Casio McCombs’ most creative ideas come to him during “dream hours” — late at night and early in the morning when a majority of people are asleep, he shared.
“That’s when all these new ideas for music and how to structure the label would really hit us,” said McCombs, who co-founded the Kansas City-based record label, Yume Sound, with Ryan Tanner Mueller in 2016.
“Yume (夢) is Japanese for ‘dream’, and the pronunciation sounds like ‘you and me’ because we set out to create a truly collaborative space,” he continued.
Click here to check out Yume Sound.
Yume Sound was born from McCombs and Mueller’s shared passion for music and expression, McCombs said. Since its inception, Yume Sound has hosted such popular artists as Waka Flocka, Lil Baby and Quay. The record label aims to empower artists through providing them with freedom, support, infrastructure and ownership.
The duo first connected in 2016 when McCombs was DJing a street party, he recalled.
“Ryan was working on Alpha Clothing [now rebranded to AC1] and felt like our creative interests aligned,” McCombs said. “… He reached out to me after that and said, ‘I have this idea of starting a studio.’”
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Aware that music studios do not generate significant revenue, McCombs suggested the duo also found a record label alongside the studio. For the next six months, McCombs and Mueller spent countless hours getting to know one another and working to get Yume Sound off the ground, he shared.
“Together, we realized we both provided a unique perspective and set of skills to accomplish the bigger concept of creating a label,” McCombs said. “Ryan’s experience lies within project management, guerrilla digital marketing and assembling teams and networks. My experience as a producer and artist bleeds into the overall creative ability and understanding of the musical process.”
Growing pains are eased by building a support network, McCombs noted.
Mark O’Renick — owner of Will & Grail, a marketing consultant in Independence, Missouri — provided Yume Sound with its first studio space within his offices, McCombs said.
“He definitely dealt with our, if you will, ‘rockstar moments’ because there would be times we would be hosting artists like Waka Flocka until 7 a.m., and his company was about to come in for work,” McCombs said. “He really believed in the vision we had, and that was a big catalyst in even getting started.”
In 2018, McCombs connected with Anthony D’Annunzio, an A&R (artists and repertoire) representative based in Los Angeles. D’Annunzio linked Yume Sound up with LA-based record label Electric Feel.
“We immediately got along really well with Electric Feel because we saw a lot of similarities in how we got started; they started by building a studio that became an incubator for artists too,” McCombs noted. “It’s been cool developing relationships with other professionals who can tell you about their journey and give advice.”
Although Kansas City is a smaller market for the music industry, McCombs didn’t see that as a disadvantage, he said — noting that if one puts in the work, others will notice.
“It was a cool time because we were thinking about how we as creatives in Kansas City could get our ideas out to a bigger audience,” McCombs said. “We started writing some songs and sending out beats, which is how we got connected with Anthony. He’s been a huge mentor, guide and just homie if we need help with anything.”
Focus on Kansas City artists
The COVID-19 pandemic pressed pause for various aspects of the music industry. Yume Sound closed its studio space with McCombs moving the equipment to his home. The label also shifted focus to working primarily with Kansas City-based artists, he said.
“We have a lot of talent in this city,” McCombs said. “We wanted to take what we’ve learned as a label and really try to apply it and provide that infrastructure for local artists. Because I do believe that we have a chance to be the next New York, the next LA, when it comes to music — but we also have the chance to do it butter and create a system that doesn’t feel predatorial to artists.”
Yume Sound signed Kansas City-based artist, Shang, to the record label and recently released her first single “4444.”
“The work we’re doing right now with Shang is some of my favorite work we’ve done,” McCombs shared. “She’s an R&B-focused vocalist, and we’re mixing that up with some other sounds and flavors. … For the past year, we’ve been working on a record with her called ‘Love Lust,’ and we’re trying to take some of this Midwest influence — growing up in the middle of farmland — and play with that idea mixed into R&B. It’s slated to come out around summertime, and I’m super excited about that record.”
Click here to listen to “4444” by Shang.
Shang is Yume Sound’s main focus, but McCombs and Mueller are in the works of growing the label with more local talent, McCombs teased.
Setting a new standard
As someone who has worked in the music industry as an artist, McCombs understands the frustration of labels that take advantage of artists and do not give them creative freedom, he admitted.
“We started Yume Sound knowing that we were not going to be that kind of label,” McCombs said. “A lot of times we hear these horror stories of artists that ended up in label deals that can be somewhat abusive. We structured ourselves to be super transparent in how we write deals and always wanted to provide artists with freedom and ownership.”
McCombs and Mueller are currently working to create a decentralized platform for all labels that would allow artists to write their own deals, McCombs said, noting he hopes to set a new industry standard.
“We are constantly knocking at the doors and navigating new parts of the industry as we work on many exciting and new projects, but our end goal is to disrupt the industry by removing those doors altogether,” McCombs said. “We want to change the industry, starting here in Kansas City, and then take it worldwide.”