Grammy-Nominated Producer KXVI Strikes a Balance Between Artist and Entrepreneur

Norah Jones’ sultry voice filled Kavi Lybarger’s studio as Julia VonDreele snapped photos of him playing the keyboard and deftly switching from sound engineering software to checking emails on the computer. At 20 years old, Lybarger, a two-time Grammy-nominated producer who goes by the stage name KXVI, bought his first home in Colorado — an accomplishment that, to many much older than Lybarger, feels like a faraway dream.

KXVI by Julia vonDreeleLybarger, who grew up in Colorado, found music at age 14 while he was a student at Cherokee Trail High School. He was ranked at the top of his class and was a talented hockey player with dreams of playing in the NHL. However, when he clicked a suggested video about making beats in the style of the late XXXTentacion, a popular SoundCloud rapper, the trajectory of his life took a huge turn. A YouTube rabbit hole spiraled into an all-out obsession, and Lybarger found his love for music which would eventually translate into a passion for entrepreneurship.

No longer dreaming to follow in Connor McDavid’s footsteps or become valedictorian of his class, Lybarger quickly began spending all of his time on music. He hoped to drop out of high school so he could pursue music full-time, but his parents were less keen on the idea. Instead, they agreed to allow him to finish high school online and graduate early. As a still-teenaged producer, KXVI was making $1,000 to $2,000 a month by selling beats online, all without an official brand or large social media following.

Although KXVI produces exclusively hip-hop beats, ’70s soul music is his favorite genre. The samples used in Kanye West’s albums College Dropout and Late Registration captivated Lybarger. He was drawn to the raw sound of that soulful era — a spirit that he tries to capture with authenticity in his own samples.

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Lybarger finds a lot of musical inspiration in other producers and musicians, but entrepreneurship is an art form of its own — one that requires him to constantly craft and hone that side of himself. Lybarger is just as inspired by Gary Vee’s business content as he is by Drake’s music.

KXVI by Julia vonDreeleSome teenagers might be satisfied with a multi-thousand dollar paycheck every month, but Lybarger has never stopped pushing himself to dream bigger. In July 2020, he met DillyGotItBumpin, another Denver producer with massive online success. The meeting led Lybarger to realize the earning potential for his beats was higher than he ever imagined. “It lit a fire in me to see that it was possible to make that kind of money, not just in my industry, but in my own backyard,” Lybarger said. “This guy was making 10 times what I was, and he was doing it here, not in LA.”

Lybarger didn’t just set a slightly higher earning goal that month, he flat-out decided that he would continually make more money, and he did. He went from averaging $1,500 to $2,000 in the summer months of 2020 to averaging $30,000 to 40,000 monthly in the summer of 2021.

“I think of myself as half entrepreneur, half music producer,” Lybarger said. “Yes, I make music, and I make music that I believe in, but half the battle of success is knowing how to market yourself.”

What began as a daily grind of DMing hundreds of rappers in hopes that they’d use his beats has grown into a viable brand and expanding business with four employees. KXVI has a popular YouTube channel, a large Instagram audience and top-selling beats on the platforms BeatStars and Loopstash. It’s clear that Lybarger is not someone who was just in the right place at the right time in terms of online success. His work ethic is remarkable and he has built his brand strategically, brick by brick. When asked about his creative process and flow as an artist, KXVI admits that his routine is much more practical than artistic. His current workday is 12-14 hours of making beats, writing scripts for YouTube, filming and recording. With just one day off a week, he is driven to say the least.

KXVI by Julia vonDreele“People get very caught up in being artsy or needing to be in the moment. I work whether I feel like working or not. Sure, someday I’d love to be rich, living in Italy and creating whenever I want. But it’s not practical to just make art only when I feel inspired. For now, it’s more of a formula.”

When fighting to make it as a producer, Lybarger says there are two paths you can take. You can have an online presence as a creator and influencer and sell your work on those platforms, or you can work directly with bigger artists and collaborate on hit songs. Lybarger’s main goal is to do both of those things well. Many artists struggle because they aren’t business-minded. On the flip side, business-savvy individuals usually struggle with creativity. “I want to be the first to bridge the gap between the two,” Lybarger said. “I want both my music and my business skills to be good enough to build something and direct my vision with the help of a team supporting me.”

KXVI’s most notable accomplishment is his work with Bryan Lamar Simmons, better known as producer TM88. After years of studying the work of TM88, Lybarger was shocked to receive a message from him about a potential collaboration. A year after his initial contact with Simmons, KXVI received confirmation that his beat was featured on DJ Khaled’s song “Beautiful” in 2022. His work helped earn DJ Khaled Grammy nominations on his album God Did for Best Rap Album and Best Melodic Rap Performance.

His massive success in recent years has not changed Lybarger’s plans of staying in Colorado. He’s lived in Honolulu and made many visits to LA, but there’s no place like home and no replacement for family. KXVI dreams of owning his own label someday, but for now, he’s focused on building his brand and educating others who want to be successful in the industry.

Check out KXVI’s YouTube videos, and follow him on Instagram.

All photography by Julia vonDreele