Restarting a Dream by Putting Learning Into Practice

March 01, 2017 - 7 minute read


Henry Alonzo and guitarist in the studio

Henry Alonzo, MBA '09

Henry Alonzo, MBA ’09 and 2018 Alumnus of the Year, founder of Adarga Entertainment Group, grew up near Mariachi Plaza in East Los Angeles. There, he listened to the mariachi bands play and offer their services to passers-by. Today, Alonzo promotes some of the biggest bands in Latin music, and with his help, his clients have earned seven Latin Grammy awards.

“I blame Concordia for my success,” Alonzo says. “They were very instrumental in helping me think in a business mind.”

I blame Concordia for my success,” Alonzo says. “They were very instrumental in helping me think in a business mind.

Adarga, an old Spanish word for “shield,” is a ten-year-old company that has succeeded well beyond its contemporaries. In addition to helping build the careers of chart-topping music artists, Adarga has produced or co-produced events at the Forum, the Shrine, Microsoft Theater and more.

Alonzo never saw himself as a musician or performer. “I was the kind of kid who read all the liner notes,” he says. “I knew that this producer produced that other album, and this mixing engineer did that other album.”

His parents had emigrated from Guatemala in the mid-’70s, and Henry was always drawn to the mariachi bands in the plaza.

“I constantly saw them walking around. They looked like generals in their uniforms,” he says. “They had their own receiving line. People drove by and they passed out business cards.”

As a teenager, Alonzo began to consult with artists about how to reach their audiences, especially through social media. At the time, the music industry was imploding due to online file sharing.

“Record companies weren’t doing artist development, marketing and business services anymore,” he says. “They were just trying to stay afloat. But there were still services that needed to happen. I saw the opportunity.”

He started his own record label while still in college—and learned some painful lessons in a hurry.

“I didn’t understand cash flow, overhead, quarterly revenue statements or whatever,” Alonzo says. “I was way too optimistic and we were bleeding money. I didn’t know the ‘how’ of making a business grow and work. There were a lot of people who believed in me that I let down.”

Stinging from failure, he threw himself into finishing his undergraduate degree, then took a series of jobs in the entertainment industry, first at an independent record label which folded, then at a movie company where he answered phones.

He knew he wanted more education and “needed to learn entrepreneurship,” he says. So he began hunting for an MBA program.

“I considered a lot of schools and connected with someone at Concordia,” he says. “They were so nice and easy to talk to and answered all my questions right away. When I went to visit the campus I said, I think this is the place for me.”

He began to diagnose his real-life business experiences in classroom discussions, and learned from other people’s experiences, too.

“I remember one presentation on telecommunications by a classmate who worked for Sprint,” he says. “It was amazing what he was teaching us about towers and all of that. It fed my desire to explore the bigger business context I was going to come into.”

While in his first semester in CUI’s MBA program, he decided to restart his company. This time he wanted to create what he calls “a non-record label record label,” meaning he would not produce albums but provide services to support and develop artists.

“I wasn’t sharing with anybody. I was just rethinking the idea,” he says. “My wife and I were both in grad school. We were so tired. We’d show up at night and fall asleep on the couch. The second time around I didn’t want to fail anybody.”

This industry is about determination, not talent,” says Alonzo. “I see a lot of talented people at coffee shops. If you are determined and talented, you will make it as an artist.

CUI helped him differentiate “my dream and what’s actually feasible,” he says. In a particular statistics class he began studying statistics for his industry.

“I buried myself in there,” he says. “Mr. Poldova helped me understand what was happening in this industry so I could have a more educated approach on how to start this.”

Another class focused on overhead and income flow, lessons which became foundational to how Alonzo runs his company.

“Adarga was a cash-based operation for a long time,” he says. “That has helped our company to grow. We still don’t do it if we can’t afford it.” After finishing his MBA degree and launching his new company, positive results came quickly. Within a few years, a band he helped develop, Tercer Cielo, was nominated for a Billboard award. That earned Alonzo a trip to the awards show.

“I was walking around seeing celebrities, and I get a text from a friend in another state saying, ‘You are on TV right now. I’m seeing you walk down the red carpet. Look at the camera,’” Alonzo recalls. “I’m like, what camera? There are fifty.”

Another milestone came with Miel San Marcos, a Latin Christian band which Adarga helped rise to one of the top groups in their genre.

“Miel San Marcos is like the Latin Hillsong,” Alonzo says. “Their videos have millions of views on YouTube. We released an independent album which went to #1 on iTunes Latin, beating Marc Anthony, Shakira, Iglesias. They won the Dove award for Spanish record of the year. That was a career highlight.”

Adarga takes care of all an artist’s social media platforms, marketing, publishing, contracts, and more. This frees up the band to write music, create albums and tour.

“My philosophy is that success comes from a lot of things that went right, and failure from a lot of things that went wrong,” says Alonzo. “To release an album you have to do twenty things at once. We make sure they’re booked on interviews, their social networks are up to par. We take care of publishing and protect their intellectual property. We make sure nobody is claiming to own the song and collecting royalties on it on YouTube or the radio. We do streaming, licensing.

We make sure their online image is impeccable, their bio is current. All they want to do is share music with their fans. We’re taking care of them with all these steps.”

A major part of that, of course, is a band’s online presence.

“We make sure their image and everything is pointing to that new release,” Alonzo says. “So when I Google an artist and find an abandoned Twitter account from two years ago, to me you’re an irrelevant artist now. I make sure social networks are all integrated.”

Adarga also develops artists with broader, strategic career planning. Christine D’Clario, a Latin Christian artist, worked up from small venues in central California to coliseums. One live-streamed concert trended on Twitter, a sign of high popularity. Her album was nominated for a Latin Grammy.

"This industry is about determination, not talent,” says Alonzo. “I see a lot of talented people at coffee shops. If you are determined and talented, you will make it as an artist.”

Alonzo heaps credit on his team. There are six people in his company, each with various strengths. He also still draws on his education from CUI.

I created an Excel spreadsheet in a class and used it for many years,” he says. “Things like that were very important. Also understanding sales. I remember Dr. Bruce Hansen talking about how do you sell an idea? Even our company motto was birthed at Concordia.

"I created an Excel spreadsheet in a class and used it for many years,” he says. “Things like that were very important. Also understanding sales. I remember Dr. Bruce Hansen talking about how do you sell an idea? Even our company motto was birthed at Concordia.” (The motto: “Advance your talent and creativity.”)

Adarga still acts like a startup “because we’ve been very cautious,” Alonzo says. “In the music industry we’ve seen many companies come and go.”

The company continues to serve artists and record labels with industry-leading services. Integrity Music hired Adarga to handle its Latin releases. A few months ago Sony Music asked them to market a mariachi album they were releasing, a first for Alonzo in that genre.

"Talk about full circle,” he says, referring to his memories of Mariachi Plaza. “Now I’m a consultant with Sony, working this album of my childhood genre. I get to live this dream of being an entertainment entrepreneur. I’m being ambushed by grace.”

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