Culture / Entertainment

The Rebel in The Machine — Amber LaFrance Builds Up the Next Generation of Dallas Music by Daring to be Different: Sometimes, You Just Need to Find Your Inner Spice Girl

BY // 10.02.18

It’s almost showtime at the Longhorn Ballroom and Amber LaFrance has everything under control. It’s early September, the night of the Longhorn Ballroom’s one year anniversary since the historic venue reopened — saved and now co-owned and operated by LaFrance and her father, Jay.

It’s also the album release party for Grammy-winning country group Asleep at the Wheel and LaFrance’s client, teenage country artist Frankie Leonie, fresh off a Dallas Observer cover story, is opening up for the band.

Tonight, and most nights, there are so many factors and details for the event on LaFrance’s shoulders. But where most would be overwhelmed at all of the details, both small and large, this is LaFrance’s comfort zone. She’s exactly where she should be, at the heart of one of the many events she has produced over the last six years.

Events that have won her an FGI Rising Star Award, a Wade College Distinguished Achievement Award and a video profile in Cadillac’s Shaping DFW series on WFAA-TV, securing LaFrance’s status as one of the single most important people in the future of Dallas culture.

LaFrance has been the president and executive publicist for her PR firm CultureHype since 2012. In the last year, she has expanded CultureHype into a full-service marketing firm, providing event planning and creative consulting for regional, national and global brands.

Pier 1 reached out to her earlier this year to help connect their brand in refreshing and relevant ways within the North Texas region. For the campaign, LaFrance thought outside the box, reaching out to Dallas creatives working in art, music and fashion to become the face of Pier 1’s new brand strategy.

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Singer Sam Lao, chef Jenna Kinard and blogger Lauren Vandiver were tapped by LaFrance to represent the brand in a photo shoot helmed by Dallas-based artist Jeremy Biggers, where each creative was captured in their home.

“We are being hired because we are on the ground floor and speak to the creative group of people here in Dallas,” LaFrance says. “We are becoming a hub for bigger brands that need more of a edge. We worked very hard to push the envelope of what they were doing and focus on showcasing why Dallas is such a creative hub.

“At the end of the campaign they had the highest RSVP rate of all time for a Pier 1 in-store campaign event.”

Changing the Dallas Music Scene

To many, it seems Dallas has hit a plateau in how art and music events are produced and directed. From in and around Dallas, the same artists and musicians are playing the same similar gigs, week in and week out. LaFrance is fighting that trend, positioning her clients in unique and forward-thinking placements, separating them from their peers within the North Texas market.

“It’s about getting personal,” she says. “I believe in celebrating what makes people authentically them. I’ve always tried to create a story that fits that person. What do they eat and drink? What do they wear? If you tell the story of an album without being personal it falls flat.

“I encourage people to bare it all. People want talk to humans. It’s not about being cool anymore, it’s about who you are. What I do is help them identify with what’s unique about themselves. Some people think they have a trait that’s totally boring, but I think is totally unique.”

Discovering Her Inner Spice Girl

Just this year, LaFrance has been behind this Spring’s Dallas International Film Festival, building a live music hub for VisitDallas, forming a new partnership with WFAA, and producing the inaugural iteration of her company’s music festival, HypeFest, at The Rustic. In order for her to be able to help clients discover what makes them unique, she had to first discover that for herself.

In seven years she had taken few moments for herself. The lines between on and off became blurred. So many years investing in Dallas, day and night, behind the scenes began to wear on LaFrance’s personal life.

“I’ve always told my clients to dive deep and find out who they are. But it’s only been the last year I’ve found out who I am,” she admits. “Now I dress like one of the Spice Girls. I wear stuff that makes me happy. I live my life in a way that makes me happy, not in a way that feels obligated.

“Life is too short. When you do what you love you don’t want it to feel like work. When I was on call for seven years, everything I did was work. Recently, I started working out more and meditating, going to book clubs. I spend more time being a human. I realized I didn’t want to be a walking robot.”

Outside of her creative projects, LaFrance also hosts empowering book clubs, karaoke nights with her CultureHype team, and has recently taken up meditating. She didn’t take her first vacation as an adult until a year ago, leaving her computer at home and going off the grid. She has spent almost all of her adult life as a publicist, putting in the work in a field that is largely behind the scenes.

“I’ve finally learned what the work life balance is,” she says. “I faced a lot of burn out and drove myself insane. I accomplished a lot but I gave up a lot too. I didn’t spend a lot of time celebrating.

“I decided to focus on what makes me happy and what my legacy will be. I can put systems in place for my team so they don’t have to go through burnout like I did. My legacy is to shine a spotlight on the Dallas and Texas creative scene. I can’t do that if I’m burnt out.”

There are limited PR firms in North Texas for creatives, making it difficult for artists and musicians to find dynamic options to help them break into the market. LaFrance wants to inspire young female professionals to enjoy the wins.

“I’m learning, now that I’m 30 and I’ve been doing this for nine years. It’s important for me to recharge,” she tells PaperCity. “I want to bring that into my business when it comes to having happy employees and happy clients. That way people aren’t just walking all over each other.

“This industry is notoriously grueling to work in.”

Finding Breakout Artists

How does an artist break into the Dallas scene?

It’s a question many creatives ask themselves while working-full time on their craft and part-time paying the bills. At times it can seem impossible to get the attention of a media outlet.

LaFrance applies discernment in choosing clients. She looks beyond talent, to a strong character and will, someone able to survive the ups and downs of the industry.

“I look for a story,” she says. “I hire people and clients based on personality. I have a ‘no divas’ policy. If someone starts acting like a diva, I let them go. I hire someone who works hard and has a solid brand identity, or is at least open to developing a stronger identity.

“Some publicists will guarantee you a story. I tell clients to run if anyone ever guarantees you anything. I’m a realist. It’s all about managing expectations. It’s not a quick process, it takes work.”

Since establishing herself as the go-to PR professional for creatives in Dallas, LaFrance has worked to expand her company’s services in the last year. Recent partnerships such as Pier 1 are examples of her new plan to pair creative strategies with large, corporate brands.

It proves LaFrance’s belief that a hyper-local presence can be an asset to international campaigns, as well as Dallas creatives.

“I have to set an example that you can make a living doing what you love,” she says. “While also asking for what you’re worth as a woman in the industry with 10 years of experience. Now I’m going after clients and brands that I’ve always dreamed of collaborating with and connecting our clients to, but was previously afraid to.”

When LaFrance speaks on inspiring, she’s also talking about her own team. LaFrance has five to six interns each semester. Initially she found them at college job fairs and through her journalism contacts at North Texas universities. Today, most of her internships come through references, oftentimes by former employees and clients.

“We take field trips to the Sweet Tooth Hotel to interact with art, go see concerts together, and discuss books that help us grow. Plus, talking about money and asking for money as a woman is not easy,” she says. “I want my team to know that you can be financially successful in this industry and happy.”

country artist Frankie Leonie
Teenage country music artist Frankie Leonie is part of the next generation of Dallas music.

For the future, LaFrance is working on the next generation of Dallas musicians. They include many under the age of 18. Talented teenagers breaking barriers in pop, rock and country, like 17-year-old Leonie.

“Our music roster is really diverse right now,” LaFrance notes. “We have a lot of women. We have a pop act who is Indian. Larry Gee is doing new songs we are really excited about. The collaboration between Modern Electric Studios and I are birthing the next generation of Dallas music.

“They’re producing an immense group of talent, six or seven teenage musicians, and I’m working with the media to develop them. We’re raising them in a way.”

Being around Amber LaFrance, you can tell the support goes beyond business. She partners with clients she believes in. Artists she would collect, musicians she would listen to. Back at the Longhorn, as Leonie makes her way through her last song, LaFrance climbs up a podium in the middle of the venue’s dance floor to take photos for CultureHype’s Instagram page.

While she records, her voice rises above the crowded audience, chanting her client, and friend, on. She’s the loudest one in the room.

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