Houston continues to show why it’s often called the culture capital of the South. It’s home to a vast array of sounds deeply rooted in Black history, storytelling and a strong sense of independence. Twiler Portis is channeling this energy through the launch of her music studio Yellowland Records.
Portis is a Houston entrepreneur, coach, speaker, and the first local Black women to own an independent record label. Her studio is located in River Oaks.
She has dedicated her entrepreneurial career to teaching business owners how to tap into their potential, achieve freedom and exponential growth. Now, she channeling that same spirit to help aspiring artists learn the ins and outs of the music business.
The Defender spoke with Portis to talk about the Yellowland Records launch and the benefits it will bring to artists in the community.
Defender: Tell us about who you are and how Houston is connected to your success story?
Twiler Portis: I grew up here in Houston and went to public schools. I had a burning desire to become an entrepreneur. My father was an entrepreneur. I started my career in business back in 1998. I knew success would be mine. Once I got there, I would share my knowledge and the things I’ve learned along the way with my community. I grew up in Sunnyside and went to Worthing High School. My late husband was a high school director at Madison High School and Worthing. I have a love for giving back. At 54 years old, I feel the next generation could really learn from my experiences and the things that I’ve been blessed with.
Defender: You’ve had a successful corporate career. What made you ultimately want to leave that space?
Portis: Corporate America was very good for me. I had a boss that was truly beyond being my boss, she was a great mentor. The reason I left was she retired. I got a new boss that I just didn’t get along with. I was just grateful I wasn’t afraid to take the leap of faith. That came with my reference from my father. I didn’t like it anymore because of my surroundings and the energy in the office. I left corporate America and started my own business. A lot of people stay in places that don’t work because of fear. I’m glad to be a good example to those who want to make that pivot.
Defender: You live by the mantra, “Live full, die empty.” What does that mean?
Portis: I was married for 27 years. I watched him build band programs in the inner city. He did that through personal growth and personal development with young people that he had leadership over. I watched him give unselfishly and do so many things and just live a full life. I learned that from him. Do what you want to do as long as you don’t hurt anybody along the way. Then, when you are gone, your legacy lives on. When he passed away, 3,000 people showed up at his funeral. He lived a full life. Leave everything out on the table.
Defender: Let’s talk about Yellowland Records. What is it and why did you feel this was necessary to have in the community?
Portis: My son started making music when his father passed. He wasn’t a musician. He was a fashion designer and he did that very well. I think music for him was therapy. His dad was a musician so he was able to get out what he was feeling [at the time]. Over the years, he got really good at it so we started looking of labels and I just didn’t see anything. I was always up at night worried because all of the studios were in these dark places and warehouses. Not that there is anything wrong with that but I’m a mother and I worry.
We didn’t have a label who was willing to sign him so I was always told that if it’s not available than you have to be it. Yellow is my son’s favorite color that’s where the name came from. I signed Jimmy to the label and we began doing our own marketing. I understood business so I took those skills and applied it to the label. I hired a consultant and he is not Jimmy’s manager. When we started looking for a building for our headquarters, we wanted a place where people can come and feel safe and have a great experience.
Defender: How were you able to navigate the entertainment space?
Portis: I write my goals down and the mission and then work on them. Our mission is to teach upcoming artists…the independent artists the music business where it goes far beyond the stage. A lot of young artists don’t understand the business. They sign contracts that are not favorable for them. Labels are no longer grooming them and doing artist development. We learn from who is doing it right and use that as inspiration.
Defender: Recently you had an open house for aspiring artists and interns. What will the programs be like?
Portis: We’ve done internships every year since 2016 except for 2020 and 2021. Interns come in. They’re going to get personal self-development. They will understand branding and marketing. They we put them where their passion or specialty is. We have photographers, videographers, graphic designers, engineers, social media, copy writers and things like that. We will put them with people who work in those areas professionally.
Defender: What is the process to launch a recording studio like this?
Portis: You got to have a little bit of money. It’s expensive. You find your venue or building and then get help. I had lots of it. My consultant is also an engineer, he mixes and masters and he has 41 platinum records. He is two-time Grammy nominated and one time Grammy Award-winning, so he understands sound. He helped me get the right equipment and you’re ready to go.
Defender: What’s coming up with Yellowland Records?
Portis: We are doing a big mixer July 14th for media podcasters and local artists to check our facility. Our second half of our summer internship; if individuals miss this one, we’ll have another one coming up. We usually do two per summer.