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Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

Shuffle: Akron DIY Pioneers Look to 'Break the Mold' of the Record Label Formula

A photo of musicians with the Little Elephant label
Akron DIY band CityCop is the first to sign with Toledo-based indepent label Little Elephant

Akron is known nationwide for its vibrant do-it-yourself music scene. But artists are finding it’s getting harder  to take their music beyond their own homes and those of their friends. CityCop, one of the pioneers of Akron’s DIY community, is taking a different approach that it hopes will "break the mold" of how lesser-known bands get record deals. 

Toledo-based Little Elephant, which began as a team of filmmakers producing videos for underground bands across the globe, has branched out to start its own record label. The independent label’s team specializes in tracking, mixing and mastering music with its own studio located in Toledo.

CityCop, an Akron emo-punk band, is the first band signed to Little Elephant’s new label.

Inspiring the creation of a local label
CityCop guitarist and vocalist Max Adams approached Rob Courtney from Little Elephant about starting a record label after the band’s relationship with its previous label fell through.

“I was like, ‘Can you please start a label so we can put this record out on it?’” Adams said. “I ran into [Rob] a year later at a house show in Akron, and he’s just like, ‘Hey, that record label thing…We want to do it.’”

'Most of the time, there’s a formula. Little Elephant is going to break that formula'

CityCop’s five-track EP, “Nesh,” was released by Little Elephant on May 24.

Exposing new audiences to the local music scene
Adams, who helped start Akron house-show venue Fool Mansion, and his CityCop bandmate Eddie Gancos, who launched the Akron DIY Facebook page, represent a group of local creative types who use the community to propel others – and their own band – forward.

“We started when we were so young. We didn’t really know what we were doing,” Adams said.

“So it was just record a record, throw it up on the Internet, try to go on tour. That was the whole goal.”

Just as Adams meshed his own music endeavors with an outlet for other bands to perform and gain exposure, Little Elephant is doing the same by becoming a “factory” that pieces together the building blocks that today’s bootstrapped artists often need to create a foundation.

“Once we started gaining more of a following, we always aspired to be on bigger labels, but it never sort of worked out,” Adams said. “I don’t think we really fit into their criteria. We’re kind of not a safe bet because of our genre [of music].”

Adams said signing to Little Elephant gives him and his bandmates an opportunity not only to work with friends who they’ve known for years, but also the chance to break the mold of what record labels can be in the modern age.

Adams describes Little Elephant as a “CityCop factory,” where everything from recording and promoting their new music, to printing flyers and producing high-quality music, is instrumental in helping local bands legitimize themselves to new audiences.

“Most of the time, there’s a formula,” Adams said. “Little Elephant is going to break that formula, because they make their own product. They can do their own PR – they’re essentially like a PR machine – just from the video and the channel and stuff like that.”

Building upon a history of highlighting indie artists
Before starting the label, Little Elephant amassed around 30,000 YouTube followers. The channel dedicates itself to broadcasting lesser-known artists and giving them an online platform that could expose their original music to audiences around the world.

The videos typically spotlight musicians in Little Elephant's living room studio, creating an intimate experience akin to shows in Akron’s do-it-yourself house show venues.

Photo of Little Elephants vinyl
Little Elephant's clear vinyl for "Modern Baseball."

Producing custom vinyl for smaller bands
Little Elephant also runs a lathe-cut business, where they produce high-quality, short run or one-off custom cut vinyl records for bands with no minimum order. This is appealing for up-and-coming artists, like CityCop, who have amassed a local following but are still growing in popularity. The need for 500 or more records put out by a major label just isn’t practical at this stage in their musical careers.

Little Elephant has released vinyl pressings of its live living room video recordings from a number of other artists, including local acts Annabel, Heart Attack Man and Signals Midwest. The label has also released sessions from national bands, such as River City Extension, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Ratboys.

Propelling the DIY community forward
Adams said making friends like Courtney is at the core of the DIY scene, and the symbiotic relationship between a smaller, independent label and a local band helps grow the community.

The DIY, or do-it-yourself, network of musicians and artists around the country is grown through the connections built during events, networking, and social media.

“After 10 years of meeting people on tour and having bands play at my house, like it got easier just from making friends,” Adams said. “I remember before we ever even worked with a label, you’re just like sending random emails to people at that point, like, ‘Will you please sign my band? Here’s my songs.’ It’s just like a catch-all at the beginning.”

Touring, Adams said, is key to establishing connections between labels and artists who can work with each other to achieve mutual successes.

Little Elephant splits profits from its record sales 50/50 with the artists it records – similar to the way many local house-show venues suggest a small monetary donation for audiences to support the bands they invite to play.

Little Elephant’s Facebook page states: “Bands make the music, we cut the vinyl. We simply just want to release music that the three of us think is worth listening to.”

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.