The Graduate: Conor Clark, Oppy Alumni
By: Phuong Tran
This month’s The Graduate features Oppy alumni Conor Clark, whose career has traversed architectural engineering, consulting, and as of late, a band, music label, and acting. He maneuvers these ventures with the grace and business acumen of someone who has…you guessed it, an MBA. I’ve known Conor since I took over his famous Stern Singles column (from which he is now engaged!), and it was wonderful to catch up and learn more about just how applicable business is in every interest you may have in life.
Conor Clark…where do we begin with him? Engineer turned model? Musician and LLC founder? Stern Singles column founder and successful love story?
Tell us about your journey to Stern, your time during Stern and life post-Stern, and include all good things about the Oppy, because you loved it so much.
Yes, hello! I graduated from Stern in May 2021, so I’m a recent graduate. I’d been working in New York since 2016 as an engineer at an architectural consulting firm, getting to scale all my favorite buildings and walk around on their roofs and fix all their problems. I was a historical preservation and adaptive reuse specialist, so I got to work on buildings like Moma, the Waldorf Astoria. I don’t know if you’re ever out in like Industry City in Brooklyn, but that was also a big project of mine. But yeah, just kind of exploring all over the city and helping people solve problems, whether it’s mitigating carbon emissions or building glass and houses on their roof. And through this I It was. I really loved that job, but I started to realize it was getting a little too like niche and specialized, and I wanted to kind of open things back up and get more I don’t know agency, more influence, on all aspects of development, so at that time I decided to enroll in Stern’s Langone program.
So I was working during the day, riding scaffolds, climbing walls, and then at nights I would come hang out at NYU and learn all the things that MBAs do. Through that time I found the Oppy, which really might be the keystone of my NYU Stern experience. Obviously Stern is filled with amazing communities of people that are doing really cool stuff. But at that time in my life, I wanted to do more stuff with either writing, creative writing, anything like that, and just engaging with other people in the community. And Deirdre, who was my editor in chief (I know you’re editor in chief now), and I just really appreciated the opportunities that she provided to me, like letting me run with stupid ideas, like… Stern Singles, and well, that’s how I met my now fiancée Shelby. As soon as we put [Stern Singles] out there people were like, Yes, give us more of this like this, this is what we’re here for. And of course, as Covid came around in 2020, the column just grew exponentially. [Click here to read about this Stern Singles success story]. We got engaged this July, in France. It was really gorgeous.
Yeah, those photos are immaculate. *heart eyes* Well congrats, and to all those reading, now you know. Nominate yourself or a friend for Stern Singles, and this could be you.
So tell us about your little venture, your band.
My venture is growing. Shelby and I are planning on leaving New York eventually, but before we do that, I really want to make sure that in this next year, I do all of the things that I want out of New York. I don’t know the next opportunity I’ll have where I’m in this environment and this network of people. So this led to some really stupid ideas. But the solutions that came out of solving those problems led to some pretty amazing stuff.
I was working on a mushroom farm (another story) during the pandemic, and I was writing a lot of music when I was in Alabama. Just kind of trying to do my own Steve Lacy type vibe, recording stuff on my phone. And just writing lots of songs, making lots of music. When you do that, you make a lot of crappy songs, but you know, occasionally, a good one comes out of it, and I’m still playing a lot of those songs from Alabama. Another thing that came out of this is that people told me that I should do modeling, and I was kind of brushed it off, and I was like No, it’s dumb whatever. But then I told myself no, we’re going to be deliberate about these things. Let’s do it. I did a portfolio shoot, we sent some stuff out, and it went literally nowhere. *laughs*
But I now had something I could send to people to be like, hey, I’m out there. I started doing open mics at Daily Press out in Ocean Hill in Brooklyn, at Pete’s Candy in Williamsburg and some Manhattan spots as well. I’m getting great responses. The songs resonated with people, these are distinct, unique songs and I was being told you have a certain voice, and I’m like cool, I’ll keep going with it.
Then one night I’m at Daily Press out in Brooklyn, and someone comes up to me after my performance and says, “Have you ever done TV before?” And I say “Nooo, tell me more, what’s going on?” And she said, “I’m casting people for this role that is glamorous, a sixties man at a boat party.” I said “That could sound like me, let’s do it.”
You do give off old timey Gatsby vibes.
So I exchange info with her and find out that it’s for an extra role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I was hype because my mom and I love that show. And it was a really cool experience, and I’m looking at it like there is no risk to doing this other than a few hours of lost sleep.
So I went, and they put me in a full period piece costume. They gave me slicked back hair. And it was a really cool experience to see how these like sets run, and all of the logistics that go into big time production like these. And through that it’s much like consulting recruiting – once the machine starts going, the momentum does not stop. I’ve continued to get cool opportunities. I’ve been on Donald Glover’s reboot of Mr. And Mrs. Smith on an Amazon prime series, and then also Wu-Tang: An American Saga, as an extra. I have a Talent Manager now, which is wild. And she’s got me auditioning for more speaking roles and different stuff like that.
But all this to say is that I noticed that on my pay stubs coming in, most of them were taxed super hard when you’re working as an individual, and I was like, Oh, if I can create an LLC, I can get an employee identification number, and I can get a more favorable tax rate, and get more money out of these experiences and different things. While all of this is going on, my good friend, Aidan Miller, who I went to Swarthmore with for undergrad, is the drummer of a cover band with some friends, doing shows at places like Pink’s in the East Village.
They told me that they’re looking for a singer and someone who can write original songs, and I’m like sweet, that’s me. Let’s do it. And I was adopted. And as things progressed, we started writing some of our own, like originals and different things. We renamed ourselves Dogboy and we are. We are Dogboy and kind of all the same things applied like when we’re getting paid by venues when we’re doing like march orders and different things like that. It really benefits us if we are an LLC. To get taxed as a business instead of as individuals. So with that, we created Dogboy Entertainment, LLC. It’s called Dogboy Entertainment and not Dogboy Music. I can be both a music and acting company, and have two different revenue streams.
Look at you, you did learn from your MBA!
That’s the funniest thing because if you ask me where I would be using my MBA, I would not have expected this little side venture. But yeah, it’s all the same things, whether it’s consulting frameworks, or just good business management knowledge. It all still applies here, and it’s allowed us to get way more growth than anyone expected, because really Dogboy has only been functioning for a couple months. And we’ve gotten pretty massive exposure. We’ve gotten merch orders. If you come to the show tonight, I’ll give you a tote bag. We also have t-shirts.
I have so many questions right now. First of all, going into this, I knew you were cool, but I did not anticipate hearing this arc of being side modeling actor extras, turned musician, so good for you.
Where did the name Dogboy come from?
Yes, that’s a good question. So initially, the band was called Serviceable For Now, which is exactly that, it was serviceable. It needed to change.
So I had initially thrown around this idea: Shelby’s favorite flower is a peony, and I used to say that my first album is going to be called Planet Peony, for her. And then the second album was going to be called I Love My Wife, but we’ll get to that one later. Then when Dogboy came around, we weren’t DogBoy. Yet I really wanted the band to be called Ginkgo dream like a ginkgo tree, and then it got cut down to just ginkgo. And then a couple of weeks went on, and we tried to toy with more names. We liked the “tree” vibe, and thought of magnolia and dogwood. And that’s when Paul had the stroke of genius to be like, “What if we took dogwood, cut the wood, and just put Dogboy?” and immediately everybody was like “Yes, that’s it. Dogboy.”
How did you go about setting up your LLC. Was that difficult? Did you know how to do it? Did you have to research, did your MBA help you out? Because I currently wouldn’t know.
I would say it can feel overwhelming, but once you actually weigh into it, it is a lot more simple. I’d done two other LLC Incorporations while I was an undergrad actually. If I’d had more time, I probably would have done more work to reach out to the Stern community and see if anybody could do it on their own or like new. But instead, I went the user friendly route of LegalZoom, and it was very straightforward with them. Like you just provide the information and pay your fees. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s not financially oppressive.
Then we received the articles of incorporation; our Employee ID number. It’s really just like going to a bank and opening a business bank account and making sure all the information is linked up. So then you can accept payments through Zelle, Paypal, Venmo.
I would say the one recommendation I would have for anyone looking to do this type of thing, whether it’s with a band, or whatever else, be very clear about your name, like you can have a creative name, but it needs to say exactly what you do in in the title, and much like a business charter document, or anything like that of like, make sure to predict the questions that will be asked of your business, and have very clear, concise answers to it. So just be prepared with that. Having a logo prepared will also open many doors. Having a logo legitimized us, and we’ve printed tons of stickers with our logo. On the backs of all the stickers I’ll handwrite our information down, and sometimes information about upcoming shows, and I go to shows when I go to different events and stuff. I just hand them out like business cards because everybody loves a sticker. I really want Greenwich Village to be coated in Dogboy stickers, so NYU Stern, let me know. I’ll give you guys all the stickers you want.
You are totally allowed to promote with The Oppy! All I can say about this honestly is, I feel like many small bands have the vision, but it’s so hard to actually be multifaceted and a business. You get most just good musicians, or just good at being in a band. But you have this incredible business background now, and you just know what to do, you have the experience to turn it into something bigger. I don’t think that’s as obvious for everyone who wants to do this, and a lot of people probably have to go pay a manager or get someone with nicer finances. And you’re like, ‘I’m realizing that these taxes are way too high, and I’m not making the whole thing for my buck that I’m getting from these gigs.” And so you’re doing something about it which is incredible for not just you but other aspiring artists.
Yeah, and that goes back to the NYU Stern education, because it’s just the same financial economics stuff. No one knows what they’re doing in terms of managers, so like, “How do you pick a good one? Well, the one with the lowest fees.” You minimize cost as much as you can. I’ve got big brother, big sister bands and am just trying to learn as much as I can from these other people that have the skill sets that I don’t. Just continue to build this up, but on the label side of things, because this is kind of important, because we are an LLC. When we went to get a distribution deal for, like Spotify the digital releases and things. We were able to get this distribution deal as a record label as opposed to just an individual band, which allows us to release music, not just for Dogboy, but for any other bands that we might take in under Dogboy entertainment, LLC. Again, because we’re thinking ahead. This isn’t like most bands just use DistroKid, or anything like that, because they’re doing this very independently. DistroKid is a great service, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t control your release dates. There’s no client services or anything like that, and It’s really just U.S.-based, and you can’t expand. Now, the distribution deal that Dogboy has is a global distribution deal on all major streaming platforms, as well as physical copies, too, so vinyl, CDs, even cassettes, if you want them.
So we’re really excited about securing that and using it, not just for us, but for other bands. Because, again, this is all about community. We just want to help everyone do this, because the economies of scale suck, like It’s really difficult to grow. So if we create a system like this, a little stretch forward, we make it easier for all the people we care about. Get it out there to everyone.
Yeah, that’s so incredible. You wouldn’t expect how you would make that kind of natural growth without having those kinds of systems in place. So that’s awesome that you now know so much, and you’re not giving yourself enough credit for knowing enough, because I think many people struggle with this like smaller groups and whatnot. That’s probably why you’re growing so fast. What a fun way to round out your time in New York!
So what do you want to happen next? Are you going to accidentally become a recurring character on a TV show who does music on the side? Yeah, like what? What are you envisioning your life?
I want to do all the New York things, but also I want to get to a place in my life where I’m not held to any one particular revenue stream. I’m trying to diversify and bring all these different things in. So when I’m not feeling the music stuff that much, I can focus more on being a strategy consultant, and being an actor. I want to continue advancing my career in consulting, and I’m not going to slow down with that, and it’s like having the right balance of like where we can like, push and pull levers like when needs change.
The biggest thing for us right now in terms of Dogboy is just getting some stuff recorded, getting music out there. While shows are incredible, and they definitely are the best way to understand the energy we’re bringing, and what our message is. Not everyone can make it to every show, so we’ve got to meet our audience where they’re at, and that’s putting stuff out on Spotify, Bandcamp, etc. We are recording our first EP in October and November. We’re going to keep booking bigger shows because we’re trying to expand our reach and start playing in some new venues and hopefully in front of newer people.
The thing is, everything has a life cycle, you know, no one knows when these things, especially passion projects, are going to end. So how do we create enough like memorable, sustainable content right now, so no one ever forgets that Dogboy existed? Part of that is when we release our first EP. We’re also planning to release a Dogboy zine, and get poet and writer friends to contribute content, because it’s not just about us. There are a lot of other artists that are out there in our communities, and sometimes it can be really difficult for photographers, poets, and writers to get their stuff out there to a larger audience. So we’re opening up submissions through all of October and November for the zine, which will be like a Dogboy yearbook.
Anyone who buys the EP will receive a copy of the Zine, and we’ll send a bunch of copies to all of our contributors so they can share it in their networks. And that way people hear about Dogboy all of these other places beyond New York. And the artist contributors that are included will get exposure to all of these places, too. The community and the other elements involved with the band make me feel really good, and that Dogboy will have a lasting impact, even if it doesn’t exist forever.
The only permanence in life is impermanence! Regardless, this is so exciting, and I wish you all the luck with the strategy consulting/music business/acting ventures.
Follow Dogboy and check out their upcoming shows @wearedogboy