fans and friends surrounding the music I make. Thanks to sites like Twitter and Twitch, I can directly interact with so many people and build real friendships. I think that is key for being successful today, you had to generally care about the people you’re making the content for. When you do, they support you, sometimes in unexpected and wonderful ways.
CL: Many creatives (me included) would say working full time doing something you love sounds like a dream come true. What were some unexpected challenges of becoming your own boss? Also any advice you could give for someone wanting to make music their main source of income?
CUTMAN: Scheduling and keeping track of projects is always a challenge. I keep a running “To Do” list that I check and update multiple times a day through a program called EverNote (I highly recommend this app, btw. Syncs to desktop/web/phone, free to use, everything is everywhere). The biggest challenge I still face is overworking some times and being burned out the next day. Since everything is on my own schedule, there’s never a clear time when I’m “done with work for the day”, its up to my to throttle my productivity so I can keep momentum up day-to-day.
(“You Just Added Drums” – Cutman Plays)
CL: I’m a huge fan of your “Cutman Rants” segments you post from time to time on your youtube channel. They are videos dedicated to disarming hater comments and dispelling the rumors about being a laptop musician. Have these made an impact on the online feedback you get on your music and videos?
CUTMAN: I learned when you post a rant video all of your friends start trolling you with your own one-liners.
CL: Any parting words, insights, shout outs?
CUTMAN: I think it’s important, no matter what we do, that we give it our all. A lot of times our taste will exceed our ability, so don’t feel bad if you’re not 100% happy with a new song or piece of art, just do everything you can with it, post it, and move on to the next thing. You can always delete, edit, revise, or reboot any project. If you want to survive, you have to thrive: Keep posting whatever/whenever you can. As your portfolio grows, so will the audience, as as your audience grows, so will opportunity.