Kog cranks out culture

Kog Transmissions is often referred to as 'the new Flying Nun', in reference to the record label which characterised New Zealand music in the 1980s.

Kog Transmissions is often referred to as "the new Flying Nun", in reference to the record label which characterised New Zealand music in the 1980s.

Like Flying Nun, Auckland-based Kog is an indie. Like Flying Nun, it releases as many local albums - 20 in three years - as all the major labels put together. Like Flying Nun, it is arguably the local music industry's best chance of international recognition. The difference is the style of music - samplers and sequencers to Flying Nun's guitars - and the business savvy.

From its early days, Kog has been able to make money and, however modestly, pay its artists. The manufacturing costs of its first few releases were covered before the bills were even due by dance parties where the price of the CD was built into the ticket.

"Most labels start off selling 100 CDs over three months and having a really slow build-up of capital," says Chris Chetland, who founded the Kog collective with his friend Pete Collins. "We could just whack out 500 or 700 in one night and we got thousands of them out there in our first year.

"That also meant that everyone heard it and that they had a good night because they got something for free, and we were also making more money that way than if we'd distributed it through the shops."

Kog now has local distribution via Universal Music and Chetland recently returned from his third trip to Europe this year, where he negotiated distribution deals with labels in Europe and France. His key selling tool was the Kog MegaRom, a CD-Rom funded from a Creative New Zealand grant.

Costs are a fraction of those for most major-label projects, because Kog artists (typically solo producers or duos) record themselves, finishing off and mastering CDs at Kog's $100,000 in-house studio, which in turn was partly funded by Chetland's $40,000 student loan.

The in-house facilities also bring in revenue from other businesses, for which Kog makes videos and presentations, and from licensing of music for advertisements such as the BankDirect TV campaign. Licensing is now running at one or two tracks a week and Kog has set up a publishing wing to handle the business.

But the big promise is exporting. Europe could turn sales for a big Kog release from 5000 to 50,000. That would mean a reliable living for everyone, and that Chetland could live in a house, rather than at the Kog premises.

"And even apart from the economic side, the thing about music is that it makes people feel good," Chetland says. "I think seeing New Zealand art doing well overseas would be really positive for the whole social environment."

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