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Entrepreneurship in Entertainment:
Creativity of a Different Kind

Tom Lord-Alge has won three Grammy awards for his work with various musicians, including Carlos Santana, the Rolling Stones, and U2. Yet odds are that you would not recognize his name unless you are the type who avidly reads the credits in CD booklet inserts. And that is just the way he wants it.

"I love to be the person in the background. I like to be anonymous," Lord-Alge said during his appearance at the February 27 presentation, "Entrepreneurship in the Entertainment Industry," produced by the College of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurial Development in association with the School of Music.

"I mean, so (my wife and I) have some rock stars over for dinner, but we dig the regular life…I don’t want to have any of the (negative) stuff that comes with (fame)."

Though he may be able to duck out of the public eye, Lord-Alge’s innovations in his the music industry have made him quite visible among his artistic peers.

Answering questions from moderator Glen Harris, assistant director of MBA Career Services at the College of Business, in front of approximately 100 listeners at the Krannert Art Museum, Lord-Alge discussed how after he started working in general sound engineering with his brother Chris in 1982, he felt the need to take the job in a different direction.

"At first if was difficult because it took a little while to establish myself as just a mix engineer," said Lord-Alge. "What I do is blend all the instrumentation together…what I do is not going to kill a good song, but I like to think I make a good song into a great song. I’m not a musician, I’m not a singer. The only way I could translate the artistic ideas inside of me is through the console."

Taking that risk has already paid enormous dividends, as Lord-Alge has been able to carve himself a niche in this market as one of few experts in mix engineering. And with more musicians using technology to produce music in unorthodox environments, his office in the South Beach Studios in Miami could become even busier.

"Now guys are recording in their house…and thinking ‘Well how come my stuff doesn’t sound as good as stuff on the radio?’ Well, let’s start with the fact that you recorded it in your bedroom," said Lord-Alge. "But there’s a lot of good stuff coming from those guys. They want their stuff to sound (professional)."

And that is where Lord-Alge comes in.

But he and his brother have also come into a different niche with their business LA Spank Factory, which leases expensive music equipment to musicians. Lord-Alge says he wishes he had started the business long before its 1992 start, as its revenue comprises "a substantial part" of his income.

"We bill our clients for the rental of audio equipment, and the only downside is that the equipment becomes obsolete. But before that time we’ve made the money back 5 times."

Despite these positive trends, Lord-Alge acknowledged the recent problems in the music industry regarding low sales. He believes that this problem can be largely attributed to technological advances such as CD burning and Internet file sharing. Lord-Alge feels this is one area that sorely needs some entrepreneurial insight.

"I don’t think (the record companies) thought the file sharing thing was going to be the big thing that it is… now they’re gonna have to come up with some kind of hardware that (stops burning)," said Lord-Alge. "(Can someone) come up with a way where we’re not going be able to burn CDs? Or encrypt music so it can’t be copied? There are a lot of areas where there’s room for entrepreneurship."

Regardless of the field, Lord-Alge emphasized the importance of the customer in entrepreneurship.

"I have a lot of repeat clients. It's important to keep them happy," Lord-Alge said. "(They) come in, we’re gonna do (the job) in a painless manner, I keep you at or under your budget, and you’re going to want to come back…and I work in South Beach!"

While not every aspiring entrepreneur may have the resources to work out of South Beach, Lord-Alge believes that everyone has the ability to create their own niche in business.

"It’s the stupidest thing, but you’ve just got to think outside the box, and be yourself," he said. "Focus your energies on what you do you best."

 

--Christopher Boyce
March 2003