He’s sold more than 24 million albums and an estimated $226million worth of concert tickets since 1994 — all while travelingthe country so much that he should have his own bus line. Still,the low-key jam-band boss Dave Matthews is an unlikely candidatefor rock & roll’s next mogul-in-the-making.
But in the last few months, the 35-year-old Matthews has quietlytransformed himself from arena rocker to all-media hawker. Thelatest additions to the Dave Matthews brand: ATO Pictures, a filmcompany that produced the Sundance award-winning documentaryAmandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony and will helpdistribute its two soundtracks; a new Ben & Jerry’s flavor, OneSweet Whirled, which hit freezers this month; and even a $375,limited-edition snowboard designed by bassist Stefan Lessard.
Still, don’t expect Matthews to imitate the goofy guy in his”Everyday” video, embracing every promotional opportunity thatpresents itself. (Guess that $4,500 Kiss Kasket is out.) ”They’revery, very selective,” says Richard Hart, president of theStronghold Group, a brand-management firm that connects Matthewswith corporations. (Matthews declined to comment for this story.)”This is not about selling out or looking for dollars. Thisremains about finding products that fit the lifestyle they like,the image they have, the messages they want to bring to thepublic.”
While those messages may seem as vague as his lyrics, Matthewsdoes project an air of anticelebrity do-goodism. Rather thanchoosing big-business, cred-crushing tie-ins, he leans towardpolitically like-minded partners a la Ben & Jerry’s. Proceedsfrom the DMB-inspired caramel-and-coffee pints will raise moneyfor Matthews’ four-year-old Bama Works Foundation, which channelsfunds to charities like the Save Our Environment Action Center.”We thought of the tradition of the Grateful Dead and Phish,”says Ben & Jerry’s marketing head Walt Freese, ”bands that werebuilt by their fans as opposed to promotion.” When the companytest-marketed the idea of a Matthews flavor, Freese says thegroup scored high on ”integrity and values.”
Not that fans would need much convincing to drop their ChunkyMonkeys. ”There’s really not a big din of ‘sellout,”’ notes JohnAthayde, cofounder of nancies.org, one of the 11-year-old group’smost popular fansites. Even pricey memorabilia like a $139 hempjacket doesn’t rankle diehards. ”Most of the early Dave fans were[University of Virginia] fraternity kids,” says Athayde. ”Thesekids are looking to make $100,000 a year, so if their favoriteband can [make] that in one show, then great.”
Those same Dave disciples also helped make a surprise hit ofDavid Gray’s White Ladder. The 2001 disc was released on BMGsubsidiary According to Our Records — a label founded in 1999 byMatthews, manager Coran Capshaw, and business partners MichaelMcDonald and Chris Tetzeli. Matthews plugged Ladder extensivelyin interviews, and early copies were stickered with hisendorsement. ”I don’t think anybody else would have worked [thealbum] for so long,” says Gray’s manager, Rob Holden. ”They’remotivated by a love for the music.” Of course, a healthy payoffdoesn’t hurt: Ladder has sold more than one million copies.(Other ATO artists — such as singer-songwriters Chris Whitley andBen Kweller — have garnered critical kudos but fallen short ofplatinum sales.)
Matthews’ latest enterprise might surprise the concert-and-keggercrowd. In late 2001, ATO launched a film division with plans toproduce a handful of movies per year. First up is Amandla!, whichfollows anti-apartheid musicians in South Africa (the title means”power” in Xhosa) and is due in theaters by year’s end. DirectorLee Hirsch wasn’t worried about selling his work to a cinematicneophyte: ”The partnership could allow a film like this to reachhis fan base, which traditionally may not be a documentary orart-house audience.”
Besides, Matthews offers benefits few film veterans can match.ATO plans to distribute two soundtrack albums, one featuringSouth African artists from the film paired with Western musicians(Wyclef Jean is among the performers who have been approached).There’s even talk of mounting a touring stage show.
With this crush of entrepreneurialism, is it possible thatMatthews will become the true king of all media? ”That’s in theplans,” laughs ATO president McDonald, ”but I can’t talk aboutthat now.” Note to Howard Stern: Watch your back.
(Additional reporting by Bob Cannon)
”It was easy to get out of his punishments, but, man, he’s a good yeller — ol’ yeller. A good screaming could put me in my place.” — Drena De Niro, on her father (and Showtime costar) ROBERT DENIRO