Earnest efforts by public officials are necessary to protect our physical landmarks. Take Columbus’ Union Station, for instance, which was saved from complete demolition through a single archway near Nationwide Arena. But these same efforts are not always sufficient to capture the spirit or sentiments of a bygone era. That lofty goal is perhaps best left to artists, activists, and other cultural ambassadors.
Nick D’Andrea, Jonathan Elliot, Joey Gurwin, and Eric Rollin— veterans of the Columbus music scene with a wide variety of experiences in the industry–are eager to play this role by invoking a nearly-forgotten piece of 19th century Columbus history as they expand opportunities for musicians today. The four partners founded Flytown Records last year, an independent label committed to mentoring and developing recording artists in Central Ohio.
Named for the eclectic, racially-integrated, and working-class “Flytown” neighborhood that emerged in the 1860s across the modern Short North and Arena District, Flytown Records has signed four local artists: Doc Robinson, the alt-rock/indie band founded by D’Andrea and Elliot in 2016; Mistar Anderson, a hip-hop band emceed by Rollin; singer- songwriter Riley Dean; and 16-year-old lyricist Bree OTB.
The partners hope to embody the harmonious, collaborative setting of the neighborhood recalled by Franklin County’s Historical Society as “democracy’s melting pot for the city of Columbus” in their recordings.
(614) caught up with Flytown to discuss their motivations for founding a record label and what makes the Columbus music scene unique.
(614): What inspired you to start a record label? Are there other prominent labels in Columbus or across Ohio that you’re seeking to emulate, or was Flytown formed to combat a deficit?
JG: At the studio I hear a ton of great music, and get to have a hand in the production. Some of that music doesn’t see the light of day for one reason or another. And sometimes the music that does go out doesn’t get the attention that I feel like it deserves. There is so much great music being made, and anything that we can do to help foster that, we should.
ND: We felt our skill set was basically like a production company. The things we found ourselves doing day in and day out—writing, recording, and releasing music—we realized could be valuable as a service to other artists that we admired and wanted to see succeed. We also felt that the connections we’ve made over the years could be useful to the next generation of artists, and that by each other artist’s success we all stand to benefit. The idea, that I feel is very much in line with the Columbus music scene, that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ Starting this label was creating a framework to put that philosophy into practice.
G: We love great music that we think that should have a wider audience. We have all figured out in our own ways over the years how to create and then find an audience. We know it when we hear it.
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(614): Mentorship is one of Flytown’s stated goals. How can positive mentors accelerate or adversely affect careers in music?
JE: I personally owe so much gratitude to the many incredible mentors and teachers that I’ve had in my life, who have helped me achieve the success that I’ve been fortunate to have, and prepare me for situations and experiences that come along with this business. I believe it’s our imperative duty to give back, and bestow the knowledge that has been passed on to us, to the next generation. We are fortunate to live in a city where musicians can survive and make a living, a good mentor and solid assistance from those who have walked a similar road, can be invaluable, and help an artist thrive.
ND: I think mentorship is an essential part of both the music industry and the Columbus music scene. I think it is at the forefront of what we are building especially considering our artists thus far are very much at the beginning of their careers. The main thing we feel we have to offer beyond connections, production, or distribution, is experience.
(614): What is especially unique or valuable about the Columbus music scene?
JG: What’s great is the community, the support that we all give each other, and that we are honestly all rooting for each other and get excited about each other’s work. … Just like I take an out of town friend to my favorite sushi, or coffee spot, I’ll take them to a local show. The result is always the same. I just took a friend from California to Hoodoo [Soul Band at Rumba Cafe] last night, he loved it, danced all night and talked about how he wishes there was more of a local scene in Santa Cruz. We know what we have is special (and has been so for years) we’re just doing our little part of shining a light on it. It might change lives…or at least someone’s playlist.
JE: I believe our music scene’s biggest strength is perhaps in our cultural diversity. Being the home to OSU, one of the nation’s biggest universities, and other great institutions like Capital and CCAD has helped to create a rich and competitive environment of intellectuals and creatives, hailing from all over the planet. In the future, I hope to see more and more purposeful collaborations and far better networking opportunities for those who are struggling to find a niche or a scene to fit into.
ND: Collaboration is the superpower of the Columbus music scene. It is ingrained in the DNA of the community from the beginning, and the seeds its founders planted are still flowering today, at Comfest, in Hoodoo [Soul Band], at Dick’s Den, every Sunday morning in churches all over the city, at all the summer fests in all of the wild amalgamations of the same musicians in different formations playing in four, five, six different bands that are all writing great original music.
The final “Flytown Presents” summer music series event will be held on August 8 at Land-Grant Brewing Company. See landgrantbrewing.com/ taproom/music for information.