Nick Catchdubs Co-founder

Nick “Catchdubs” Barat is a NYC-based DJ and co-owner of indie record label Fool’s Gold.

Employees

12

Location

New York, NY

Industry

Record Label

Founded

2007

Social

At a certain point in 2007, with a music industry in the throes of a piracy endemic and on the precipice of what could perhaps be described as the streaming crisis, two New York City DJs, Alain “A-Trak” Macklovitch and Nick “Catchdubs” Barat, decided it was good time to start a record label. They called it Fool’s Gold Records. If the tide was forcefully pushing music into the direction of the purely digital and ephemeral, A-Trak and Catchdubs weren’t interested in going with flow. The two still saw value in things you could not only hear, but touch. They believed fans deserved an interface with the music they loved, an experience beyond the audio, be it their wallpapered storefront in Williamsburg or beautifully designed sleeves for vinyl records. The tangibility-forward ethos–and, not unremarkably, the label–persists today.

But for a good tactile product to mean anything, it’s got to have substance at its core. (A lasting label, or at least a respected one, cannot be built on silkscreen tees alone.) With Fool’s Gold, A-Trak and Catchdubs started organically developing talent within a genre that, in 2007, was still overlooked. Their speciality became that once-nebulous area where hip hop met electronic music. Over the last decade, their roster has remained a blend of the two. They’ve signed and released records for everyone from Kid Cudi to Lil Yachty, Danny Brown to Duck Sauce. All this while maintaining their own creative output.

Their cultural reach continues to broaden. Since 2010, Fool’s Gold has produced the DAY OFF festival, expanding from a local affair to a critically-recognized event that now encompass six cities around the world. They’ve also recently opened a shiny new storefront on Grand Street in Brooklyn. The Victorian-style wallpaper has been traded in for clean walls and sharp angles, but it, like their first space, is designed to be a welcoming intermediary between the music and its fans. A decade in, that’s still what it’s about.

Catchdubs took some time out of his understandably busy schedule to talk origin stories, turning people onto new artists, and taking pride in good taste.

nick catchdubs

Bond Street

Why the name Fool’s Gold?

Nick Catchdubs

Around the time when A-Trak and I were deciding to do the label, we each had a list of possible names. I think that each of us would admit that our respective names were pretty terrible. For his choices, I think the worst was probably Pretty Penny, and for mine, the worst was probably Knockington. At some point in this email back and forth–which neither of us have a record for, so it’s just become this apocryphal story of how we got here–Fool’s Gold was the one that we both liked. I think that in music and, specifically, in hip hop, there is this element of braggadocio and making things seem as huge and as powerful as you possibly can. But what we liked about Fool’s Gold was that it’s kind of winking at you. It’s representative of how we take this seriously but we don’t necessarily take ourselves too seriously.

Bond Street

How did you and A-Trak first meet?

Nick Catchdubs

We both met through DJing. I had been playing parties in New York and A-Trak had been coming down to New York a bunch. He was still living in Montreal at the time. We both had day jobs at the time: his day job was being Kanye’s DJ, and my job was being an editor at The Fader magazine.  We would get booked together to play at parties and we just liked what each other was into. The friendship kind of moved from there. We would be doing our respective things and trading music back and forth, talking on instant message, like, Hey, did you hear this album that just came out? Or gripeing like, Why didn’t this guy work with this producer? Why did the cover art look so bad? Why did they make this shitty video?

 

As friends of ours were making original music–moving from mixes and mashups into actual original songs–we saw that there wasn’t a label that would be a home for it to put it into proper context. The same way that a label like Ed Banger was a home for this new Parisian scene, or when Rawkus Records stood for a certain type of New York underground hip hop, or Mo Wax for a kind of UK-based beat scene in the ‘90s, Fool’s Gold was envisioned as a home for this music from whatever you want to call the scene that we and our friends were in. It’s cool that ten years later, as much as the creative world and the actual world has changed, the mission behind what we do is more or less entertainment.  It’s evolved and it’s grown with us.

nick catchdubs and a-trak

Bond Street

Beyond just supporting your friends and your music, what’s the larger ethos behind the label?

Nick Catchdubs

One thing that we always say is that Fool’s Gold is merging the world of hip hop and electronic music, which might seem like sort of an obvious thing, but it’s only recently that the world has caught up to that. Now it’s something that you don’t necessarily have to explain. When we were doing parties, even in 2007, you weren’t having hip hop nights with house interludes anymore and things were getting kind of stale. It was kind of 50 Cent-y and guys with Bluetooth earpieces and square shoes. We wanted to bring an element of fun back to it and an element of surprise.

 

I think even now, when we are booking a show like DAY OFF, we try to keep it interesting and not worry too much about, Hey, is this headliner the most famous person we can afford? It’s more like, Is this going to turn people onto new artists? And that’s what I love.  I love when people say like, Oh, yeah, the first time I saw so-and-so was at Fool’s Gold.  I didn’t know who they are, and now they are huge.  

Bond Street

Going back to you and A-Trak having day jobs. Was there a moment when you knew you could swing up into the next phase and head out on your own?

Nick Catchdubs

You know what, I will say that the thing that kind of pushed Fool’s Gold along more than anything else was probably a sense of naiveté–being young and dumb enough to not overthink it, to not be so logical in what you are doing, just follow the passion and sort of figure the rest out as you go along. Because if I had a time machine to go back and say, Hey, this is what your life is going to become by doing this, I don’t know if I would have done it. I am very glad that I did, and I say that to be candid and let people know that a lot of it is figuring it out as you go along.

Bond Street

What was the biggest hurdle you faced when starting the label?

Nick Catchdubs

Luckily it’s never been on the creative side. We have never had a lack of ideas for a sense of like, Shit, where is music going and what are the kids into these days? We never had those kinds of conversations; it’s always been really intuitive. I say this not to be cocky, but we have great taste. I put our taste against anybody in the world!

So we never have a problem in that sense; it’s just the same kinds of things that I think any small business faces, like how do you step up and how do you manage budgets and inventories and face your creative pursuits as a real business? I think that we are in a good place in that we are both smart guys and responsible, all things considered. We have always gone into everything and treated our business in a thoughtful manner. But there is no manual for this stuff. What works for one company is not going to work for another. I feel like with each year we learn more and we tighten things up. It’s exciting to be at the place that Fool’s Gold is at now, with the anniversary and the new store and a lot of upcoming projects and events.

Bond Street

How long was the new store in the pipeline before opening it?

Nick Catchdubs

It’s something that we talked about for awhile. I think that if you go back to the blueprint, it probably took about a full year to come together, and maybe half of that doing the actual construction and build-out. It’s nice, because it feels like a level up.  It feels like we were able to take out the Nintendo cartridge and blow on it and have a little bit of a refresh.

Bond Street

How valuable is it for you guys to have a store to provide that extra interface with people?

Nick Catchdubs

It’s a real concept. It’s a clubhouse, it’s a launch pad, it’s a place to take all of the stuff that we do and give it a real physicality. Every artist has a pop-up for their merchandising. This is the opposite of a pop-up. There is a permanence to it. Even when you see the materials that we use in the store, it doesn’t feel like anybody else’s thing. It has its own personality, which is very important to us.

Bond Street

How many artists did Fool’s Gold start with and how many artists are on the label now?

Nick Catchdubs

It’s interesting, because there’s been people who we worked with and continue to work with for album after album and release after release, and then there’s people who have their own chapter in the Fool’s Gold book and then they go on to do other stuff.

 

Now, almost 200 records later, there’s people like Sammy Bananas and A-Trak and myself who have been there since the very beginning and have ten years of releases to look at, and then there’s new artists like Leaf, who we have been working with for the last few years and to bring out what makes her sound special. It’s exciting to see people who you have been able to help with their growth, and watch it firsthand, and then finding a new project to bring in the next ten years. I like that it’s a constantly changing cast of characters.  Each season, is a new storyline for the label.  

Bond Street

How did you take what you have learned as an artist and apply it to how you run the label itself?

Nick Catchdubs

I think that when you are making something that is your art, it is very personal. You are the last word, and it all falls on you, for better or worse. If I am in the studio working by myself, I am kind of allowed to be relentless and merciless with my ideas. When you are working with other people, you have to be sensitive to what their deal is and what they are like. I think that A-Trak and myself are perfectionists in a lot of ways, and sometimes when you are working with a team, being a perfectionist is not a net-gain at the end. I sound like a dad right now, but you learn about patience and about communication, and I don’t think you have to sacrifice your ideals and your principles in order to do that. As much as the work counts at the end of the day, your relationship to people counts. People remember what you did as much as they remember how you made them feel. So I am proud of the fact that we have always been upfront with everybody. Nobody is waiting to murder us in an alleyway.

Bond Street

You’ve got a pretty full deck in terms of your own work and the work of the label. How do you balance all those responsibilities?

Nick Catchdubs

I think the honest answer to that is that you don’t. You never truly find that balance. For me, I would love to just be able to make stuff all day long. And I know that with the business I can’t do that. So the question is: Do I let that eat at me and be cranky all of the time? Yeah, I am cranky some of the time, but I try to just take things a day at a time. There are a lot of goals, creatively and otherwise, that I haven’t reached yet, but that’s fine. As long as I am getting closer to it with every passing day, then that’s good enough.

 

You have to focus on the process and enjoy the rise that it takes to get there. And then beyond that, just be creative with your time management. If something is important to you, you will find a way to make time for it. Like right now, with the label being busier than ever, I am physically in the office more than I would like to be. But that’s fine, because it is helping ensure that the spirit of what we do is consistent, and it’s what is necessary at this moment to grow. For my own music, that means when I go home, I am staying up late and making sure that I put some time in on whatever the latest mix is. I spend weekends learning new programs–like I am starting to do more video/film things, which is a new set of challenges and a new way to be creative. As you might feel depleted in one area after a busy week of work, you are refilling it in another. I think our best stuff has come from feeling inspired.  And if I am not feeling inspired in one aspect of my life, that just means that I have got to work hard to get inspired from another side.

Bond Street

The industry has changed a huge amount since you guys started. Where do you imagine music going from here?

Nick Catchdubs

It’s weird, because streaming is the biggest change to happen to the record industry in the past couple of years. In a lot of ways, it’s forced people to rethink the way they do business and the way they approach releases. But the positive of that is that it’s shown that the consumer has more of a desire for music than ever before. They just want you to give it to them in a way that works for their life.  You are not going to get people to start buying millions of albums again. It’s like Trump trying to bring back coal mining; it’s not going to happen.

 

You want to feed your consumer in the way that they want to be fed.  And that is not pandering, that is just being perceptive and responding. The kind of people that A-Trak and I are attracted to as possible Fool’s Gold artists have a distinct personality. So it’s like, how can we harness that personality and put it on the biggest possible platforms, whatever that platform may be? Maybe it’s being on stage; maybe it’s having a cool, beautifully packaged vinyl record; maybe it’s having a T-shirt collaboration. As long as we can help translate that personality to fans, we are doing our job.  Because fans are interested and they want to be taught and they want to learn and they want to be excited and surprised and be really over-served. As long as we are over serving our fans, we are in a good place. I think that we have to be on our toes more than ever before but that’s fine.

fool's gold

fool's gold records

Bond Street

What business expense have you most underestimated if any?

Nick Catchdubs

That’s a hard question. I think that most things are more expensive that you would think. For us, we never had benefactors really. We are not coming from a place where there is always money to burn. Our greatest resource has always been ideas.  We have had to outthink the competition if we couldn’t outspend them. You just have to be inventive. If it’s something that you are really passionate about, you will find a way to do that.

Bond Street

Do you think that those financial limitations early on were a silver lining in that it made you more nimble and scrappy?

Nick Catchdubs

Yeah, I think so.  But we have had a lot of successful records over the years and that has its own set of challenges, because you are like, Oh, shit, look at all this money in the bank, and then a couple of years later, you are like, Goddamn, what happened to all that money? And you realize you have invested it back into the company and invested it back into the artists. It’s not like we went out and bought Mercedes as soon as we had a song in a commercial somewhere. I think we have been really responsible with our funds. Stuff is expensive, and music, in some ways, is more valuable and less valuable than ever before.  So it’s like you have to get creative in terms of how you are bringing in money.

Bond Street

Are there any expenses that you see as kind of like a big waste in the rear view, or is  everything a learning experience?

Nick Catchdubs

I feel that if you are not learning, you are not growing.  With these last ten years, every year has brought new changes and new challenges, but I think we come out of the other side stronger and smarter. I wouldn’t trade any of our experiences, because it has made the label what it is.

Bond Street

You just celebrated a decade in business. Where do you see or hope Fool’s Gold is in ten years?

Nick Catchdubs

I would hope that the artists we work with continue to crossover on their own terms and we have more moments that feeling like, Damn, this song really was a part of people’s lives. Everybody wants a hit obviously, but it can take a lot of different forms now.  Sometimes the biggest song of any given year isn’t necessarily the number one Billboard record. Just to be able to create art and to create a product that resonates with people–that is super satisfying. Anybody that has been living off of making art is in a lucky position, so if we continue to do that, we are good.

I would love to see Fool’s Gold as a brand to take other forms. Right now, it’s essentially like a three-pronged business. You have the artists and the music, you have our merch and our retail, and then you have the events, the shows, the concerts. I would love to do more film and TV projects, and take the Fool’s Gold sensibilities that we bring to our releases or a party to a documentary or an original series. People want entertainment and they want content and there’s so many more ways to get it to them. Figuring out the time and energy to devote to doing that kind of stuff at a high level doesn’t come easy, but if it’s something that we want to do, we will find a way to do it.

QUICK FIRE

Bond Street

Finish this sentence, money is  _______.

Nick Catchdubs

A major issue (shout out Pitbull).

Bond Street

If you had to do another job, what would it be?

Nick Catchdubs

Comic book artist.

Bond Street

Is there a book you’ve read that’s helped you be a better business owner?

Nick Catchdubs

Robert Rodriguez “Rebel Without a Crew.” Less “business owner” specifically, but on more of an inspirational life philosophy tip about how he made his first film El Mariachi completely DIY for $7,000 and took Hollywood by surprise.

Bond Street

What business person/entrepreneur would you most like to have lunch with?

Nick Catchdubs

Shaq.

Bond Street

Favorite place in NYC for…

Bond Street

Coffee

Nick Catchdubs

Black Brick

Bond Street

Lunch

Nick Catchdubs

Meatball Shop

Bond Street

Beer or other preferred beverage

Nick Catchdubs

Kinfolk

Bond Street

Song for summer 2017 so far:

Nick Catchdubs

Playboi Carti “Magnolia.”

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