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 Mary Jurey, Jojo Garza, Whitaker Elledge,  Kevin Wommack

From left: Playing in Traffic Records partner Mary Jurey, Jojo Garza of Los Lonely Boys, Whitaker Elledge, and Kevin Wommack

The label worked in a similar fashion with singer/songwriter Michelle Armstrong. “Michelle had a personality and drive that enticed us, and she had a willingness to work with us to develop the kinds of songs that we thought would be best for her,” says Elledge. But getting to that point didn’t happen over night. The label didn’t officially sign Armstrong until the fall of 2011, after a 2-year courtship, one that enabled the label to cultivate trust and ultimately benefit the artist and them as they move forward.

How, and why, does Playing in Traffic elect to make long-term commitments to unproven, up and coming artists? “We realize that it takes a long time for an artist’s brand to seep out into the public’s mindsets,” says Elledge, who admits that it takes a monetary investment to secure these extended relationships. “Our goal is to identify smart ways to spend the investment and focus on organic growth. From a financial standpoint, we try to be calculated about the approach, building campaigns to keep artists in front of as many people as possible. There’s no doubt that it requires mental fortitude on both sides of the equation. If we were just a label, we’d be doing bearish marketing spends.”

Promotional Strategies
Elledge says the underlying goal of Playing in Traffic is to move an artist forward on all fronts, so that they look at all aspects of an artist’s needs. “As managers, we try to create the most artist-friendly scenarios as possible,” explains Elledge, who says the label operates their own version of a 360 deal.

One of the most important elements of the label’s promotional strategy is seeking TV/film licensing deals for artists. “TV and film are the new radio for the younger generation, so not only is TV/Film licensing a huge marketing driver, but also a good cash infusion for the artist,” says Elledge, who says Playing in Traffic places emphasis on pitching and making deals with licensing agencies. So far, this approach has proven successful. One of the label’s artists, The Steps, for example, has made over $50,000 from TV and film placements.

Elledge says there is no one-size-fits-all scenario under which the label operates; they simply try to find the right deals for artists based on their unique needs. “If it makes sense to involve a large label entity, we go for that for an artist. If it makes sense to enlist a booking agent for touring, we’ll do that. The key is creating awareness in the industry. In order to be successful, an artist has to have that buzz factor, and that’s what we try to create.”

Give and Take
Success the Playing in Traffic way also depends on relationships and the give and take on which healthy ones are based. The label is, in fact, relationship-focused, developing a good rapport with artists, cultivating friendships, and then reaching out and capitalizing on the relationships they’ve built with music industry decision-makers.

It’s not a one-sided relationship, however. Playing in Traffic expects that their artists bring a few very important ingredients into the mix: a true passion for their music, great songs, authenticity, and an understanding, or willingness to develop an understanding of, the importance of social media in furthering their careers.

“There are key elements we look for in artists, but one that we’re most attracted to is songs that knock us out,” says Elledge. “While one of the factors that dictates whether or not we sign an artist is personalities and whether or not they jibe with ours, at the end of the day, it comes down to the songs. To us, the songwriting is the most important part of the equation and one that we are not willing to compromise on.”

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