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Music Legends: Dick Clark

It was the place to be and he made it all happen. For 47 years, pop music’s television home was “American Bandstand” and the gentleman who hosted the long-running program was Dick Clark, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82.

Often called “America’s oldest teenager,” Clark was still in his twenties when he first took “American Bandstand” to a national audience.

Clark was many things besides the cheerful, unflappable host of “Bandstand.” A one-man media empire, Clark worked as if he were single-handedly trying to create enough programs to fill an entire network. He concepted and hosted game shows such as “The $10,000 Pyramid,” (which eventually morphed into “The $100,000 Pyramid”) and award shows like the “American Music Awards,” not to mention “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve,” which became an essential component of holiday festivities. He wasn’t into learning music production, but he dabbled in film production and appeared on camera in a couple of theatrical roles.

A one-man production dynamo, Clark also founded the American Music Awards, several of which were won by his friend, Michael Jackson. Clark had first introduced the nation to The Jackson Five on “Bandstand” in 1970.

But Clark will always be most closely associated with “Bandstand,” which at first was just another televised teenage dance party broadcast from a Philadelphia TV station. (At that time, most American cities large enough to have a television station had some type of similar program.) Clark’s triumph was to convince the ABC network to carry “Bandstand” as part of its national line-up. By 1957, the program was being run coast-to-coast and well on its way to becoming a national institution.

This was how “Bandstand” first looked. Constant dancing and interviews with the teen dancers. One popular feature: Rate-A-Record. (Sample interview response: “It had a good beat and it was easy to dance to. I give it an 85.”)

Stars on 45
Who appeared on “American Bandstand”? A better question is who didn’t. Pop icons such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Beach Boys, Prince, Chuck Berry, The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, KISS and James Brown all made the scene.

And as pop music evolved through the years, “Bandstand” worked to keep up with all the changes. When Motown began to dominate pop charts in the 60s, acts like Marvin Gaye and The Supremes appeared on the show. As the 70s Disco craze grew, artists such as Donna Summer and K.C. & The Sunshine Band were showcased. When Punk gave way to New Wave, “Bandstand” remained hip enough to feature emerging bands like Blondie and DEVO.

During the 80s, “Bandstand” brought national exposure to the first generation of Rap artists (including Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.), as well as to classic Rock bands of the day (e.g., Talking Heads, R.E.M.). And while it’s true that the program tended to focus on pop music’s softer sounds, the show did plenty to introduce audiences to hard Rock. If not, why would rockers like Aerosmith, The Doors and Steely Dan have bothered to appear?

By the 80s, music had changed plenty. Here Clark interviews Run-D.M.C., one of the first Rap acts to make it big.

“American Bandstand” finally left the airwaves in 1989, but that didn’t stop Clark from staying busy. Neither did a traumatic 2004 stroke that partially impaired his ability to speak. Clark remained the host of his New Year’s Eve show, although he finally shared hosting responsibilities with “American Idol’s” Ryan Seacrest.

Dick Clark bravely continued to host “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” after a serious stroke partially slurred his speech.

Clark (who was born in Bronxville, New York) was thrice married and had three grown children—not to mention an extended family of millions of television viewers who both liked and respected him. At the end of each broadcast of “American Bandstand,” Dick Clark would stand at his podium, always smiling and impeccably dressed in suit and tie, while dancing teenagers continued to whirl around him. He’d invite us back next week, say “So long” and always give a casual salute.

Right back at ya, Mr. Clark… 

The Music Legends series pays tributes to influential artists (in this case, music personalities) and styles of music. If you have an artist or type of music you’d like us to showcase, let us know via the comments.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Music Production,News Blog and have No Comments

What the Copyright Laws Mean to Musicians

The music industry has been undergoing massive change: Consumers have practically forsaken retail and physical media in favor of digital downloads and music labels still can’t understand how to embrace digital music or how its shared.

And now the Recording Industry Association of America (these are the same people that issue gold records) must wrestle with a new copyright law that will decide if the record labels – or the artists – actually own the hits and for how long.

The RIAA gives sales certifications to recording artists. This one, presented to Epic Records, is for for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Copyrights and Wrongs
The law was established in 1978 and will take effect in 2013. It’s a dense piece of legislation, but it comes down to a 1976 music copyright law and court ruling that says after a period of 35 years, artists could take legal action to get their master recordings back from the music labels that originally “published” them as singles or albums.

The reason, according to that ruling: Music companies are far more business-minded than artists, and have an automatic business advantage when dealing with artists. Therefore, after a set period of time, artists should get a second chance at negotiating a good deal for their creations.

As you might guess, the idea of artists regaining their original music isn’t too popular with music labels.

So what’s the big deal? After all, we’re talking about records that are 35 years old; today’s music is centered around Pop and Rap. However, that period of time produced an enormous wealth of very popular music (including Classic Rock, Punk, New Wave and Disco classics). Many of these songs are still popular today, and have seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to Rock Band, soda commercials, Glee and American Idol.

Recording artists like Bruce Springsteen may soon be able to take back ownership of their older master recordings from record labels.  

These songs become even more significant when you think that a record label may depend on them year after year for profits still generated by older albums sales, like The Eagles’ Hotel California. One label estimated that 90 percent of its current sales come from its back catalog. But many artists are ready to go after the labels very aggressively to regain the rights to their recordings.

Bruce Springsteen, spent nearly a year engaged in a similar court wrangle back in the mid-70s after he had signed away the rights to his songs to an early manager. (Springsteen’s early deal was so bad that if he had written an autobiography during the time, he wouldn’t have legally been allowed to quote lyrics from his own songs.) Springsteen was actually prevented from recording during his lengthy trial but eventually won his case. When he returned to the studio, he made one of his finest albums, Darkness on the Edge of Town. Ironically, that 1978 masterwork is one of the albums that could be affected by the new 35-year copyright rules.

The Download Dilemma
Consumers love the digital-download format. It’s incredibly accessible, and device friendly. For their part, music labels have been extremely hesitant to shift their business to the digital frontier. While it may make sense (digital songs take labels out of the costly business of manufacturing and shipping physical product), the RIAA feels digital downloads encourage file sharing or music piracy, plus they can’t directly control digital downloads like traditional retail.

The Recording Industry Association of America is leading the charge against music piracy.

Some artists are so fed up with the current state of the music biz they have taken a “vow of silence.” Pop/funk genius Prince (who’s been recording since the late 70s) recently stated he would refuse to release any new music until the industry could get a better handle on its business and how it’s fighting piracy. “The industry changed,” Prince said in an interview with The Guardian. “We [artists] made money before piracy…Nobody’s making money now except phone companies, Apple and Google.”

Sure, iTunes has revolutionized music distribution, but while the RIAA or musicians may find fault with Apple or Napster, the truth is that musicians and the industry must work together to adopt new technologies (like “the cloud”) and be at the forefront of these changes instead of being led by them. Musicians too are discovering ways to distribute their own music and get a larger slice of the pie. The RIAA also needs to understand its methods of fighting piracy are doing more to turn people off to new music than introduce them to it.

An open (and sarcastic) letter to the RIAA from Rolling Stone magazine. 

In the case of the 1978 copyright law, smart record labels will make an effort to reach out to the artists in question and cut a deal with them to continue to distribute their music. However, most industry analysts predict that each individual case will have to be determined by legal verdict, which could result in lengthy court battles between artists and music companies for years to come.

The Beat Goes On
Any time a new recording technology emerges, older technology is largely abandoned. This happened in the 80s when CDs first appeared and vinyl albums stopped being produced. This happened to the 70s relic, the 8-track tape. 8-tracks were replaced by cassette tapes, and cassettes ultimately were replaced by CDs. Some of these formats come back into fashion. For example, vinyl records have seen a comeback of sorts in recent years, but for the most part the old always gives way to the new.

Are you passionate about filling the world with the sound of music? America’s popular culture – and particularly its music – still sets the tone for the rest of the world, and that’s why the recording industry will always need creative and talented people to develop new music. Many of today’s great music producers are starting when they’re young; now there are many ways to learn music production and get into the music industry. It may remain to be determined how it’s getting on your music player, but music is here to stay.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Digital Music Production,News Blog and have No Comments