5 Questions to Colin Alexander (founder, October House Records)

Recorded music has never been more accessible. Streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube are at the helm of providing free or cheap access to a treasure trove of music recordings. However, this practice faces an impossible dilemma. On the one hand, our economic system demands that investors be prioritized. On the other, artists deserve a fair share of the profits. These two forces are at odds with each other, with the artists consistently being left behind. However, there is a new record label that is seeking to change this balance in the new music field. October House Records is an artist-led record label founded on October 1, 2021 by Colin Alexander. Instead of focusing on infinite growth, they prioritize a small sampling of select artists. Releases are exclusive to the website with 85% of the income going directly to the artist. Their value is not in providing a breadth of recordings, but instead, they focus on the need for new music artists to be heard and valued. 

What is your process for deciding which artists and/or recordings to feature?

It is something of a balancing act! Our model is to release approximately eight new records, all at once, every three months. This means that there needs to be a carefully considered mix of releases that, on one hand, fulfills the expectations of our audience yet, on the other hand, surprises and challenges them, too. This variety may be in the combination of singles, EPs, full albums, and audiovisual works. It may also be in the inclusion of live recordings, too; they give the listener such a different experience to that of a studio-produced record. Stylistically, our music spans a wide range of traditions and disciplines, but is held together by the voices on our artistic panel. I would probably use the term ‘classical-plus’ – for want of a better expression!

Our two batch releases (October ’21 and January ’22) have seen 17 records added exclusively to our website and have involved the contributions of 60 composers and performers. The process of deciding how all this music should be curated into two cohesive releases meant that some records needed delaying until the second or even third release (April ’22) while some required a polite push from me to be finished and mastered in time!

What role does the artistic panel play in the curation, management, and/or development of October House Records?

The panel has a variety of roles in how O.H.R. functions. Each of the artists is a unique and distinguished voice within contemporary music, and between them, they represent an overview of what one can expect to hear from October House Records. Their initial role was to join together to show with a sense of unity that the way that music is listened to online can be improved. It is only through the cooperation of artists that a positive change is possible.

Moving forward they will continue to guide the direction of the label through their suggestions of artists and records that they themselves admire. In the first two releases alone, there were many releases that came about thanks to the way that members liaised with artists outside of our small circle. This is an organic way for both our network of artists and our audience to grow outwards whilst maintaining the core that we began with.

They are of course all invited to release through October House if and when that might be desirable and appropriate, with all other industrial ties and commitments respected. Whilst I personally coordinate the releases, I do not veto any records by members of the panel that they wish to release. They are free to include their music or collaborations in any of the quarterly batches. This means that our online library of music is not just my personal playlist! In the future, any members of the panel may coordinate a batch release, too, if they wished. I think it would be fantastic for any one of them to oversee exactly how a particular set of releases is curated.

One other role that they provide is that of feedback and development with regards to our business model and website design. There are many ideas that we adopted as a label that came from discussions with members of the panel before we launched and since, too; from how the artists’ release agreements are worded to what our website’s ‘radio’ player should look like (that’s our entire collection on shuffle mode).

inti figgis-vizueta--Photo by ella joklik

October House Records artistic panel member inti figgis-vizueta–Photo by ella joklik

How much does October House Records prioritize international personal and stylistic diversity?

The character and inherent priorities of October House began with the creation of the artistic panel. The artists that I invited to join were almost all friends and colleagues that I have known for many years. Those initial members suggested a few further artists, and so there is a maximum of one degree of separation between all of us! My musical base has always been London, and here, there is an unending diversity of musical styles and traditions that co-exist and interact. I have collaborated with many of the musicians on the panel in a range of different ways of making music, so I would say that not only is stylistic diversity a priority, but it is also unavoidable! As much as the label is London-centric, I did of course want the network of artists to spread further afield. It the nature of online recordings that they can be enjoyed anywhere in the world, and our audience is already to be found across Europe, Russia, Australia, the USA, and Japan.

October House Records artistic panel member Soosan Lolavar

Major streaming platforms like Spotify have been under fire recently due to their lack of care for artists. Does October House Records seek to be a new music alternative as it continues to grow?

In short: no. The major streaming platforms will always do their thing and be an easy way for people to listen to music that they already know. I wanted to create a small online record store that is easy to browse and that has a steady turnover of interesting and varied new material from a range of international artists. Each release has its own bespoke webpage so that a listener has access to what is essentially a digital CD sleeve containing all the artwork, liner notes, and credits – something I always greatly missed with the usual streaming sites.

The plan is not to have an ever-expanding library, but to keep it to something like 40 – 60 releases. The streaming sites do understandably come under fire, but there are problems in the music industry as a whole where there are so many layers of people taking cuts before any of the revenue reaches the artists themselves. My plan is for a label that is its own distributor. The label has to take a little cut to cover costs so as to break even, but with the artists still receiving 85%. If everyone involved in the running of the label is a musician, then we can all earn from the release of our music on the platform. I play traditional Chinese music with our copyright lawyer, and have performed in many crazy contemporary classical concerts with our website designer!

Héloïse Werner--Photo by Emma Werner

October House Records artistic panel member Héloïse Werner–Photo by Emma Werner

Is a fully ethical record label possible under our current economic system?

Yes, absolutely. I think it takes a leap of faith and a belief that we can choose how exactly we put our recordings online. I would also say that there is room for all sorts of models, and there is no single right way of doing things. It has certainly never been easier for artists to collaborate together and market their music for a global audience. The current streaming models obviously work for the most commercially-driven forms of music, but there’s no reason why we all just have to follow suit, especially if what we do is more niche. The major streaming platforms are only around a decade old, and so I don’t go along with the notion that artists can never again hope to make any money from their online work unless they are appealing to an audience of millions of listeners. You don’t need crazy numbers of listeners to make our model work. I would hope that, looking to the future, there could be many smaller curated sites where we will be able to easily discover all sorts of unusual and unique records – as well as the larger platforms for finding music that we already know. There’s no need to shop at the supermarket all the time!


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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