We’ve all heard stories of musicians being taken advantage of by their record labels, managers or hangers-on. The tale is typically about a young, naïve artist who either signs their life away with an unfair contract or trusts the wrong people to manage their careers while they concentrate on being creative.
The Elephnt Group, a Spartanburg company founded and run by Terrance Hawes and Chris “CeeJ” Jefferson, aims to change that story. They essentially serve as a one-stop for the independent musician, providing career guidance, marketing strategies, concert booking and artist management services, and they’re also a functioning record label with a publishing arm.
“A lot of independent artists were being taken advantage of , and I wanted to make sure I had the education and knowledge to build something I could use as a platform to make sure the independent artist is protected in the music industry.”
That’s a lot of ground to cover, but Hawes and Jefferson have the right balance to pull it off. The two men first met years ago as fledgling rappers on the same record label.
“We were performing all over the Southeast, perfecting our craft,” Hawes says. “But I stopped performing and pursued my music business degree at Full Sail [University] because I’d seen some things behind the scenes that were really troubling to me. A lot of independent artists were being taken advantage of, and I wanted to make sure I had the education and knowledge to build something I could use as a platform to make sure the independent artist is protected in the music industry.”
Hawes and Jefferson originally founded The Elephnt Group in 2018 as a record label, but quickly diversified. They connected with a host of partners like videographer SmithaLee, Speaklife Studio, producer Kid K, Lens of Atom Photography and more in order to provide a comprehensive home for struggling independent artists.
Jefferson says that the business name reflects their philosophy.
“If there’s an elephant that’s injured or stranded, other elephants will all come together and help,” he says. “They will not leave until it either dies or it’s saved. And if there isn’t a way, they’ll make a way. They’re big enough to create their own trails. We want to be that. We want to create ways where there are no ways. We want to create paths where there are no paths. And we want to be a culture that’s conducive to everyone, to create a platform that helps these artists. We won’t leave until they are elevated.”
While Hawes handles the business end of The Elephnt Group, Jefferson, who still performs and records gospel-tinged hip-hop as CeeJ (pronounced “siege”), provides the artistic direction.
“Terrance handles all the logistics, which he’s well-equipped to do,” Jefferson says. “I’m the creative side. I’m very detail-oriented when it comes to music and the way to market it.”
There’s no greater calling card than success, and The Elephnt Group made a big splash when CeeJ’s 2018 album “Heavy” debuted on the Billboard Christian Album chart at No. 42, an impressive feat for an independent artist. Since then, Hawes and Jefferson have helped propel music by artists Reggie Rocc, Brad Keaton and Choirboi Cam onto the charts, and people outside of their Spartanburg home base have noticed.
“Once we created that formula to break an independent artist as a national brand, once CeeJ reached the Billboard charts, we had people from L.A, people from New York, people from Atlanta reaching out inquiring who we were,” Hawes says. “All of these industry people reached out once we had that success.”
“What better way to help other artists than to have an artist who is doing great?” Jefferson adds.
And what exactly is that winning strategy?
Hawes and Jefferson aren’t too anxious to give away trade secrets, but Hawes describes what they do as a very individualized process.
“We learn about the artist, their goals and their dreams,” he says. “We review their social media profiles, review their recent and older music and make a strategic, realistic, smart plan to help them reach their goals. We work hand in hand with the artist and our different partners. And we offer our services without them having to sign to our label or publishing company.”
Or, as the more artistically inclined CeeJ puts it, “We don’t just give you the cake; we give you the cake and the ingredients.”