Memphian to Meet: Elizabeth Cawein

Posted on April 1, 2014


By Kendra Lyons

EC_headshotElizabeth Cawein (KAY-wine), CEO of Signal Flow PR, strides down a black wrought-iron spiral staircase, sporting a coffee mug and a wide smile.

“Welcome!” she says, warmly as she works her way down the stairs. It impresses me that she is able to make it down the stairs in her heels gracefully.

We take a seat in the waiting area and get straight into things. Cawein is everything young Memphians strive for when it comes to starting businesses here, particularly those passionate about the music industry. Cawein accounts for her personal history and how she ended up as a CEO of the premier Public Relations firm for independent artists in the area, how the music industry has changed over history, and what her vision is for the bright future of Memphis music:

c1KL: What does it mean that Signal Flow is a boutique media firm?
EC: Well, boutique is small. We cater to independent artists, number one. I do work with quite a few music businesses as well, but the heart of what we do is really independent artists. Media really covers all of those things. We’re not strictly a publicity company. While that is a huge part of what we do, we do a ton of marketing, and that really speaks to my skill set when I started this business, and the fact that I came from a background of working with social media and online marketing, so that was something I knew how to do, but also, that’s what artists need. The music industry has changed a lot, and for a lot of artists that we work with, we are the only member of their team, and so, when we can help out in doing a marketing strategy, we do that, in addition to publicity, and we do branding as well. That media firm kind of goes and covers all of those things under that umbrella.

KL: Can you go into more how the music industry has changed over the years? How do you think it has changed specifically?
EC: Labels are sort of no longer what they used to be. We’ve seen changes because of technology, largely. It’s sort of two sides. One, is that everyone has access to the tools they need to make music, but also, everyone has access they need to the tools required to distribute that music. We also all have access to new ways to find and discover music, so there’s really two way communication in what’s able to happen between artist and fan that we didn’t see before. And because of the fact that people aren’t buying actual albums; album sales used to be what really drove the economics for the label structure, so the fact that that’s decreased means labels have less money to work with. So, that idea of “Let my Beyonce pay for my new artist that I’m trying to break” just isn’t there anymore. There’s just less money to be spent, so you see less of those stories, but more stories where artists are just able to make a living (even if it’s not a million dollars), because they have the tools to make and distribute the music and to get it to the fans.

c2KL: What is the meaning behind the name Signal Flow?
EC: Signal Flow is a term related to recording. If you ever have the pleasure of learning to record live sound, or record in a studio, you will learn about how sound travels through channels. Without getting super technical, Signal Flow is just how taking that sound from the instrument that’s making it, through the board into the piece that you’re recording, and it can go through multiple channels before it gets there. For me, it was a great name because it’s also really a way to talk about PR and publicity. We’re thinking about your message, and how that message flows, and how we can get the word out about an artist, so there’s a Signal Flow there, too: what’s the strategy of getting the music from point A to point B? To me, it was a fun play on words that some people wouldn’t get, but I love when people do get it, and they’re excited about it, they recognize like, “Oh, that’s cool.” It’s a way of saying, we are about music.

Obtaining an office on South Main Street is something Cawein, “never thought was in reach.” Cawein attests for the beauty of being downtown on historical South Main. She hopes to keep Signal Flow PR a small firm, meaning her current loft-style office space is ideal for now and the future of the company.

KL: Do you think there is any pressure on current local artists to live up to the Memphis music legacy of the past?
EC: I wouldn’t say there is a pressure. I would say if anything, there is a certain attitude about being a Memphian. That is connected to everything that happened here in the 60’s and 70’s in a way. There is a spirit of doing it yourself, and I think you can connect that on a lot of different levels to a lot of organizations. Artists here have a do-it-yourself mentality.

KL: In recent musical history, there’s a big emphasis on rap and hip-hop music coming out of Memphis. Drake for instance, filmed his Worst Behavior video right here in Memphis, and was really proud to claim Memphis as his home because his dad lives here. Artists are eager to make a connection to Memphis. Do you think there is a lot of potential for Memphis to be the next big source of rap and hip-hop music production?
EC: Oh my gosh, I mean, I think a lot of what you’re talking about is, Memphis is the best kept secret in hip hop. You’ll see, it’s like an in the know thing. This is classic popular music history with Memphis. Look at Big Star, the reputation that Big Star got in their time versus the artists now who cite Big Star as a pivotal influence on their music career, to me it’s the exact same thing. People that aren’t super connected to hip-hop might not necessarily point to Memphis, a lot of the major hip hop artists that you’ll see today are going to point to influences from Memphis. There is so much talent here in hip-hop and R&B and I would love to see more emphasis on that genre moving forward.

The Memphis music industry is “on an upswing,” Cawein says. “to me, the best thing about being from Memphis as an artist now, is that people around the world wish they were from Memphis. I just got back from SXSW and you talk to people from different places around the world who love music, and you experience it over and over again. You say that you’re from Memphis and there is a spark that happens, and they want to talk about it. People definitely want a piece of the magic that’s here.”

Be sure to check out Signal Flow PR online to stay in the know on their upcoming events at

Posted in: Memphian to Meet