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This Memphis Label Avoided Pandemic Layoffs — Here’s How

Original Stax Records songwriter David Porter and 20-year business and legal veteran Tony ­Alexander launched their entertainment company, Made in Memphis Entertainment (MIME), in April 2015. Alexander quickly realized that in order for the independent label MIME Records to succeed, the co-founders would need to create some additional revenue streams.

David Porter
David Porter Brandon McCoy

“If you’re trying to develop and break artists that are unknown, it requires patience and a lot of capital,” he says. In the years since, Porter (CEO) and Alexander (president/managing director) expanded to include a recording studio, a synch licensing division and a publisher, while launching the only Black-owned distribution company in the United States.

And though MIME’s label roster boasts just three acts, Alexander emphasizes the amount of untapped potential in Memphis. “There’s no other city in the country that has produced more talent,” he says. “If you’re in a ­desert, you want to go where the water is. This is where the water is.”

How Memphis' MIME Records Avoided Pandemic

In 2012, Porter founded a Memphis nonprofit focused on educating creators about the music business and brought in Alexander to help with legal matters. The two repeatedly saw artists and aspiring music executives relocate to larger music hubs and decided to give Memphis natives a reason to stay. This year, MIME promoted Renisha Mayes — who met Porter at her college graduation and started at MIME in 2018 in its publishing and distribution division — to GM of MIME Records.

How Memphis' MIME Records Avoided Pandemic

The label’s first signee, Porcelan, reached No. 13 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart with her 2018 single “Lois Lane.” More recently, she teamed with labelmates Jessica Ray and Brandon Lewis in June for a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” following the police killing of George Floyd. Now, Mayes is teaching artists how to market themselves, from developing an efficient rollout schedule to interacting with fans more effectively. “It’s creating an infrastructure from ground zero,” she says.

How Memphis' MIME Records Avoided Pandemic

While MIME has 58 total employees, 75% of whom are Black, its label team comprises just 11 full-time staffers. Alexander is proud of avoiding layoffs amid the pandemic. “We made a commitment to help them weather the storm,” he says. “When other companies were laying off en masse, we [were] able to support the team.” In fact, MIME has already made additional hires within its publishing, distribution and synch divisions, and plans to increase its studio staff in 2021.

How Memphis' MIME Records Avoided Pandemic

The company plans to open a second studio in Atlanta soon. As for its Memphis artists, all three have released new music during the pandemic, and now the team is focused on continuing that momentum into next year. Mayes hopes to release debut EPs from Ray and Lewis and push for more virtual performances, especially at an event like South by Southwest. “They’ve got the music,” she says, adding that each MIME artist has at least 20 songs at the ready. “We just have to get the timeline.”

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 14, 2020 issue of Billboard.