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.