Sam White.Photo provided
Johnny Cash had a whole song to explain why he was “The Man in Black,” but the answer to “why you never see bright colors on my back” was different for the late country star than for a man whose last name, ironically, is White.
Sam White can often be found at the back of many Lexington ballrooms during an event, wearing his industry-standard black outfit. He owns MSI Production Services, which he started in 1992 and went full-time with in 1998, after spending the early part of his career on the road with touring bands.
“Some of us cut our hair; I still have guys that don’t,” said White, who toured with rock and Christian acts out of high school. “But it’s funny — A lot of my clients think it’s cool. They love the fact that there’s a guy there with a long ponytail and gray hair. They figure the guy’s been around the block a couple times.”
So has White, who prides himself in making sure an annual event looks and feels different year after year. MSI originally started as a simple AV provider for presentations but has evolved into a full-service events company, offering tents, tables, linens, chairs, staging, audio, visual, film and more.
“For years, you did these corporate meetings, and they did this pipe and black drape up in the back, and a light and a couple screens up, and you plugged a microphone in the wall,” he said. “What we call a corporate event now is pretty much everything but the band [for a rock show].”
While he can often been spotted in Lexington overseeing the operation and setup of the stage, sound, lights and video for dinners like the Commerce Lexington annual dinner or press conferences and ribbon cuttings attended by the governor, White also gets to see the world doing presentations for companies. (Or at least he gets to see hotel conference rooms in Hawaii, the Caribbean and at the occasional major golf tournament.)
“We’re almost like an outsourced event department for some of these companies,” said White, who did not want to disclose the names of the clients he travels with.
“We call ourselves the ‘kings of cheap theatrics.’ I’ve taken sheets of plastic, barbed wire, whatever, and made it look … very expensive. But it’s always a gimmick for me to show them how I did it,” he said.
He also has a tight balancing act on how he accomplishes it all, as he said at least 80 percent of his workforce is made up of freelancers who are hired for days at a time during events.
But almost every day, White said, you can find his dad, a retired engineer, working on something housed in his warehouse off Fortune Drive. Shipping sensitive sound equipment and computers around the city or country tends to shorten their lifespans unless they are regularly maintained, so White trusts his father to that. His wife has an office for keeping MSI’s books while White himself keeps booking events.
When putting together plans for an event, White utilizes 3D renderings to show how everything will look and fit in a room, from tables and chairs to sound, screens, a stage, plants, displays and more — even with images of the room’s carpeting.
For White, that all builds up to the first time a client and event’s attendees see MSI’s work.
“I always love to sit out in the pre-function area and just watch people when they come in and go ‘Whoa!’” White said. “That’s what we want our clients to have. We want that ‘Whoa!’ factor from them.”
About Sam White
Title: Owner, MSI Production Services
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