road to rock stardom

David Dickinson - photo, danny g(A Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom : David Dickinson
by Tammy Moore

So 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.

Hamstein 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.

A 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 this day.

There 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.

David Dickinson - photo, danny gIt 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.

After 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 artists.
He has produced Downward, Spinning Chain and Austin’s own He Kill Three to name a few.

Producing 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.

R&R: 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 to go.

R&R: 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 do.

R&R: 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).

R&R: 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.

R&R: 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…

R&R: And your songwriter wrote the song?
DD: Yeah, that’s it.

R&R: 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 publishers?
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.

R&R: 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 out.

R&R: Perseverance?
DD: Absolutely!

Got it? Keep reaching for the dream.


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