Made in Memphis: MIME is a 2020 Success Story 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. championed civil rights, but he also had a proactive message for Black businesses: Build your own economic power. That's why, in the last speech he gave before his assassination, he advised his audience "to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank," a Black-owned institution. He also exhorted listeners to support Memphis' Black-owned insurance companies. In this way, he suggested, "we begin the process of building a greater economic base."

This message was echoed by Al Bell, the onetime chairman and owner of Stax Records, who marched with King. And the success of Stax and its investment in the local community put that message into practice. So it's only fitting that that tradition is being carried forward by one of the label's most active alums, David Porter. Co-writing so many hits with Isaac Hayes helped Porter learn the ropes of music publishing very early on, and nowadays he's putting that knowledge to work as the CEO of Made in Memphis Entertainment (MIME). Porter co-founded MIME in 2015 with the business and legal veteran Tony Alexander (president and managing director), hoping to re-establish Memphis as a global music industry hub. And as the numbers from last year are being crunched, it's clear that they're well on their way.

click to enlarge David Porter - COURTESY DAVID PORTER
  • Courtesy David Porter
  • David Porter

Key to this success is MIME's diversification. It's actually a family of companies that includes MIME Records, an independent record label; MIME Publishing, which handles Porter's songwriting catalog, as well as young producers in hip-hop and R&B; Heavy Hitters Music, a film, TV, and ad sync company with an all-female creative team and Emmy-winning music catalog; Beatroot Music, the only Black-owned music distributor in the U.S. (not to mention Beatroot Africa, a strong presence on that continent); and 4U Recording, a state-of-the-art recording studio in Downtown Memphis.

Walking into MIME's headquarters on Union Avenue, home to both its studio and offices, feels like you've time-warped into the future, or at least into Los Angeles. 4U is actually a complex of large and small studios, all interconnected and themed with ambient lighting and decor. Meanwhile, the offices bustle with MIME's global business. The feeling of accomplishment in the air is palpable.

The numbers MIME reported on January 14th confirm that impression. Beatroot Music racked up over a million streams each across all major services for 14 of their artists, resulting in over 100 million total streams across its roster. Meanwhile, 4U Recording achieved its first gold-certified album with Moneybagg Yo's Time Served, recorded at the studio. Two of the record's singles, "All Dat" featuring Megan Thee Stallion and "Said Sum," were both platinum-certified. Heavy Hitters Music also landed several major placements for its catalog of tracks, including placing "Said Sum" in multiple spots for the NFL and NBA.

As Porter observes, "In a challenging year for everyone, we maintained our mission of raising up not only artists but also our home city itself." And that last point may be MIME's most impressive achievement yet: its commitment to raising the profiles of local artists. That's been part of MIME's mission from the start, and one reason they've remained grounded in Memphis.

Even as MIME works with a global roster of artists, Alexander notes that Memphis brings a unique flavor to the table. "It's the vernacular," he says. "There's an accent to a Memphis singer, or rapper. You can just tell by how they pronounce words that that's Memphis. Also Memphis is known on the hip-hop side for the beats, the trap-type music. It's very noticeable. It has a signature, just like the horns of the Memphis Sound before."

But MIME's support of the local economy goes beyond the artists, he says. "At MIME, we put our money where our mouth is, hiring people who may not get a chance elsewhere in the music industry and helping them gain skill and confidence. It is hard work, but it is also necessary to attain true diversity in the music industry. When you look at our successes in 2020, you can see that it is doable, worthwhile, and important."

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