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One-on-One with Dan Solomon of Digital Muscle
Dan Solomon - A Man Who’s Done It All!
The business of global fitness and bodybuilding media is an industry within an industry, and one that has changed immeasurably in recent years. Thanks to smart phones and social media, anyone can be a star, but some people have continued to hold the spotlight through a sea of changes. Take Dan Solomon, the guy who once rolled the dice and brought bodybuilding to a worldwide radio audience, hosted Olympia Press Conferences, and anchored more than a few big-ticket Webcasts. Not to make too fine a point, but the popular writer, producer, editor, commentator and host has been a trusted presence for a generation of bodybuilding fans.
Last year, Dan added publisher to his high-profile résumé, launching Digital Muscle as a multimedia home-on-the-Web for all things fitness, exercise, and healthy living. DigitalMuscle.com is home to a variety of content, spanning the world of fitness, nutrition, supplementation, training and just about anything else that fit folks crave.
As a correspondent for IRON MAN magazine, I spent years watching Dan from afar. When he tapped me as one of the hosts for the Arnold Classic Webcast last year, I was thrilled, but still I had some questions. Like where did he come from, this friendly guy in a suit, who clearly loves the sport as much as any fan? And what about that bromance with his longtime hosting partner Bob Cicherillo? It’s taken a while, but I finally got him to sit down for a one-on-one where, in a rare occurrence, he’s not the one asking the questions.
I have to start at the beginning. What got you into the bodybuilding industry? Were you a fan? Did you just get a job and find it fascinating?
Believe it or not, I competed in a few local events back in the day. But mostly I was just a guy who enjoyed working out. In 1998 I was in New York for an unrelated business trip. The Mr. Olympia contest was being held across the street from my hotel, and I attended the show. I remember meeting a star bodybuilder named Nasser El Sonbaty. He was incredibly kind, and I remembered reading about him in one of the magazines, so I was cheering for him to win the title. Flex Wheeler was the heavy favorite. Some guy named Ronnie Coleman had finished ninth the year before. He was a long shot. After the show ended, I met an emerging pro bodybuilder named Darrem Charles. We chatted for a bit and discovered that we lived only a few minutes from each other in South Florida. He became my trainer and a dear friend. The relationship with Darrem set forth a string of events and business opportunities that eventually led me to the office of Joe Weider. That story is too long to tell, but it all started with a chance encounter in New York City on the night Ronnie Coleman became Mr. Olympia.
So, basically, you started at the top. You have had an impressive string of high-level gigs. You've hosted the biggest events, you've moderated Olympia press conferences, you've been an editor and a writer for Muscular Development, and most recently you took on the role of publisher. What are your favorite and least favorite of those jobs?
My least favorite thing to do is emcee a contest. I often get invited to emcee events and I politely decline. The thought of standing at a podium for four hours announcing names just isn’t my cup of tea. I leave that stuff for the funny guys like my friends Bob Cicherillo and Lonnie Teper. They’re really good at it. My favorite thing to do is write. I earned a journalism degree in college, and it'll always be my first love. No matter how often we hear of the demise of print media, I'll always be loyal to the written word.
You’ve managed to survive in an industry where people come and go, weathering many changes. What's your secret?
Sometimes I joke that I must have a high tolerance for pain. The truth is, I love being a part of the fitness community. It's unlike any industry in the world. It's an oversized sandbox for entrepreneurs, motivators, and larger-than-life personalities, but it’s also loaded with landmines and temptations. The key to survival is managing to steer clear of the narcissism and the negativity. I tend to gravitate toward the positive-energy crowd. That’s what keeps me sane. When I started, back in the late ’90s, there was no Facebook or Twitter—the process of disseminating information has changed drastically. The media was once a small fraternity of insiders who’d earned a place in the press pit. Now it’s anyone with an Instagram account, a camera, and some followers. So, yeah, things have changed, but survival is predicated on the ability to adapt. On a separate topic, just the other day, my friend Skip LaCour posted a quote that a lot of people in the fitness industry should really think about. He wrote, “Be fit on your way toward your life’s obsession. Don’t let being fit become it.” Think about that.
You and Bob Cicherillo have been attached professionally over the years, through the “PBW” radio show and your various hosting duties, as well as being great friends. How did the Dan & Bob duo get started, and are you still close?
Bringing Bob on board for the radio show is one of the best moves I ever made. I'm incredibly proud of how far Bob has come. When I first hired him to co-host with me, he was still competing as a bodybuilder. Our new show was a perfect platform for him to show off a skill set that eventually led him to a new chapter in his career. When he got hired to emcee the Mr. Olympia, I felt a real sense of pride—it was a confirmation that the rest of the industry had discovered the same qualities in Bob that I saw when I first put him on the radio. Since those days, we've been through a lot together, personally and professionally. Contractual obligations have divided us at times, but we've stayed the course, and our friendship continues.
You've interviewed all the big names. Who was your favorite?
I've had the rare privilege of interviewing some icons—Arnold is always fun to chat with—but the truly unforgettable experiences were the interviews with those who have since passed away—legends like Joe Weider, Ben Weider, Serge Nubret, Reg Park, Nasser, Mike Matarazzo and others. The chance to help these men tell their stories is a responsibility I take seriously. My interviews with those fallen voices, the ones we no longer get to hear, mean a great deal to me.
What’s been your favorite celebrity encounter?
When I was about 10, we were having a family dinner at a French restaurant in Miami. My Dad recognized a familiar face at a nearby table, and he encouraged me to walk over and ask for an autograph. So I made my way to the table and nervously approached the man in the dark suit. He got my attention when he commented that I was left-handed. We chatted for a few minutes before shaking hands and parting ways. I still have the autograph, on a cardboard menu from the restaurant. It reads, "To Danny, Best Wishes in the years ahead. Richard M. Nixon." So I guess you can say my favorite celebrity encounter was one of my very first—long before the inception of the selfie.
You've worked with most of the top companies in the industry. Describe some of those experiences.
Relationships with companies like Bodybuilding.com, MuscleTech, and Weider Publications were special in different ways. I enjoyed a great relationship with Weider Publishing during a time when men named Joe Weider and Peter McGough were still calling the shots. It was the final years of an era that I like to call "higher integrity media," when sources were real and credibility was earned. I was also proud to be a small part of Bodybuilding.com during its rise to prominence. My friend Ryan DeLuca bought the domain name, laid the groundwork, and built the infrastructure for a well-timed venture. I watched closely as he created something that totally changed the game—a remarkable achievement in the history of American business. This industry is loaded with extraordinary stories of success, and I've learned a lot from every relationship—the things I’ve observed would make for a helluva book.
Talk about your loyalty to the NPC and the IFBB.
Loyalty is a tricky thing. Some praise it, while others criticize it. The NPC and the IFBB are the premier competitive physique organizations in the world. For me, it’s pretty simple. I like to be surrounded by the best talent. The late Ben Weider and my longtime friend Jim Manion built something incredibly powerful. Those organizations are home to the best bodybuilding and fitness athletes in the world. Not to mention a dedicated network of promoters, judges and officials that serve as the backbone of a passionate and loyal community. During my years of friendship with Ben Weider, he taught me a lot, but mostly he taught me how to treat people. There are other competitive physique organizations out there, but the NPC and the IFBB are the gold standard.
Who are your favorite people in the business?
That's a trick question—I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings! So I’ll just throw out a couple names. I really enjoy my friendships with longtime industry leader Master Sergeant Rob Wilkins and bodybuilding guru Chad Nicholls. Those are no-drama, no-bullshit kind of guys and they share a true commitment to family, we can talk for hours about any topic. NPC President Jim Manion is another guy I hold in high regard. His job is harder than most people realize, and he's always willing to impart wisdom. Peter McGough, the legendary editor and writer, is someone I admire as well. In an industry dominated by the look-at-me crowd, Peter is among the rare few who avoid the spotlight, choosing instead to celebrate the greatness in others. We can all learn from him.
Let’s talk about your DigitalMuscle.com media hub. Just how fast is DM growing?
We finished up our first year in January and it’s been a fun project. I launched Digital Muscle as a way of bringing together a variety of fitness industry media. We've already hosted or produced some major events, including three Arnold Classic Webcasts (Columbus, Spain and Australia). The site is also home to one of the most diverse content blogs in the category, with subjects ranging from nutrition, research, supplementation, training, bodybuilding, children's health, fit recipes and an array of other topics of interest to fitness-minded men and women, and we’re adding new content every day. Recently, we opened our nutrition store and we began expanding our reach to places like the Apple News app and other content syndicators. I’m currently working on a new apparel line. You'll be hearing a lot about it soon.
What advice do you have for those looking to have a long career in the fitness and bodybuilding industry?
Good question. I often tell the new guys to avoid the temptation to brag about what you know. No one likes a big mouth. That’s how bridges get burned. Trust is everything. If you wanna stick around, build meaningful relationships by mastering the lost art of keeping a secret. And let the quality of your work speak for itself. If it’s good, people will notice. From my experience, that approach will take you a long way. If anyone wants to reach me, just send an email to media@DigitalMuscle.com