Say the words "independent record label," and most people likely envision a company that's a failure or "” at best "” one that's only marginally profitable.

At Zak Records in Mount Washington, the CEO set significantly higher goals. As in two best-selling albums "” and the Grammy Awards.

Zak Morgan is the top executive and also the top recording artist behind the enterprise. The label's latest album, When Bullfrogs Croak, turned up as one of five nominees for best children's CD in the nation this year. (Besides Bullfrogs, the other four Grammy nominees for Best Musical Album For Children were Tom Chapin's Making Good Noise, Ilene Graff's Baby's Broadway Lullabies, Sandra Boynton's Philadelphia Chickens, and Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer's Bon Appétit!, which was the winner.).

So how did a recording label that isn't based in L.A. or Nashville wind up with a Grammy bid? Part of the answer is Morgan recruits some of the biggest folk and alternative rock names in the business to help him on projects.

"The coolest part was getting David Wilcox," observes Morgan of the Bullfrogs experience. "And Robbie Fulks. He was fun. Really amazing." Three out of the four members of the Cincinnati band Over the Rhine also chime in on the album.

Funny thing. All the major names almost make you forget this is a CD intended for kids. But Morgan has made a reputation producing offbeat songs and lyrics for the toddler to pre-teen market.

Morgan, born in Cincinnati in 1970, lived here all the way until 1989, when he shipped off to Kenyon College. After graduation came a stint on a Wyoming dude ranch, a defining moment when he first began to entertain kids with impromptu escapades.

Morgan's mannerisms suggest someone more in control, quite unlike the lanky goofball "” arms and legs flinging "” he portrays on stage. The outrageous persona of jest is there, certainly, and the twinkling eyes. But Morgan the person is more world-wise entrepreneur than Morgan the stage character. He's a man with a plan, and he's had to be "” drawing upon his early career as a salesman at a New York City publishing house.

Morgan's approach to his business is, well, strictly businesslike. The business is largely based on classroom gigs. "I identify a city that I will spend a few days or week living in. Then I look up the city's schools, K to five, and libraries on the Web, and start making the phone calls."

The salesman "” pardon "” the songwriter then mails off materials, or refers intrigued elementary school principals or library directors to his Web site, loaded with MP3 music clips, videos of Morgan in performance, even dozens of glowing reference letters (from the New York Public Library to various school principals). The singer confesses he's not afraid to make a nuisance of himself in follow-up calls to close a deal. "I'm a salesman," he shrugs.

There's more to a Morgan school visit than a mere drive-by performance. The singer stays to interact with the children inside the classroom. "I've been trying more residencies, where I spend a few days at a single school. I write songs with the kids, keying in to their experiences. Then we take the songs and the kids record them. I burn it onto a CD right there. I have a 24-track recorder and Mbox right on my PowerBook. Each child gets to take home a CD with his or her song."

If you haven't guessed by now, technology is key to Morgan's ascension: The Web site is his calling card, the Internet his booking agent, and the laptop his road buddy and silicon co-star.

But classroom work is just part of the mix. "My peers in the music business are somewhat envious, because there is so much work available in the children's market," Morgan concedes with a smile. "I make a hundred phone calls and get 50 concert bookings. It's easy to get work and it pays better."

Want to sample some of the music? Morgan smartly makes his songs easily available at his Web site (www.zak, where you'll encounter such ditties as The Butterfly, from his first album Bloom. Topics such as nose-picking, growing pains, and schoolhouse bullies aren't off limits on Bloom, as Morgan quantifies the essence of a child's life. "The nose-picking," he's quick to point out, "well, that's only SEMI-autobiographical."

And soon, perhaps, Morgan will be coming to a television channel near you. "When I was out at the Grammys, I met with a lot of people about doing a children's television show. We'll see."