Posts

I am often amazed at how much today’s musicians can learn from the past.  We all think that we are in the age of digital music and the old rules no longer apply and that there are only new models to develop and pursue.  Wrong.  Instead, we can all learn a whole lot by looking backwards and trying to map the successes of the past to the future.  Lets take a look at the late Dick Clark’s career and see what we can learn.

Dick Clark capitalized on the integration of music and television long before “American Idol.” But his legacy extends well beyond the persona of the laid-back host of “American Bandstand” whose influence can still be seen on TV today.

He was the workaholic head of a publicly traded company, a restaurateur, a concert promoter and real estate investor. Clark, who died of a heart attack in April at age 82, left behind a fortune and is the model of entertainment entrepreneurship.  He was ahead of his time, creating a business empire built around his personality and interests that led the way for many other musician/ entrepreneurs to come.

“Work was his hobby,” said Fran La Maina, the longtime president of Dick Clark Productions Inc.

La Maina started as the production company’s financial controller in 1966. He estimates Clark amassed a fortune that reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars. “He had this never-give-up attitude. He was a great salesperson and a task master,” La Maina said.

Clark was one of the early pioneers of the idea that a public company can be formed around an entertainer’s personal appeal. By the time La Maina went to work for him, Clark already had three shows on air: “Swingin’ Country,” “Where the Action Is,” and, of course, “American Bandstand.”

He promoted more than 100 concerts a year back when promoters, not bands, called the shots. His roster included The Rolling Stones and Engelbert Humperdinck. In the 1970s, he launched shows like the “American Music Awards” and “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” – shows that are highly valued by advertisers because fans still want to watch them live in an age of digital video recorders.

At one point, he hosted shows on all three major TV networks, including “The $20,000 Pyramid” on ABC, “Live Wednesday” on CBS and “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” on NBC. All the while, he was hosting shows “Dick Clark’s Countdown” and “Rock, Roll & Remember” on the radio and running a business.

“He had boundless energy and a remarkable ability to do innumerable things at any given time,” La Maina said.

By the time it went public in 1987, Dick Clark Productions had several thousand employees, had launched a restaurant chain with Clark’s name on it, and ran a communications-promotion business. Revenue exceeded $100 million a year and the company was profitable.

His daily schedule was daunting, even when Clark was in his late 50s and 60s, according to longtime board member Enrique Senior, a managing director at Allen & Co. who helped Dick Clark Productions go public. “It frankly was the schedule of a 20-year-old,” Senior said. “This guy was a dynamo. I’ve never seen anybody who would be so personally involved in everything he did.”

What can be learned?  Work hard, diversify, promote, be personally involved, build a great team around yourself, dream, and go for it.

Read more here from Ryan Nakashima at the Associated Press.

I ran into Jim Griffin this weekend and as usual, he got me thinking about music and it’s future. We talked a little bit about Chorus, the new controversial Warner Music backed company trying to create a music utility service for colleges. I’ll tell you the guy is like a bolt of lightning and his fever can leave you doubting what you know yet somehow I always come away with something new to think about and ponder. I listened to him speak briefly and then found a transcription of a similar speech he gave at Midem last year which I wanted to share with you. The complete speech is here: Jim Griffin Speech and a brief excerpt is below. Enjoy!

“It sort of struck me once, I was reading Marshall McLuhan, and I recommend Marshall McLuhan to everyone here who has not already read some of McLuhan’s work. McLuhan is a terribly influential person in media in the 1960’s, so much so that if you’ve seen the movie Annie Hall you may recall that he appears in that movie with Woody Allen in a line outside of a movie theater, and he’s very well known for having said that the medium is the message. I always wondered what that meant. And now that we live in a time of MP3, I think all of us can acknowledge that McLuhan had it right, that in some ways it’s more about what format something comes in these days than it is even the music itself.

But McLuhan said something else that escaped my notice until say five years ago. He indeed said that you will never understand the media of your time. He said that the media of your time is like the air that you breath. You’re unconscious of it. It’s like the water in which a fish swims. He said that you would only understand your media through the rearview mirror of history. And so it is that it led me back to the library to look through microfiches and so forth from the 1920’s and around that time period, because it was around that time period that electricity started to spread around the world. Before electricity spread around the world, for the most part, it could be said that an artist was in complete control of their art. Especially in the sense that, you know, they controlled it with their feet because if they weren’t in the room you couldn’t see them or hear them. Then in rapid succession over several decades we have the spread of electricity around the world, and loudspeaker systems evolve that make the crowd bigger than you can count. And then very very quickly radio broadcast, and now sounds are traveling many thousands of miles beyond their source. Then television is proven out in 1928. And so now your sound and your image can travel thousands of miles. Now, look, I get how we feel special living in this time that we do of the net. We think, wow, we are beset with change unlike we have ever seen. But I would say that that is absolutely untrue. The 1920’s, the spread of electricity, this was a far more savage time to be an artist. This was a far more difficult time.

Our changes, that we are seeing, are merely a gradation of change by comparison to what happened when electricity spread around the world. And so we have something to rely upon that they did not. We have something to look to, which is: what was their experience; how did they handle this dramatic change. I think that without question the way we handled this dramatic change was with collective licensing. In other words, loudspeaker systems, hotels, restaurants, wherever there are performances of music that are so powerful, we have a collecting society that would like to monetize this, and can and does, monetize the anarchy of music moving through say loudspeakers. And equally true of radio, and television broadcast, and cable, and satellite, and as recently as this past decade, we now monetize webcasting over the net in America in just this same way. And so I don’t think it is a great stretch, or that you have to think too far into the future to realize that it would truly be an anomaly if collective licensing did not extend itself further. It does not require a crystal ball to figure this out.

I think it is just about looking back into history and realizing that the way we have dealt with the loss of control, the loss of actual control, has been with the introduction of actuarial economics. And I know actuarial is a big word, you know, but it’s really simple. It’s just a pool of money and a fair way of splitting it up: a pool of money, a fair way of splitting it up. And that is how we have dealt with the loss of control in the past and I suggest to you it is likely that that will be the way we deal with loss of control now and into the future.”