BY VAL BRKICH
Pearl Jam. James Brown. The Indigo Girls. Most of us would recognize these as some of the most influential artists in music history. For DAN BECK ’72, they’re former clients.
Beck is managing partner of Big Honcho Media in New York City, a boutique marketing agency specializing in radio and TV promotions for the entertainment industry. His career in the industry spans almost four decades, much of it at Epic Records, where he promoted artists like The Clash, Meat Loaf, Boston, Cyndi Lauper, Luther Vandross, Gloria Estefan, and Michael Jackson. Beck personally came up with the name for Jackson's greatest hits album, “HIStory.”
In his college days, Beck was president of student government, wrote for the Minuteman newspaper, and took part in Colonial Theatre while earning his B.S. in management. The university honored him in 1984 with its prestigious Heritage Award.
What first ignited your passion for music?
It all galvanized one Sunday night in 1963, when I saw The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I was 13 at the time, and I was captivated by the excitement and frenzy they caused. From that moment on, my life has been all about music.
How did getting engaged at Robert Morris help your career?
Each activity introduced me to an educator or an administrator who was profoundly influential, and each provided a dimension toward my ultimate goal to build a career in the music industry. I can still repeat specific philosophies on business and some experienced insight that came from those classes.
What made Robert Morris such a special place for you?
RMU provided a lot of opportunities that were there for the taking. I dove in. I was the kid in the candy store.
What was it like when you were presented with the Heritage Award?
It was a real honor. A recording artist I worked with at the time, Charlie Daniels, actually surprised me (and certainly the administration!) by showing up at the dinner and playing an acoustic guitar set. A few years later, I was invited back to receive an honorary doctorate in business administration.
What’s Music Bizz Fizz?
Music Bizz Fizz is a blog I started after my friends suggested that I should write the book about my experiences over the years in the music business. I’m currently working on a few ideas for books and seminars, and the blog has given me a means to explore writing.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you in the music business?
I was writing songs with Ian McDonald from Foreigner for his solo album back in 1980. He lived in The Dakota in New York City. We worked for a couple of months and were getting nowhere. One night I decided to blow off the meeting because it was so frustrating. That night John Lennon was killed in the doorway there. I never went back… and never wrote with Ian again. It was an extremely strange and sad experience.
Who was your favorite artist to work with and why?
I really have many favorites. Michael Jackson, The Clash, Tammy Wynette, Pearl Jam, Cheap Trick, Moby, Luther Vandross, and Sade quickly come to mind. They all brought something unique and powerful to music. I had a great relationship with each one of them, and there is nothing better than feeling like you are a small contributor to that kind of impact and success.
Who are some of your favorite artists today?
I don’t really listen as much as I would like. I like The Fray, Jay Z, Carrie Underwood, Ce Lo, lots of niche music — Euro dance tracks, Americana, blues, etc. I bounce around and have pretty eclectic interests.
Why do you think it’s important to stay connected with the friends you made at Robert Morris?
It reconnects you to your youth and your ideals at the very beginning of adulthood. No matter what struggles, good fortunes or tragedies we’ve each experienced, we all still strongly share those ideals and experiences. It is life-affirming. Pick up the phone. Connect on Facebook. Don’t miss the opportunity to remember something dumb you did 40 years ago. It’s all okay.
If you could give a current student some advice, what would it be?
Trust your instinct. Take some risks. Ask questions. Be curious. Be dependable. Be trustworthy. Keep it simple. Do something you love… even if it isn’t something you do for a living. Invest your heart.