According to Carl Crawford, every athlete has a dream of being in the entertainment industry. After a 16-year career as a Major League Baseball player (with stints as an outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Dodgers), Crawford was smitten by the idea, too.
“But every time I saw an athlete doing it, they were trying to be the rapper themselves,” Crawford claimed. “I didn’t want to make the mistake of trying to rap or [go into the music industry] while I was playing. I wanted to get on the business side, be an executive, and have a long career in this industry like I did in sports.”
Just months after announcing his retirement from baseball in 2016, Crawford opened the doors to his label, 1501 Entertainment. He stationed the upstart in his hometown of Houston, Texas, where predecessors like J. Prince perfected the model of running a reputable label out of the third coast. As the founder of Rap-A-Lot Records and a fellow Houston native, Prince often offered nuggets of wisdom to Crawford about navigating through the industry.
“I remember he told me the story about how he kept [investing into his label],” Crawford recalled. “When he felt like he didn’t want to do it anymore, that’s when everything took off with ‘Mind Playing Tricks on Me.’ For whatever reason, that story stuck with me until this day. When you’re an indie label, you have to keep putting into it. At times you wonder if it’s ever going to be something. Then, out of nowhere, it just takes off.”
Getting his label off the ground was an expensive undertaking, even for a well-paid sports player. He first invested his baseball earnings into building out a studio to ensure that all artists and staff had one central location to create, meet, and strategize. Next came signing Houston-based artists with promising talent – including Megan Thee Stallion, Erica Banks, and more – and offering them profit-sharing deals.
Still, Crawford’s clout from the baseball world didn’t immediately transfer to the music industry early on. He admits one of his biggest struggles was trying to convince his counterparts in the music business to take him and his new company seriously. Undeterred, he opted to take the ground-up approach when it came to promoting his artists and built their buzz regionally via word-of-mouth and show-and-prove tactics.
As an independent company, 1501 has been subject to major labels wanting to participate in the excitement of a buzzworthy artist once the initial groundwork has already been laid. Though the signing of Megan Thee Stallion brought both rewards and adversities for 1501 (the two have been intertwined in an ongoing legal battle over agreements signed early in Megan’s career), Crawford hasn’t changed his perspective of taking on the risk of investing in an artist in the earliest stages of their career.
“Independent labels are more than labels to the artist, they are family,” Crawford said. “We go to their homes, meet their relatives, get to know their life and who they are, and we talk with them about their goals. Independents take a major gamble on the artist, putting up our own money.”
Though 1501 has been around for just four years, Crawford’s skill set as an executive has been tested thoroughly. While the explosive success of one of his first artists quickly placed his label into the mainstream, he has no plans of moving his operation outside of the city of Houston.
“My goal was to come home and help get all this talent I was told was in the city of Houston, and give them a chance to be heard,” Crawford said. “I just want there to be an overflow of talent that comes out of Houston, and show that this whole city and state is golden.”
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