PopMark Media’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Indie Record Label Trades in Quick Sale for Long-Term Relationships

Jul 10, 2012 4:50 PM

photo of Playing In Traffic Records

From left: Kevin Wommack, photographer Jon Pattillo, Whitaker Elledge, and Troupe Gammage of SPEAK during a photo shoot.

Do a search for indie record labels, and you’ll find, well, a lot. We know because we’re constantly checking them out to see who’s gotten in (and out of) the game and what they’re doing. That’s how we came across Playing in Traffic Records. Not unlike others, the label offers artist development, promotion, touring, and so on, but with one unique twist that we don’t see very often: They’re not in it for the quick sale, but rather, for the long haul. Imagine that.

When he founded Playing in Traffic Records in 2009, Kevin Wommack had a pretty good sense of the kind of record label he wanted to create. By then, he had decades of industry experience under his belt, previously founding the music management company Loophole Music Management 25 years earlier in 1984. With the band Omar and the Howlers on the Loophole roster, along with singer/songwriter Sara Hickman and rock musician Ian Moore, Wommack was introduced to a new band that blew him out of the water. The band was Los Lonely Boys. Wommack took them from the trailer they were living in to the national stage and Grammy Award winning/multi-Platinum recording artist status.

After signing several more young rock bands, Wommack and his partners—Whitaker Elledge, who joined the company in 2007, and Mary Jurey, who signed on in 2010—realized that Loophole was doing more than a just managing; it was providing full artist development services for its clients. The revelation led to the birth of Playing in Traffic.

“As managers, we were putting our own money into artist development and pitching them to labels, so it made more sense for us to form our own label,” says Elledge. Having Los Lonely Boys on the roster enabled the fledgling indie label to obtain a solid distribution deal with Sony Red, and its signing of the UK band, The Dunwells opened the door to a distribution deal with Universal, launching the label’s distribution arm, which afforded it a nice advantage. But there was something else that the label wanted to offer its artists: time.

Long-Haul Philosophy
If you were to ask Elledge what defines Playing in Traffic, he’d say it’s the label's artists, who now include Michelle Armstrong, Sahara Smith, The Steps, and SPEAK, along with Los Lonely Boys and The Dunwells. “We have insanely talented artists on our roster," he says. "They are the most important component of the label and our priority.”

Maybe that’s why when they say they’re in the business of artist development, they really mean it. Case in point: The label started working with Texas-born singer/songwriter Sahara Smith when she was 15 years old, but it wasn’t until she was 21 that she put out her first album. “The reality is, we’re committed to an artist beyond how many albums he or she puts out,” says Elledge. “We realize that not many other labels—and certainly no majors—would be willing to develop an artist like this, but it’s just what we do.”

In this case, the risk is paying off well. In addition to landing appearances on such national programs as The Late Show with David Letterman, Smith has enjoyed positive reviews in publications including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Seventeen, and Glamour. It doesn’t hurt that Playing in Traffic was able to harness the talents of the legendary T Bone Burnett, who steered the original songs on Smith’s album.

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