It’s All in the Family at Onstage Systems

in Regional Slants
Hyacinth and Chris Belcher of Dallas-based Onstage Systems
"Onstage Systems began in 1978 as Dallas Backup, Inc. Our parents, Charles and Vickie Belcher, started the company as a backline company," comments Hyacinth Belcher of Dallas-based Onstage Systems, a company she has run with her brother Chris for the last several years. "They tried everything they could think of to get us to see the light and not do it," she laughs, "but we love it; I can't imagine doing anything else."
In college, Hyacinth majored in technical theater and public relations and worked at her parents' company part-time, while younger brother Chris started learning the ropes during his high school years before immersing himself fully in the company's business.


Today, the business includes touring sound, event lighting, and handling the staging for musical and corporate events, special events, festivals, backline services and other activities.


"We're primarily a live touring company. I'd say 40 percent of our business is audio, 40 percent is lighting and 20 percent is staging and rooftops," Hyacinth remarks. "We do many outdoor festivals - events that we do year after year, like the Ft. Worth Symphony Concerts in the Garden, the Wildflower Arts and Music Festival and the Taste of Addison.


The Big Leagues


"What gave us our first big break, though, was getting the George Strait tour in the early 1980s and we still have the account today. Strait was one of our first clients, and the one that afforded us the ability to buy top quality equipment and build the company year after year after year."


The company started working with Strait right about the time he was first hitting the charts - little did they know he would become one of the most successful country artists of all time, landing an unprecedented 57 singles at the top of the charts, selling some 70 million albums and touring successfully for 28 years and counting.


Coincidentally, around the time Strait became a client, so did the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a relationship that also continues to this day. Onstage Systems handles many events at Dallas' Meyerson Symphony Center.


Another longtime client is Univision Radio. Onstage Systems has staged a couple of events per year for Univision Radio over the last 15 years. More recently, Onstage has been the house sound and lighting provider for Dallas' Palladium Ballroom, which consistently draws top acts, ranging from Vampire Weekend to the Silversun Pickups to "legacy" artists such as Billy Idol.


Doing a tour with rapper Lil' Wayne was another highlight for the company in late 2009. In 2010, Onstage System was hired by California-based Insomniac Events, which organizes some of the biggest electronic music events in the country, to provide equipment for Insomniac's Dallas version of the Electric Daisy Carnival in June. Onstage Systems will also supply the Nocturnal Festival in Austin on Labor Day weekend.


"We do so many types of music here that my techs are used to everything," Hyacinth says, "so we have the ability to transfer from Christian to rock to electronic music to country to Tejano. It's fun for us to have the variety."


The Best Year Ever


Despite this being a "down" period for some sound companies, Onstage Systems just enjoyed their best year ever, with a surprising amount of new business coming from the corporate sector. "Some clients have downsized events because of lack of sponsorships, but we've actually picked up more business as other groups come in trying to gain some ground," Hyacinth comments.


The company prides itself on always having top quality, well-maintained equipment, and since 1999 their sound department has been dominated by a full line of L-Acoustics speakers, including V-DOSC, ARC, dV-DOSC, KUDO and others. Hyacinth notes, "We were one of the first companies to buy L-Acoustics, and as it became more popular around the nation, that definitely helped expand our business in the sound world. L-Acoustics has been good to us. We've counted on them for all of our tours and actually pretty much everything we do now, we do with L-Acoustics, as far as audio goes."


That said, the company's inventory also includes a fair number of speakers from EAW (KF850s and 853s, among others) and some from Mackie (SRM350s and 450s), as well. Monitors come from d&b audiotechnik, Clair, EAW and others.


"Generally, we try to make sure that our equipment is spec'd toward national acts, and as they've embraced digital consoles, so have we," Hyacinth says. Onstage's stable of consoles ranges from Avid VENUE D-Shows and Profiles to various Yamaha desks (M7CL, PM 4000s, PM5D-RH, etc.) and workhorses such as the Midas Heritage H2000 and H3000. "We've always wanted to buy the highest quality we could afford, whether that was the Avid VENUEs, the earlier Yamahas, or whatever," Hyacinth says. "At this point; however, on nearly everything we do, the riders look for digital, so we have sold most of our older analog gear the last couple of years."


Amplifer inventory is split between L-Acoustics LA8 amplifiers inside LA-RAKs and Crown Macro-Tech MA5000VZs and 5002VZs. Processing runs the gamut of manufacturers, including Yamaha, TC Electronic, Lexicon, Klark Teknik, Dolby and others. Mics come from Shure, Sennheiser, AKG and Electro-Voice. Backline inventory includes a plethora of guitar and bass amps (Fender, Marshall, Peavey, Mesa; Ampeg, Aguilar; you name it), new and vintage keyboards (Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Kurzweil, etc.) and a selection of drum and percussion instruments (Yamaha, Tama, Ludwig).


Asked whether Onstage Systems has to work hard to bring in such a diverse range of clients, Hyacinth chuckles and says, "Actually, we don't actively seek clients. We answer our phones. That might not be the best business plan, but it's worked for us. We all wear a lot of hats here and we don't have the sales staff to go seek out a lot of new business. But it still comes to us somehow. I do networking through event planning groups, but almost everything else is word of mouth."


Expanding the Legacy


The Belcher kids are well aware that the company they run today would not be nearly as successful as it is, were it not for the hard work and sound business judgments of their predecessors - their parents. "It's been a natural evolution to get to where we are," Hyacinth says, "but it took so much work to get the business off the ground - so much determination and frugalness - and growing up. Chris and I watched our parents and saw how they had to pick and choose their purchases so carefully. But they made such good decisions that it got to where my brother and I have been able to pick it up and continue on that upward trend. But without that solid backbone, there's no way we would be where we are today."


The senior Belchers are still around, too, never to far from the company they built. "We're always running into situations where their wisdom is needed and appreciated," Hyacinth says. "They're super-cool, they're totally hip and still involved on some level and always there to help. Having that is unbelievable. We're a very close family, obviously, and we really all love what we're doing."