Power hour: Friedman earned £35,000 from a song he wrote in an hour in 1981
Singer and songwriter Dean Friedman says he made more money selling 1,000 copies of an album direct to his fans in 2001 than he did selling millions of records in the 1970s.
The 62-year-old pop star earned his record label millions of pounds from his album ‘Well, Well,’ Said The Rocking Chair in 1978. He scored big chart hits with songs Lucky Stars, Lydia and Rocking Chair. But he says he barely saw a penny of the money because his record label took it all.
He went on to earn £35,000 from a song he wrote in an hour in 1981 and is now relying on his music catalogue to provide him with a pension. The biggest money mistake he ever made was buying only one Bitcoin in 2013 for just £390 and failing to invest in a computer that would have allowed him to mine hundreds of the coins.
He lives with wife Alison, 60, in Hudson Valley, New York State. A remastered version of his 1978 hit album was released last Friday and his UK tour starts today, ending at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.
Visit website deanfriedman.com for more information.
What did your parents teach you about money?
Not much. My father left when I was five and I do not think my mom, who was a singer, ever learned to balance the books. But she still managed to raise us four kids on her own. Money was tight but we never felt deprived. There was always music in the house.
I grew up with a strong work ethic – I knew, for example, I had to work hard to achieve a goal like playing the piano. But that was not necessarily associated with money for me.
What was the first paid work you ever did?
I had a paper round six days a week from age nine. My dog Joey used to follow me on my bike as I delivered the papers and I remember one day he lifted his leg and urinated all over them. So I laid them out on a lawn in the sun to dry. They ended up having a slightly yellowish tinge but I still delivered them.
I cannot remember exactly how much I got paid but I do remember that by the end of the summer I had a bag full of quarters totalling $60, which I used to buy my first guitar.
Centre stage: Dean Friedman on stage in 1979
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. When I was 15, I got in to university to study music on a scholarship. From that point on I moved out to the Bronx and started supporting myself. I gave guitar lessons to make ends meet and took out a student loan to help pay my rent.
It took me a few years to figure out that it was probably a good idea to pay the electric bill before they turned off the lights.
Even after I signed my first record deal at 21, I remember having to borrow money off my then girlfriend to get to the recording studio. The people at my record company were such cheapskates.
Have you ever been paid silly money for a job?
Yes. It took me about an hour to write the song McDonald’s Girl. Thirty years later, in 2011, I got a call from the corporate headquarters of McDonald’s asking to license the song for a national TV and radio campaign. They paid me more than $50,000 (the equivalent of £35,000 today).
That is now my retirement plan: to write a great hit song and then sit on my proverbial ass waiting around for 30 years until some corporation decides it is brilliant and they want to license it.
What was the best year of your life in terms of the money you made?
My best earning year was 1978. I sold more than a million records and was grossing millions of dollars around the world – but I hardly saw a penny of that money. I got screwed by my record label and made a few thousand bucks here and there. The rest was withheld in lawsuits. It was a record label cliché.
Loan: Dean bought a Martin D-35 acoustic guitar
What is the most expensive thing you have ever bought yourself just for fun?
IT was a beautiful Martin D-35 acoustic guitar for $750. I bought it with my first student loan when I was 15. I should have spent the money on books, but I saw it and had to have it. It proved to be a good financial decision though – it is worth more than £3,000 nowadays.
What is the biggest money mistake you have ever made?
Only buying one Bitcoin in 2013 when I could have bought more. It cost me £390 (one Bitcoin is now worth more than £6,000).
I bought it out of curiosity and as an experiment. I actually tried mining Bitcoins as well but the laptop I had was not powerful enough. If I had invested in a slightly better computer, I could have probably mined a couple of hundred Bitcoins.
What is the best money decision you have made?
Crowdfunding my Treehouse Journals album in 2001. I had written the songs but had to upgrade my studio and pay musicians to record them. So I emailed my fans around the world and asked them to buy the album in advance so I could make it. I managed to raise $25,000 and it totally changed the way I engaged with my audience. I made more money selling 1,000 copies of my album directly to my fans than I had previously selling millions of records.
Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?
No. I prefer not to invest in the stock market and my music catalogue is my pension.
Do you own any property?
Yes, the three-bedroom house I live in at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, not far from the Hudson River. It is semi-rural – bears, foxes and deer occasionally wander through the woods in my backyard but I can be at a Walmart in five minutes. I bought it for $150,000 31 years ago and I would estimate it has tripled in value since then. So it is worth about £320,000.
Pension: Dean Friedman’s song McDonald’s Girl was used for TV advertising
Do you pay off your credit cards in full?
Put it this way, owing zero on my credit cards has long been an ambition of mine. I am confident that one day I will achieve that seemingly insurmountable goal.
How much cash do you typically carry?
Sixty dollars. Enough for a takeaway dinner from my local Billy Bob’s BBQ. That will pay for a dozen spicy chicken wings and half a rack of St Louis ribs.
What is the one little luxury you like to treat yourself to?
Takeaway dinner from Billy Bob’s BBQ. It really is the best barbecue joint in the Hudson Valley. I only treat myself once a month. That is my limit or I stop fitting into my clothes.
If you were Chancellor of the Exchequer, what is the first thing you would do?
I would triple the salaries of teachers, nurses and care-workers; cap wages for the super-rich and increase funding for educational arts and music programmes.
I think it is sad that the people who work the hardest and contribute the most in society often get paid the least. Does any one individual need to earn more than $1 million (£700,000)? I do not think so.
Do you think it is important to give to charity?
Lending a hand to someone in need is always a good thing to do. I try to give in my own modest way and I am a big believer in contributing ‘politically’. Charitable organisations pick up the slack when government is not doing its share and letting people fall through the cracks.
With progressive government, you can create more equity without putting all the burden on charities.
What is your number one financial priority?
Not losing my wallet or smartphone. If I ever did that, boy, I would be in for a world of pain. I need those two objects to function in life.