Kahvi Collective

Interview received: December 8 and 9, 2016; April 2, 2017.

What is your name?

nik@kahvi.org 😉

Where are you located?

Helsinki, Finland.

Do you save any materials – digital files, emails, physical materials – related to your netlabel? Are you interested in organizing or archiving them?

I save every release in mp3 format and all cover artwork.

How do you define what is and what is not a netlabel?

Free audio releases in the form of a ‘curated’ collection.

How and when did you first learn about netlabels?

I first heard of two netlabels way back when. Kahvi and Mono211. I had a couple of releases on Mono211 and Kahvi, Kahvi being the first mp3 release they put out.

What was the first netlabel you heard of?

See above.

What are some netlabels that inspired or influenced you? Or that you admire?

Kahvi inspired me originally – and still does.

What made you decide to start your own netlabel?

I didn’t originally start it. Back in 1997 it was founded by school friends as a way to release their own music (a spin-off of the demo scene). They decided to stop running it and delete the site in 2000 so I offered to take over and have been managing it since then.

What were the reasons you had to choose releasing music for free? And why did you choose to not release physical albums?

To be honest there’s no money in releasing physical albums, unless they’re vinyl, these days. We release free music to get notable artists some more exposure. We don’t release for the sake of releasing, we release when we have something worth sharing, which is a big difference between us (a long time label) and the new labels. It’s difficult to get a foothold in the netlabel scene these days without having some serious quality. And you don’t get quality unless you have a following. Catch 22.

What is the name of your netlabel?

Kahvi Collective.

Why did you choose the name you chose?

I didn’t. But it was originally named Kahvi after Coffee. So I guess the guys thought it would be a chill out label, and I’ve pretty much carried on the philosophy.

When did you start your netlabel?

It started in 1997.

What is the focus of you netlabel?

IDM mainly, followed by ambient, chillout, easy listening and occasionally if I get something submitted which sounds different and I think the fans will like, I’ll put that out.

Are your albums released under creative commons, copyleft or copyright? Why did you choose the method you chose?

Creative Commons.

What is your relationship to the artists that you release? Do you maintain any contact once you’ve released their work? Do you help promote them outside of their release itself?

I maintain contact with some artists, though I’ve lost contact with others over the years due to them moving onto other commercial labels (Ultimae) or breaking into the big time (Liquid Stranger). The artists themselves should promote their music if it’s released elsewhere, we tend to concentrate on promoting the particular release on Kahvi.

How do you decide what artists you want to release? Do you approach them? Do they approach you? Do you have any specific guidelines that you follow? Do you act as a curator or is it all luck of the draw?

Mostly artists contact me, occasionally I’ll contact a special guest artist for a VA compilation, and if I come across any really interesting artists I’ll drop them an email. The most important thing is to keep the quality high, so only 1 out of 30 submissions actually get released.

What are your criteria for the music you curate and release?

Always high quality and in the usual Kahvi vibe. We don’t release for the sake of releasing.

How many albums have you released?

378.

Who are some of your most notable artists?

Lackluster, Esem, Liquid Stranger, Richard Devine, Solar Fields, Cell, Mark Franklin, Budha Building.

Which are some of your most significant releases?

For a couple of years we featured guest artists as the Christmas release from Ultimae, and more recently the annual Kahvi VA compilation is released at Christmas which showcases those artists who may have had a single track which was excellent but not enough material for an album. This is a highlight of the release calendar.

Do you release your own work on your netlabel? What do you think of that practice?

I do as I think the fans like my work 🙂

What do you enjoy about running your netlabel? What do you get out of it?

The feedback. That’s what it makes it all worthwhile. When somebody asks when the next release is, or when somebody says that they love Kahvi – it means I’m doing something right!

What are some difficult things about running the label? Or what are some challenges?

Occasionally I come across strange behavior on Facebook or online when somebody states that people shouldn’t take any notice or give any work to netlabels as they just steal it (?)

Has anything about it been disappointing or frustrating?

Occasionally, artists are very picky about their tracks – but then, it’s their work and pride and joy so that’s not a problem.

What keeps you motivated to continue running the netlabel when you are feeling frustrated?

The Facebook group so you can have direct contact with the fans.

How much time do you put into running the label? Approximate hours per day, week or month?

5 hours a week.

Can you describe all the work that you do on a regular basis in order to run your label?

A&R, release playlist creation, uploading to various sites, organizing cover artwork, publicity on Facebook and other sites.

In what audio format and bitrate do you release your albums?

WAV/MP3/OGG

Why did you choose that format?

Ogg has an analogue kind of feel to it, but then we went back to mp3 and later WAV.

Do you zip your files into a package, or are the albums uploaded as individual files?

Zip files.

Aside from the audio files, do you include any other types of files or information with the album?

Cover art.

What software programs do you use to run your netlabel? For converting and encoding audio, for metadata, for ftp, for making cover art, etc.

Various

Where do you share your releases? On your website? Free Music Archive? Internet Archive? Et al? A combination of these things?

Own website, and various other sites. Though I wouldn’t go near the Internet Archive – when they released the site they vacuumed everything from the net, so navigation and trying to find anything worthwhile is near impossible.

Can you explain a little bit more about how the Internet Archive vacuumed everything from the net?

When it opened it took every single thing they could find on the internet from any source without any kind of vetting or quality control. Which means the archive is full of the kind of stuff that nobody wants to actually find.

What do you do to promote your label?

News sites, Facebook, Twitter.

Do you send releases out for review? If yes, is it traditional media – review sites, magazines, blogs, etc. Or are there non-traditional methods?

Very occasionally if it’s a special release. Review sites mainly.

How much success have you had in getting people to review your releases in magazines, blogs or websites? Any frustrations regarding this?

I think they tend to pay attention when it’s a Kahvi release more than if it was from a lesser known label.

Have you had success in getting people in general to listen to your releases?

We have a cult following and some releases get downloaded 50,000 times. Music is streamed in high numbers from Mixcloud and other sites.

Do you keep track of your download numbers and, if yes, how have they changed over the years?

Increased.

How important are download numbers and number of listeners to you?

There’s no point in putting out the releases if nobody is going to listen.

Do you feel that the lack of a physical object – vinyl, cassette, eight track, etc. – is a hindrance to building an audience? To getting any media to pay attention? If yes, why do you think that is the case?

No.

Has the lack of a physical object been a problem for any of the artists that you have worked with? If it has how have you responded?

No.

In addition to promotion, publicity and releasing albums do you organize live performances or festivals for your artists?

Not as of yet.

How do you finance your netlabel, including the labor you put into it?

I love running the label, that’s enough for me.

What do you think your label’s legacy might be?

Having a cult status as a label that people actually wait for releases each month.

Do you feel that you are filling a niche that other labels are not?

As one of the oldest, yes. Quality of other netlabels is not so high these days.

What do you think about Bandcamp and any similar music hosting sites?

Bandcamp is good for getting donations for releases, and also offering lossless quality. Soundcloud isn’t really designed for netlabel releases, so I use it only for my own work.

Do you think netlabels are sustainable? If yes, what do you think the future is for them? Should there be more?

They are (Kahvi is proof of that!) but only if you build up a large fan base so that artists want to release on the label. I think many netlabels will disappear before they even start, the biggest killer for a netlabel is if nobody listens to your releases. And I think there should be more big name netlabels as many have vanished over the years for different genres that Kahvi and the existing big names don’t handle.

Do you mean that there were some big name netlabels that vanished over the years? Or that there should be big name netlabels that focus on different types of music? If it’s that some big name netlabels vanished, why do you think they disappeared?

There have been quite a few big name netlabels that have vanished over the years. I think along with Kahvi there were 6 for most of the early 00’s and they’ve all gone. There should really be big name labels that can handle different types of music. Kahvi doesn’t really handle techno, gabber or rap for example. They tend to disappear as the managers move on to real world projects.

Are there too many netlabels?

On archive.org there is. It looks like anybody has just joined, created a netlabel and then never uploaded anything. Otherwise, on Twitter there seem to be many active netlabels, and there is always a call for netlabels to release music – but I hope they only release the best quality, and don’t release just for the sake of it.

Will netlabels be obsolete before 2025?

If they’re not obsolete now, they won’t be in 2025.

Does your netlabel align with any political or philosophical positions or thoughts? Do you get involved with politics at all as a netlabel?

No.

How do you feel that netlabels as a phenomenon overlap with any other artist practices – cassette trading, mail art, etc? Is there any overlap with podcasts, podfiction/netfiction, or any other art that is distributed for free?

Cassette trading? I have no idea.

Are you aware of a chronological history of netlabels? If yes, what is it?

I know who the big names were between 2000 and 2010.

What questions would you ask other people who run netlabels?

I would ask if they’re motivated enough to keep going even if they don’t get many listeners.