King of Richmond Strip

Dennis Lange has almost complete control of the most lucrative live music outlets in Houston. You want to play? Then you play his way.

Ground zero at DLP is Lange's cramped office. Behind his desk, he's girdled by heaps of file folders and paperwork. Everything visible -- the stuff not stored away in an array of plastic modular shelving and rolling file bins -- is in hasty heaps on the desk. Yellow legal pads are strewn everywhere; scribbled in black pen on page after page are the names of clubs, bands and musicians, scheduling charts and seemingly random comments. It's Lange's system, and apparently it works. But damned if anyone other than its architect can determine how.

"I have to sit in here every day with ten eyeballs staring at me like, 'Hey man, he just wants our money,' " says Lange, kicking off the conversation on a rather defensive note. "I operate an agency very successfully at a 10 percent commission. No other agent charges [what I do]."

If that 10 percent figure is indeed accurate (and according to the DLP acts contacted by the Press, it is), then Lange's asking rate is on the low end of the scale as far as agents' fees go. But it's worth noting that Lange collects that smaller cut for lower-paying nightclub gigs only. For private parties and other events, the percentage doubles. As for other services rendered by Lange's organization (sound equipment, publicity, management etc.), additional fees vary.

And what of the contention that Lange forces sound equipment on his acts at an extra charge? "Put it this way," says Lange. "I book about 80 bands a week, and only six or seven bands are renting sound equipment from me on a regular basis."

The only examples of Lange's alleged strong-arm tactics uncovered by the Press were based on hearsay. Still, rumors have to start somewhere. For his part, Lange attributes the sour gossip to "ignorance" about his role as middleman between the nightclubs and the performers.

"It's all about supply and demand," says Lange. "I am there to negotiate a deal between the band and the club. The job of an agent is to find work, negotiate a deal -- boom, my job's done and I get paid. If there is a discrepancy between [the club and the act], those guys have the problem. If I can help them solve the problem, I will, but I didn't create that problem."

While the law of supply and demand says that DLP can only book a certain number of artists each week, every act -- good, mediocre or just plain bad -- that crosses paths with Lange is logged into a vast database. As a result, DLP is something of a live music clearinghouse, with acts for all occasions, tastes and budgets -- and DJs, too, though they're usually considered a last resort. Lange is primarily in the business of selling bands, not hit-spinning personalities, even if most of his acts do pride themselves on sounding just like the radio.

"To sneak into this circuit, you either have to be really good or you have to be ready to fill a cancellation at the last minute or you have to really market yourself and put yourself in the public eye so that people are requesting you," says Lange. "I'm not here to turn everyone's world around for them."

That may be, but Lange values his place in the scheme of things, and he thinks that others should as well. The consummate pragmatist, he has an uncanny ability to put a positive spin on just about anything without straying too far from reality's bottom line -- he's selling you, all right, but it's pretty obvious he lives for what he sells. To Lange, art and entertainment are one and the same, not warring entities.

"My whole philosophy is about lifestyle," says Lange. "It's not about being an original band versus being a cover band. That's immature. The Beatles were the most famous cover band in the world. I'm interested in entertainment. I grew up watching vaudeville movies, Bob Hope -- you know, the show must go on, hopping on a train to the next city -- and I try to instill that in the musicians that I work with today. Local musicians around here, they need guidance bad. I have a unique approach to the business based on experience from being in a band. I've toured all over the world myself."

Dennis Lange breezed through childhood and early adolescence relatively worry-free, keeping his nose clean on his family's horse farm in Romeo, Michigan. Today, Romeo has been swallowed up as part of greater Detroit. But in the '50s and '60s, Romeo had the feel of an isolated hamlet just this side of nowhere.

"My father kept me out of trouble by [having me bale] hay," remembers Lange, who breaks out a stack of photo albums when talk turns to his family. "He had chariots, stagecoaches, a lot of things to keep us busy."

While Lange's dad loved his land, farming was only a hobby; his primary income came from a family-owned steak house. Starting at the age of 17, Lange began busing tables and tending bar at the eatery. "It was a real family business," he says.

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