Memphis Car Audio promotes homeboys with rap CD

Boom-Boom

By John W. Sparks

Published by the Comercial Appeal, Sunday, July 18, 2004

HEY!

What does it take for some music to get heard around here?

Well, it helps to have a harmonious relationship.

That’s how it’s bumpin’ with Street Hospitality, the latest incarnation of the Memphis Sound.

The promotional CD is a marketing tactic that bolsters local music makers and a downtown company that amps up their tunes for listeners.

Some 15,000 of the discs featuring several local rap groups went out on the street. Literally. Street teams were dispatched around town to give them away, at rap concerts, to record stores and to anyone who looked interested.

The players in the push fi gured this unusual
method would bring some nice benefits.

The starting point was Memphis Car Audio, makers of high-end automotive sound equipment. It’s one of the Fulmer Companies, a family owned business founded by Arthur Fulmer in 1919. Today, his grandson, Arthur Fulmer III, is at the helm.

As a lifelong Memphian, Fulmer, 42, loves homegrown music, saying, “It’s original and very uniquely American.” It was a natural move to link Memphis Car Audio in some fashion with the local sound.

The company doesn’t do a lot of advertising, but it nurtures its image carefully.

Trace Hallowell, founder of the advertising/ branding fi rm Tactical Magic, was given that task. Memphis Car Audio, he saw, “doesn’t have the fl ash and hype of some big brands but they give better product for not as much money - like a club that not everybody knows about but it’s really cool.”

The main (but not exclusive) market is 15- to 24- year-olds, mostly male and multiracial. They speak hip-hop and they want boom-boom.

Don’t look to buy new Memphis Car Audio components on the Internet. The company doesn’t sell that way and it doesn’t sell through mass market electronics chains. They sell only through what’s called “12-volt retailers,” those specialty shops that can outfi t your chariot with custom audio gear.

Why do it that way?

“It played to our strengths,” Fulmer said. “We have a national sales force well suited to calling on those kinds of dealers. We were selling automotive items in the 1960s and then as car audio moved from being an automotive item to being a specialty hi-fi item, we were able to move from automotive outlets to specialty places.”

The strategy works. For several years in a row, the Memphis Car audio manager Jeff Triplett (left), Antonio ‘2 Shay’ Parkinson and Tactical Magic creative director Trace Hallowell got together to put out a promotional CD featuring local rap music.

The strategy works. For several years in a row, the company has had double-digit sales growth.

So, Hallowell wondered, since the company is selling its products the way it does, what’s the best way to “emphasize affi nity with our audience.”

He pondered the idea of associating Memphis Car Audio with Memphis music, aligning the company with the unsigned, unhyped authentic scene.

“We didn’t have enough money to pay a celebrity to endorse and they (the local musicians) don’t have enough notoriety to get some brand to pay them to endorse them. But if we help each other we’re all smilin’.”

But Hallowell didn’t exactly know how to get this off the ground. “I made calls to anybody saying I’ve got this crazy idea. Some people wouldn’t return calls.”

But 2 Shay did.

Record producer Antonio ‘2 Shay’ Parkinson has a production company, Shay-Dawg Entertainment. He’s also a member of the Shelby County Music Commission and knows an opportunity to tout local
music when he sees it.

“I brought the idea of a package in CD form, putting 90 percent local artists and surrounding them with major label artists,” he said.

He put the word out.

“We did a call for submissions. We got about 200 to 300 CDs sent to us and we listened to each and every one,” Parkinson said. Local deejay Freddy Hydro was brought on board to do the mixing.

“We chose what we thought was hot and it worked. We helped break new artists out of Memphis. Now they have 15,000 people hearing them.”

And, he said, four of the songs on the disc have been spinning on radio.

The mix on Street Hospitality includes a number from 2 Shay’s upcoming CD, Clubs, Thugs, Sex and Drugs, as well as local rappers P Smoov, Al Kapone featuring 8 Ball, Nikki Boo, Kristyle, David Banner and Lil Nunu. Also on the disc are national groups with major labels, including Lil’ Flip, TI and Nappy Roots.

The collaborative is pleased with the product. “You have a collage of music blending from one song to another, like in a club with a deejay playing music and talking,” Parkinson said. “We’re pushing the name of the Memphis Car Audio brand.”

You could say Memphis Car Audio is a low-key operation, but it’s certainly not quiet.

Jeff Triplett, product manager for the company, notes that it has been a top player for years in the strange world of audio competition.

Just as in auto racing, where you have sanctioning bodies that make the rules, the car audio world has its authorities.

Four of the major organizations are:
• IASCA: International Auto Sound Challenge Association (iasca.com)
• USACI: United States Autosound Competition International (soundoff.org)
• dB Drag: (dbdrag.com)
• MECA: Mobile Electronics Competition Association (mecacaraudio.com)
• There are two areas of competition: One is beauty, the other beast.

SQ measures sound quality, or how well the system reproduces the music. Simple, yes?

SPL is a different animal entirely. The sound pressure level event is muscular, measuring the decibel level a system can generate. In the extreme competitions, no one gets in the vehicle because it would be literally deafening. In fact, inch-thick Plexiglas may replace the factory windshield that would otherwise be blown out. Doors may be fi lled with concrete. The vehicles are usually undrivable because they’ve been so heavily modified to withstand a killer blast in excess of 150 dB that lasts only seconds.

These are two drastically different sorts of competitions. Triplett says, quietly: “We have been very successful in them for fi ve or six years at the local, regional and national level.”

Hallowell, less restrained, says, “Memphis Car Audio kicks butt in both areas.”

The company’s line includes speakers (from $45 a pair to a limited custom version that retails for $2,000); amplifi ers (from around $100 to $1,300); signal processors ($100 to $400) and installation accessories.

The equipment is manufactured in Korea, China and California. Headquarters, an offi ce warehouse and repair facility are in Memphis.

So what’s next?

Hallowell observes that many car audio sellers “are trying to be too fast, too furious. All trying to be the same thing. We’re running black and white ads and a catalog with the position that we don’t mind being urban, being Memphis. Nobody else touched that. We took a major zig when everybody else was zagging.”

And the zig lives on. It looks like the 2005 CD may get a go-ahead.

As Parkinson puts it: “We’re looking for bigger fish to go nationwide.”

Copyright 2004, commercialappeal.com - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

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"Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind." - Walter Landor