On Wednesday evening, Belmont University, in partnership with BMI, hosted a special edition of The Insider’s View, an exclusive roundtable discussion exploring the solo career of Michael Jackson. The four featured speakers—Frank Dileo, Steve Popovich, Larry Stessel and Dan Beck—all served in strategic positions at Epic Records during Jackson’s unprecedented career from 1975 until his untimely death in 2009. Mr. Dileo, who personally managed Michael throughout much of the 1980s, reunited with the singer just weeks before he passed away.
Beck, who product managed Michael Jackson at Epic through the “Dangerous” and “HIStory” albums, said, “The opportunity to share our unique experiences of working with Michael Jackson with the students at Belmont University was very special for each of us. As long-time friends and colleagues, we have an extraordinary respect and appreciation for each other’s work, so we were eager to learn from this event as well. The students, faculty and administration at Belmont created the perfect environment for us to capture for the first time, some historic perspective on Michael’s phenomenal career.”
In addition to serving twice as Jackson’s manager, Dileo was head of Epic’s national promotion department, which yielded seven Top 10 singles from “Thriller.” Jackson first played the album for Dileo in his car on a Walkman, and then asked his radio promoter what he thought could be done to market the project. “To get out of the car,” Dileo recalled, “I just said, ‘I’m going to release two singles at one time.” Though unprecedented at the time, the strategy worked, and Dileo landed both “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” in the top five on the radio charts at the same time.
“Thriller” remains the largest selling album in the history of recorded music. Jackson’s music videos dominated the airwaves and changed popular music. His dance moves enthralled the world, and the controversies surrounding his life garnered global headlines. From a childhood star to the ultimate rock, pop and soul superstar, Michael Jackson will be a topic of cultural historians and enduring fans for decades to come.
“Before MTV started in the early ’80s, you really became a star based on your music, on the songs and on touring,” said Stessel, who served as the product manager and point person for the marketing strategies in launching “Thriller.” “There’s a good possibility that we’ll never again see the type of mania that surrounded the Beatles, Michael Jackson or Elvis.”