Doing things yourself can save you money in the long run, both at the time of producing a piece of work as well as retaining the rights to your work.
In an age where managers, booking agents and promoters are taking a cut of the pie, some bands and individuals choose to do it all themselves. One of those people is Marcel Cuthbertson, known to most as Moose, who’s been behind a whole lot of Melbourne’s hardcore and punk scene shows, releases and festivals.
We had the chance to chat with Moose about how and why he does it himself, and where this ethos comes from.
Thanks for your time! You do a lot for the Melbourne music scene, but how do you define what you do?
No worries at all thank you for having me! Really appreciate it.
I guess I just see myself as a participant – I love being creative in any way that I can and music has so many ways in which you can do that like playing in bands, recording, booking shows (not my favourite thing if I’m being honest), art and design, physical media, photography and so on. I don’t really consider myself a “mover-and-shaker” in the scene or anything – I’m just happy to be involved, it’s just a nice coincidence that I have a lot of interests that overlap.
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How did you get into music in the first place?
I have been obsessed with music since I was a little kid. Interestingly I think the main appeal for me initially was my parent’s cassette recorder and the fact that you could dub tapes at high speed (I am really showing my age with that answer). I was absolutely fascinated by my dad’s slew of home-dubbed cassettes (he used to borrow records and record them and make his own j-cards which definitely informed my path into releasing my own music).
Raiding his tapes and CDs is how I got into bands like The Doors, INXS, The Clash etc. One night he and were watching Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the scene where old boy loses the card game to the cheating porno guy came on and the opening chords of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges rung out of our TV and I was like “dad what is this” and he said “that’s Iggy Stooge”. I tell that story all the time but that song is over 50 years old, and is there a more bone-chilling riff in existence? Objectively – no.
Like a lot of people in the early-2000s my earliest exposure to shows was bands playing street punk/pop-punk/ska etc. I started playing bass when I was 13 because my friend played guitar and he and I always would talk about doing a band. We probably had more name changes than we did practices but we did have one where we got a Green Day song kind of down.
Metalcore was massive at the time which didn’t resonate with me heaps but seeing Straightjacket Nation and Jungle Fever on the same gig is what really made me want to play in a band because it was closest to what I liked and I felt like I could write it and do it. Turns out it was harder than it looked because those are two truly superior bands. My first few bands were pretty bad (I mean really bad) so if you’re young and reading this just remember you have to start somewhere and you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs or whatever the saying is. Keep at it.
And where are you at right now?
Right now I’m playing in Hacker, RAT BAIT and Lothario. I’ve got a solo project called New Coke that I hope to play with live eventually, and am working on a new band called Armour – a bunch of the songs of which are post-punk demos I wrote like seven years ago. So it’s cool that they’ll see the light of day soon!
I guess when I was younger I was more into making stuff like zines and being more of an agitator/little prick but you eventually grow out of those things a bit. It’s a shame that I don’t do much writing anymore because I used to really enjoy it – I think things like social media, Discogs and Spotify and so on have taken some of the biggest joys out of music. You have any record, photo or piece of music at your fingertips which has made things like distros, zines and the like a little bit redundant, which I think is very sad. I seem to spend as much time thinking about what I’m going to promote on Instagram as I do creating things which is kind of tiresome.
On a more positive note, two years of lockdown in Victoria meant I had heaps of time to learn new things. I tinkered with graphic design/video editing/animation for years but I always found Photoshop so daunting. Because I was studying at Swinburne at the time I had free access to the whole Adobe suite so I really made learning how to use it properly a focus for myself. I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do, but people have been really encouraging and supportive which is very cool. Knowing heaps of people in bands helps because there’s always shows on that need a poster!
Why do you choose to do it all yourself? Why not hire a booking agent or manager?
I have to level with you here… even if I was interested pursuing avenues like that, which I never have been particularly, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to begin.
Secondly, I am just too obsessive and too much of a control freak to make that kind of relationship work. It is just a world that is completely foreign to me and there has never been any overlap.
I’m not the like, greatest networker or anything, but through local music I’ve been able to play all over the USA (twice) and in South East Asia, play on and contribute to countless releases, and basically do whatever I’ve wanted to. Any off-hand experience I hear about involving industry types just seems kind of irritating and more of a hindrance than anything else.
I hate the deflating feeling of getting really excited for a band when they get a great support slot on a tour but then you hear about all the drawbacks like how it inhibits them from playing gigs surrounding the dates they want to do, cuts from merch, getting heckled by idiots, paid nothing and so on and so forth. It’s just not for me I guess.
Unfortunately I do wonder how sustainable the “stubborn DIY mindset” is moving forward – like I alluded to in the previous answer I’m spending more and more time on online promotion and with the exertion of the algorithmic dominance of Spotify, Instagram, YouTube and the like it’s hard not to see a future where independent musicians are fighting for a tiny slither of people’s attention. Which is not for a second to say I am not complicit in this – I have become so lazy with physical promotion of gigs and will generally just chuck fliers “on the grid” and hope for the best. I look at pasted up posters around the city and on the odd chance they’re music related, they’re usually for massive shows, and most of the time it’s just a new burger at McDonald’s or ads for online dating or something.
What I’m trying to articulate (very poorly) is that while we’ve never been more “connected” in a sense, the further music pushes into the digital domain the more power is lost – in my opinion – by independent artists. A great example of this is the uncertain future of Bandcamp (something I prattle on about constantly to anyone who listens).
I’m not one of those people that is like “YA HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE PHYSICAL” and I don’t have like 10,000 DVDs in my cupboard or anything but (from a consumer standpoint at least) I detest few things more than having to pay monthly subscriptions for media.
I have accepted that Spotify is how most people interact with music these days, but I think while it has certainly made the end-user experience much more convenient and easy – the flip side of that equation is how it pushes independent music further into the margins. Even the difference between the early 2010s when I was releasing music regularly as an independent label, to now, is stark. Then, only a handful of my releases were available on Spotify and it was something I rarely thought about. Not only was it much easier to move physical units at that time, promotion was much more cost-effective – having a free Bandcamp (or Soundcloud or YouTube, whatever your poison) account and a free BigCartel account was enough.
You could hit upload on your songs and they’d be on the internet immediately, and you were in control of how your music and your products were presented. Bandcamp pages look so dated now but at the time it was an incredibly powerful tool at the disposal of every independent musician. Everything was centralised and you held all of the control.
It’s my view that Spotify removes so much of that agency from artists. You need a (often paid, mine is pretty expensive) publisher to even have songs on there in the first place. Your songs will get mixed up with other artists with the same name, putting your shows on your “page” requires using another service, putting merch or physical music for sale on there requires a (paid) Shopify account… If I wanted to work in e-commerce I would but I don’t. These things sound trivial but when your margins are so thin they add up. And that’s forgetting how miniscule streaming payouts are in the first place.
It’s possible that I’m showing my age again, but I really couldn’t care less about a band releasing a digital single. But “the Spotify age” seems determined to make things like “the album” redundant, and instead of spending time and focussing on albums as an entity bands seem to lack any object permanence and want to fart out a song, do a slick video and try to get more followers on social media. At my most cynical it seems as if music has become an unending quest to try and understand how online platforms and their algorithms work, and less about music as a craft. Songs are now just “digital content”, forgotten about weeks after they were made, surpassed by the next one lucky enough to be caught by the next set of 1’s and 0’s.
So, with all of this in mind, (and sorry to answer this question in such a roundabout way) further compromises in artistic agency and freedom in The Real World (i.e. gigs, tours and so on) doesn’t interest me. I guess ultimately I just see “industry types” as looking at music and seeing an opportunity to make money, and as cynical and beaten down by it as I am I still see an opportunity to be creative.
What do you see as your role in the music scene?
My friend Robert from Life.Lair.Regret Records (cool DIY hardcore label) always talks about how much he wants to see bands win. I love that, and I think the older I get the more I start thinking about how I can lift other people up and just how much difference you can make by encouraging other people instead of competing with them. I’ve been extremely lucky in my life, so it’s also very important to recognise when you need to step back and let other people have space to express themselves. Music has given me so much so if I can help other people get there too, I want to. To paraphrase my friend Lewis, the more people care about something, the more it benefits that thing, and any success should be considered shared success because one person cannot succeed without the help of others! Apathy is cancerous and self-serving, so CARE.
Can you give us a quick rundown of where you think the Melbourne alternative music scene is at?
Melbourne is buzzing post-COVID. There’s so much going on I rarely can come close to even getting to all the stuff I want to go to. Heaps of bands seemed to either hone their craft or start up over lockdown and there’s just stuff happening all the time now which is sick. I will say one thing, playing music with young people is so mad and you should do it, you won’t spend your whole practice complaining about things you’ll just keep on rocking. Very cool. I guess that’s probably the one gap I could identify to mention – there’s always room for more all ages shows.
Thanks for your time! How can people get more involved in building their own music scene and doing it themselves?
It sounds like trite advice but shoot your shot and keep at it. There was a time when my bands were terrible and nobody cared about them, there was a time when my designs sucked, there was a time when I would go to shows and know nobody… you get the point.
Most importantly, be yourself and do it yourself, for yourself.