Almost eight years ago, Boutte resident Toney Corley and his wife had saved some money and were trying to figure out how to best invest it.
The couple narrowed down their investment decision to two possibilities. Either Corley, who has a day job as an engineer at Waterford 3, would go to graduate school and the investment would go towards his tuition or they would open a small audio production business that he could run on the weekends and evenings.
"We decided to buy a sound system," Corley said.
That decision would pave the way for Corley to bump shoulders with some of the biggest musical acts in New Orleans.
Corley, 43, got his start running the sound system for his church when he was 13. He said it was an easy transition to go from doing something he did for free for so many years to making it into a successful small business. Also, the fact that he has a business degree from Louisiana Tech and an electrical engineering degree from LSU did not hurt.
"We had an opportunity to engage professionally in something that I have been passionate about all my life. It was really a dream come true to start my own audio company here in New Orleans," Corley said.
In June 2005, Corley invested in audio equipment and opened Proclamation Audio.
"We decided to buy a sound system and started marketing by word of mouth and talking to music stores, talent agents and event planners-just pounding the pavement," Corley said.
The first few months were difficult.
"We were not very much connected to the music scene in New Orleans," he said. "We did gigs for free or very little because that is what it takes to show that you can do it and do it well, or you won’t be around for long in this town."
Then Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005 and the Corley’s evacuated, leaving behind their audio equipment.
"No sooner than we had our warehouse full of brand new equipment Katrina struck. It was kind of nerve wracking," Corley said.
Luckily the storm did not do serious damage to his home and they returned to find that the audio equipment wasn’t damaged. In fact, he said Katrina ended up helping his business.
"Actually Katrina gave us an edge because a lot of people who would have been our competitors where now displaced and had lost their equipment," Corley said. "I’m not saying at all that we were thankful for Hurricane Katrina, but it was kind of the right place and right time."
Proclamation Audio started picking up more and more gigs. They were contracted by organizations to provide audio engineering to help promote the city in the aftermath of the storm.
From those early days, Proclamation Audio has now grown to employing six or seven contract workers and has tripled their equipment inventory.
"We’ve seen steady increases each year. We’ve grown in the size of folks we have working with us and in number of jobs we have each year. We’ve also expanded our inventory and gear so we can handle larger events," Corley said.
The company now specializes in events with 3,000 people or less attending, which Corley said means they do a lot of private parties and corporate events.
"That is where we try to stay. That is kind of our niche. We run into some really high end talent at some of these shows," Corley said.
The company has worked with numerous well-known musicians from the area.
"The musical venues and talent here are second to none," Corley said. "We’ve worked with Shamar Allen, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins, Eric Lindell, Galactic, Rockin’ Dopsie, Rebirth Brass Band and Soul Rebels Brass Band, to name a few."
In January 2012, the business got one its most important gigs ever when they provided audio production for Governor Bobby Jindal’s second inaugural ball.
"That was a big deal for us," Corley said.
Proclamation Audio has now started to move into other areas such as videography, lighting and event planning and Corley said the future looks bright.
"I see us continuing to grow into our niche in corporate and private events," Corley said. "I see us expanding into festivals and picking up on the business side of things, which is something I am just getting us started with."
For those who may be thinking of starting their own businesses, Corley said the most important thing is putting the plan into action.
"Have the courage to take the first step," Corley said. "A lot of time you get caught up in asking the ‘what ifs?’ and trying to analyze every scenario. If you are passionate about something and really know how to do it you just have to step out there and take the risk. A lot of the other details will take care of themselves."