The Music Man
You might not know who Chip Davis is, but chances are you've heard at least one of the thousands of songs he has recorded under his record label, Mannheim Steamroller. Davis's first hit, "Convoy," which he originally recorded as an advertising jingle, went on to sell 10 million copies and helped Davis earn Country Music Writer of the Year honors in 1976. Since then, Davis has sold some 34 million albums with a diverse range of themes, from Christmas albums to New Age recordings like his Fresh Aire series, which earned him a Grammy in 1990. Over the years, though, Davis has also founded five companies under the banner of American Gramaphone, all of which were fueled by his passion for music.
"I was never trained in business. I was a musician. I graduated from the school of the seat of my pants. Necessity is the mother of invention, and as new needs have popped up over the years, I've done things to keep my projects rolling. All five of my companies are inspired by music, but each has a different function -- from the record label, to the distribution arm, food and print divisions, and my latest, Ambiance Medical, which works with high-end hospitals to use music to promote the power of healing.
"People have always told me, 'Chip, you think outside the box.' My answer has always been, 'I didn't know there was a box.' When I started writing jingles, I learned about the economics of a recording session, what you could charge, what does the traffic beat, and that got me thinking along the lines of business. And when the record labels said they couldn't sell my music, I started my own label and distribution company.
"Everything for me starts with music -- even the food division. As the fan base has grown, we wanted to create some new things to go with the music. You can't sell music into a grocery store, but you can if you package it with food. The food products we make are often seasonal, like our cinnamon hot chocolate, and we make that part of musical gift packs. We sold 500 tons of hot chocolate last year. We do the same thing with our grilling products in the summer, which we sell with music that's geared toward party time.
"I'm really excited these days about what we're doing with Ambiance Medical, which we started about a year and a half ago. We're using audio recordings to help patients with anxiety and claustrophobia. The audio is a combination of natural sounds like rainstorms, birds, and wind that I have recorded on my farm in Omaha, Nebraska, mixed with some of my music. We are already in 85 different hospital rooms around the country and we have gotten very positive feedback so far.
"My biggest obstacle is getting involved in too many things going at once. Sometimes I catch myself coming and going, but I've been fortunate to make a good living at a young age and now I have the money to experiment with new things."
Darren Dahl is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, North Carolina.