Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom
: David Dickinson
by Tammy Moore
there we were, Danny G and I. We had just said our goodbyes
to David Dickinson, Director of A& R for Hamstein Music
Group, and we were exhaling deep gusts of breath as the elevator
doors closed and we caught a last glimpse of the floor to
ceiling collection of gold and platinum records that adorn
the walls, every wall, at Hamstein. There is no denying it.
The place is impressive. And, maybe just a tad surreal. Being
there is a feeling similar to the wonder and awe one imagines
Billy Shears and company felt upon arriving in the City of
Angels to sign their deal with BD Records in “Sgt. Pepper’s
Lonely Hearts Club Band.” (Yes, you’ve seen it,
and we both know it.) Those records, in all their prominence,
are representations of “the dream” realized, and
for dream chasers like Danny and me…the experience left
us, as Thoreau once said, rapt.
Music Group, acquired in February 2002 by the publishing division
of Mosaic Media Group, was formed in 1969 by Bill Ham, manager,
producer and publisher for world-famous rock band ZZ Top.
Pat Magnarella, a partner of Mosaic (the entertainment conglomerate
that has produced 12 Monkeys and Scooby-Doo and whose artist
management roster includes Alanis Morissette, The Goo Doo
Dolls, Jim Carrey, and Vince Vaughn to name a few), has said,
“The Hamstein music catalog is one of the most eclectic
and important in the music world.” The catalog includes
all previous ZZ Top albums (in addition to any future recordings
on RCA records), forty number one country songs performed
by the likes of Tim McGraw, George Straight, and Trisha Yearwood
among others, and over ninety top ten singles in R&B,
country, rock, alternative and adult contemporary music.
little before the time that Bill Ham was forming his publishing
company, a kid named David Dickinson was born in Dallas, Texas.
His mother, Pat, was a piano player, and the sounds of her
playing served as the first music he can recall on the soundtrack
of his life. Her melodies inspired him, and he got his first
guitar at the age of twelve. He had no idea how to play the
thing but sat up all night the day he got it and stared at
it, determined to master the instrument. It was then that
he knew that music was going to be his “thing.”
By the time he was sixteen or seventeen, he began playing
in Dallas-area rock bands. Like everyone else, he knocked
on a lot of doors back then trying to push his bands towards
new levels of success. Ironically, he knocked on Hamstein’s
door several times, but that door and others slammed in his
face. Those experiences helped Dickinson form an empathetic
attitude towards other artists, and he has retained it to
was another factor in his quest for musical recognition that
might have added insult to injury in the days when “no”
was a word he often heard. Bill Ham is Dickinson’s uncle!
Try as he might to get his well-connected uncle to help him,
Ham just didn’t hear anything that inspired him in the
material his nephew was bringing him. Dickinson decided that
music wasn’t taking him anywhere, so he decided to get
a degree. He enrolled at the DeVry Institute of Technology,
graduated with a degree of Applied Science in Electronics,
and went on to a “real” job with Digital Switch
Communications. Three years later, Uncle Bill called with
a different kind of offer. It was 1990, and Ham wondered if
Dickinson might be interested in working for ZZ Top as a “band
equipment technician” on a world tour. That was the
break he needed.
was after returning from the grueling eighteen month tour
with Billy Gibbons and the boys that he went to work for Hamstein
Music. When Dickinson first went to work there he started
in the tape room, and after spending three years there cataloging
material into the company archives, he was sure they were
going to keep him in that room forever. But his hard work
paid off, and eventually, he was promoted to an A&R job,
which put him in the position to work with the writers. They
would write the songs and turn them in to Dickinson. After
critiquing the songs, he would decide whether or not to get
the songs to managers, producers and artists and get them
cut. He would also listen to material submitted by outside
writers who were hoping to ink a publishing deal and scouted
live bands, always on the lookout for great talent.
Hamstein was sold to Mosaic, he found himself working in Hamstein
Productions. A typical week now involves scouting bands that
he records and produces himself in the company’s in-house
studio. From there, he shops record labels for deals for the
He has produced Downward, Spinning Chain and Austin’s
own He Kill Three to name a few.
bands strikes a gratifying chord in this guitar player. In
fact, it is pretty safe to say that David Dickinson is a contented
man these days. Maybe it’s because he’s happily
married to Heather. Maybe it’s because he is the proud
father of not one, but two sons, Elijah and Shiloh. Or maybe
it’s because lately he seems to possess that amazing
feeling that comes when one feels that everywhere they’ve
been and everything they’ve done up to now has led them
to this place in time where they are right where they want
to be. It is a place where business and creativity can merge,
going to work is a whole lotta fun, and the future looks so
bright he may have to borrow some cheap sunglasses from the
bearded ones. He agreed to answer some questions to help demystify
the seemingly complicated concepts behind music publishing
and this is what he had to say.
Can you define publishing for us, in layman’s terms,
and describe a standard publishing deal?
DD: There are two types, and I will break it down pretty easy
here. There’s a co-publishing deal, and there’s
a 100% publishing deal. On a 100% publishing deal, say if
$100 comes through the door, the publisher is gonna get $50,
and the writer is gonna get $50. In a co-pub deal, the publisher
will get $25, and the writer is going to get $75. So, if you
can negotiate it, the co-publishing deal is the better route
What is the role of the publisher?
DD: To collect the money when a song is being played on radio.
We try to exploit the songs and the bands as much as possible…get
them into movies, commercials, anything that will help promote
the song or the band. That’s what a good publisher would
How do you actually go about monitoring a song? How do you
keep up with where it’s being played?
DD: That’s ASCAP and BMI, and that’s a formula
that’s pretty detailed! ASCAP will get the money and
cut the check to us, and we will split it up, keep our portion,
and send the writer their portion. (Needless to say, I’ll
be interviewing the local ASCAP rep soon and will produce
this magic formula in that column).
A few years ago Hamstein released a six-disc catalog sampler
of songs, and the performing artists are some of the biggest
names in the world. In addition to ZZ Top, there are artists
like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Clint Black and Robert Plant
to name a few. Does that mean that Hamstein owns publishing
rights on all these artists?
DD: The sampler is basically to promote the company and the
writers, just to show what we’ve got. All the publishing
companies do that. A lot of people think that’s confusing,
though. They see that and think, “oh, you publish Eric
Clapton?” No! Not every song…this is what the
songwriter turns in and we sell the song to the producer or
the artist that’s [performing] it. We try to make sure
that they like the song enough to put it on their album. It
may be just one track.
So, in other words, you are representing the songwriters,
and then you talk Sting or U2 or whoever into performing that
song, and then the song makes its way into your catalog?
DD: Right. So when you walk in and you see gold records…no,
we don’t have every song but we’ve got a song,
or two, from that artist…
And your songwriter wrote the song?
DD: Yeah, that’s it.
People tell artists to “hang on to your publishing,”
and it seems like many artists these days act as their own
publishers. How does that affect the role of full-service
DD: Hang on to it as long as you can, but at some point, you’re
gonna have to do the deal. You should do a deal with a publisher
so that you can focus on being more creative instead of chasing
down your money.
Knowing all that you know now, what is the best piece of advice
you could give to aspiring artists in this crazy pursuit of
success in music?
DD: Just keep after it. It can happen. I’ve seen it
happen here. Just be true to your dreams, because they can
come true. Hook up with the right people. Surround yourself
with people that you feel comfortable with and network. Meet
as many people as you can. SXSW is a great place to do that,
because you’ve got everybody coming in from everywhere.
You know, The Four Seasons Hotel is a great place to hang
it? Keep reaching for the dream.