Pierre Vudrag says he can pinpoint the moment the music industry died. In 1998, to promote Tom Petty’s new album Echo, the artist’s label offered one track for free download. More than 150,000 downloaded it. Record stores freaked out and threatened to bury any upcoming albums. The industry, instead of finding a way to make room for both store sales and digital downloads, caved.
“We know what happened two years later,” he says.
The industry never fully recovered from the failure to recognize the digital tidal wave. Vudrag wouldn’t make that mistake. Up until that moment, the New York City native had spent his life working in music, ever since he’d picked up a guitar and formed a punk band at 16.
From administrative positions to A&R gigs at labels on both coasts to eventually starting his own label, he had touched every side of the business: creative, distribution, marketing, legal. He watched his friends lose their jobs and saw an industry in free fall. So he moved out to LA, walked into a temp agency the next day and started over.
The path he’s taken since hasn’t been very linear, but in his approach I see some of the traits of the most successful of those AGEISTs thriving on a career path: curiosity, humility, and a willingness to start over.
Truth be told, Vudrag had been thinking of law school for a while. His first job, while attendingHigh School of Art & Design in New York, was working part-time at a law firm. And while running his own label, he worked on legal agreements for his artists himself. So when the temp agency placed him in the legal department of Fox Cable Networks, it felt like a logical next step.
He worked in the legal department during the day, and attended law school at night, graduating in 2005. That same year, he got an offer to work as general counsel at the Tennis Channel. Vudrag was about as far from a tennis fan as you can get, but the work intrigued him. And he was beginning to see the through lines in his path.
“What I realized playing in a band, is that you always have to deal with personalities,” he says. “Dealing with an egotistical singer is no different than working with a CEO, and if you’re dealing with a drummer who’s crazy, it’s no different than working with a creative person at a network or a label.”
Though he was adept at balancing those egos, working as a lawyer began to grind on him. His wife noticed as well, and finally put her foot down.
“She told me, ‘You need to leave. You’re miserable, and you’re starting to make me miserable too’ ” he says, laughing. She told him she’d come up with something for him to do. Something that suited both his need to be entrepreneurial and to tap into his creative streak.
Looking around the walls of their house, she found her answer. Throughout his life, Vudrag had collected fine art photography, advertising and movie posters. Though there were plenty of dealers and photographers out there, what they lacked was a central, digital marketplace. The idea clicked immediately.
“There was nothing hard about it. It was actually very easy,” he says. “What I found surprising is people’s reaction. Because of my age, because everyone expected me to continue doing what I was doing, and a lot of people didn’t think that I could do what I set out to do. Some of the people we winded up working with, they signed up with us, but in the back of their mind said, ‘He’s never going to get this thing off the ground.’ But if you put your mind to it and decide to do something, you just do it. I know a lot of people that talk about things. They have great ideas, but they can never get it off the ground. That’s never been my problem.”
The concept was born in 2012, and Limited Runs launched in January 2014. They currently work with more than 53 poster dealers, artists and photographers, sourcing art, vintage advertising, music and movie posters and fine art photography prints that they sell on their site. Some have big print runs, some are highly exclusive. Prices run as inexpensive as $100 and have gone as high as $55,000 for a rare half sheet poster from the 1939 Boris Karloff film Son of Frankenstein.
To spread the word and build the platform, Vudrag would tour the US in his van, setting up shop at various industry events and photo fairs. “It was that early punk rock thing where we put out our own records and went out on tour,” he says.
It was during those journeys that he realized how poor a job galleries and the established art world was doing at reaching potential buyers. People selling art at fairs would neglect to put pricing and sizing, and those in the still-rarefied world of galleries were more likely to alienate potential art buyers than embrace them.
So he decided to start his own fair to democratize the process. He’s booked out the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport for a weekend in September for the next three years.
For four days beginning on September 27th, ticket buyers will be able to get access to some of the most sought-after prints and rarest finds in the global print market (included will be a rare French vintage Casablanca poster that sold at auction for more than $200,000). But they’ll also get the opportunity to buy less expensive works and do so in an environment that is as accessible as it is transparent.
“My goal is to get everybody to put art on the wall. You have art on the wall, you’re a little bit happier in life,” he says. “My goal is to have a photo in every room and office everywhere in the world. If I can help do that, that’s great.”
Business isn’t always booming. And the challenges of a startup are as taxing whether you’re 24 or 54. But Vudrag’s current chapter is the most purposeful and focused one he’s had thus far.
“I kind of feel like I’ve come full circle. I started out with the idea of working in the art world, but I got involved in business, finance, legal,“ he says. “This is it for me. There isn’t going to be another chameleon. I think I finally found what I should be doing.”