From music industry honcho to auditory advocate

RVC resident recalls career working with famous artists


“I got a call from Richard Branson, who was starting a new record label called V2,” Rockville Centre resident Dan Beck recalled, “and he asked me to be the president of the North American company.”

About two years later, in 1999, Beck left the position because he was losing his hearing. He was recently honored as an Oticon Focus on People Award finalist for supporting hearing initiatives since his diagnosis.

Beck, 67, who is originally from Pennsylvania, loved music from a young age and played in a number of local bands. After college, he headed to Nashville, where he got a job at a magazine called Record World. He became the publication’s southeastern editor in the early 1970s, which helped spread his name through the industry.

When Epic Records started its publicity department in the early 1970s, Beck was hired as a publicist, beginning two decades of working closely with some of music’s biggest artists.

He started in Nashville, but soon moved to New York, where he served as Epic’s head of publicity, a product manager — a liaison between various artists and their managers — and the senior vice president of marketing and sales. Beck worked with acts such as Cheap Trick, Boston, Cyndi Lauper, Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson, spearheading 16 music videos for the late King of Pop and even creating the name and concept for Jackson’s “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1.”

Beck was one of the creators of music videos, and also helped pioneer closed captioning in the 1980s to allow the hearing-impaired to enjoy music by reading lyrics, starting an industry trend that other labels quickly adopted.

Throughout his time with some of the brightest talents in music, Beck said it was their entrepreneurial spirit that impressed him the most. “Over the course of the long haul, I guess what stands out is just how difficult it is for these artists,” he noted. “They all work so hard, no matter what their level of success. They do it without a [paycheck] every two weeks.”

When he became V2 Records’ president in North America, he cultivated a culture designed to empower the young staff. After all, Beck said, an artist’s talent and drive is only half of what determines success in the music industry.

“It’s the publicist and the marketing people and the radio promotion people,” he said. “It’s that as much as it is the talent of the musicians, and it’s trying to blend that together to create achievable goals.

“…I love working with them because you’re always learning,” he added of the artists. “There’s always something new and a new perspective and new ideas.”

Beck hit a wall in 1999, just two years after joining V2. Not as happy or energetic as before, he thought he had fatigue syndrome. But a hearing test determined that he Beck had lost 65 percent of his mid-range hearing in both ears.

“The way I was communicating,” he said, “you hear 60 percent of what everybody says, you’re reading lips for 20 percent of it and then you’re missing 20 percent of it.” Still, he was shocked by the diagnosis.

Feeling “freaked out” and vulnerable, Beck stepped down as V2’s president. Though the mid-range hearing loss was hereditary, Beck said, he attributed his recent high- and low-frequency hearing loss to the more than 5,000 shows he attended throughout his career.

He soon began advocating for public awareness of hearing loss. In 2002 he produced an educational film called “Listen Smart” — featuring many artists he had worked with — about the importance of taking care of one’s hearing by wearing ear plugs at rock shows, for example. The film won a CINE Golden Eagle Award, and has been shown at hundreds of schools as well as at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Don’t stick your head in the speaker,” Beck advised. “We all like it loud, and that’s OK. Just learn how to deal with loud.”

Now retired and living in Rockville Centre, where he moved in 1984, he keeps busy. He is now a trustee of the Music Performance Trust Fund, a charitable organization that provides grants for musicians to perform free live shows, and also serves on the board of directors of Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers.

Kathy Peck, a bass player, singer, composer, producer and publisher who co-founded HEAR, lauded Beck for his nationally recognized advocacy for the hearing impaired, calling him a dear friend and mentor. Peck’s organization uses “Listen Smart” as an educational tool.

“We are so proud of Dan and his work,” Peck wrote to the Herald in an email. “Dan’s caring and compassion has improved the lives of not only music people and young people with his work in hearing loss prevention ... but helped change generations to come with his massive efforts in bringing about closed captioning.”

Along with Beck’s positions in various organizations, he also manages his great nephew’s band, called A Summer High, which is still looking for its big break. His main goal though, he said, is to urge those with hearing loss to keep living life to the fullest, as he has.

“Stay connected,” he said. “Do something about your hearing loss; get hearing aides. My fear is losing contact. It’s easy to drift away. It’s easy to not be a part of the conversation.”