In its five-year history, the Austin, Texas-based Playing in Traffic has released six full-length albums and four EPs. That’s not a huge catalog, but those numbers are a shining example of the selective approach taken by the label and its sister business, Loophole Management.
Co-founded by Austin native and longtime music-industry veteran Kevin Wommack, Playing in Traffic has a roster that includes the Grammy Award-winning Los Lonely Boys, as well as girl pilot (aka Sahara Smith), The Dunwells and Speak. By the end of this year, PIT’s catalog will expand by a few more titles, and among the scheduled releases is girl pilot’s On My Way.
Whether it’s on the label side or the management side, there’s a lot of work that needs to be handled by a small, shared staff.
“While an artist can go on a three-month hiatus with the family, you’re planning their next six months,” says Wommack, the owner and president of both PIT and Loophole. “The minute you get a platinum plaque” — something the Loophole-managed Los Lonely Boys achieved with their self-titled 2004 album — “you’ve gotta figure out how to get double platinum.”
“But when your band steps on a stage and an audience goes crazy,” he adds, “then there’s the validation.”
Wommack recently fielded questions by phone about Playing in Traffic’s birth, his day-to-day routine and more.
Medleyville.us: What were the origins of Playing in Traffic and the label’s first release?
Kevin Wommack:“The first thing out of the chute was a band called The Steps, but [the label] was born out of the fact that we had been in management for a long time. When we developed Los Lonely Boys, we had signed them to Or Music in 2003. Or Music is kind of like what Playing in Traffic now, through RED Distribution. … They did a joint venture with Epic; we did three Los Lonely Boys albums with them [including the band’s self-titled effort in 2004].
“When that deal was done, it was a matter of, ‘What label do we go to?’ And then the new world order started, how things are done in the music business. So what we did was start our own label with the clout that we had from the sales of Los Lonely Boys and did a RED deal for distribution and started Playing in Traffic for Los Lonely Boys and the other artists we had that were mostly more baby acts that wouldn’t have had access to someone like RED.”
You already had Loophole Management up and running before the launch of the label. So how did your day-to-day routine change after both were operating?
Wommack: “Really not that much because when you have a band signed to a major or even an independent, you’re still working the promotion and marketing side. Instead of overseeing someone else’s work, we at least know what we’re not doing and address it or rationalize it (laughs). When you have someone signed to another label, you just never know what they’re doing.
“When you’re a manager, you’re involved in every aspect of an artist’s career. When you’re the label, your job is to sell the product. What I found is that I actually spent more money as a label than most of the labels I ever signed bands to because we were personally involved. If you’re just a label, it’s easy to shut it off once the budget you made has gone over. But when you’re the manager, you have more involved, so you keep going.”
What’s a typical day like for you?
Wommack: “Because we manage a band in England [The Dunwells] and we do a lot of work around the world, things start pretty early. … The [overseas-related work] comes flying in first; it’s actually sitting there when you wake up. Then you work your way through, fielding e-mails and phone calls, solving issues whether it’s label-side or management-side.
“I don’t think it ever stops. It’s like 24/7 since 1984. Things move faster [today]. Everything moves at lightning-speed now. If you’re a football fan, it’s the analogy of old-school football ground game versus Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles, moving at lightning speed. And if you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to turn it off at 6 o’ clock, then you probably [missed something]. Much to the chagrin of my family over the years, if I don’t answer the questions at 8 to 10 o’ clock at night, then they’re piled up and I can never get to them all the next day.”
What are the advantages — and disadvantages, if any — to being based in Austin?
Wommack: “I’ve been here a long time; I was born here. I was in a band here, and I segued from being in a band to helping other people, first as an agent, then as a manager. In the old days, it was like watching planes flying over, and you’re on a desert island, and you’re jumping up and down, saying, ‘Hey, we’re down here.’ But then, I also felt that I was one of those old miners panning for gold. I was finding the gold that was being exported out. … As the Internet has made it possible that anything was possible anywhere, we can do what we do from anywhere.”
Are there any fifth-anniversary celebrations in the works?
Wommack: “No, we just keep doing what we do. When we started managing Ben Kweller, we took over running his label, the Noise Company. So now we are the staff that runs the Noise Company as well as Playing in Traffic.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Kevin Wommack (left) with Jojo Garza of Los Lonely Boys