C2FO helps bring flexibility and consistency to an innovative music marketing company that connects consumers to brands through the emotional power of music.
Tena Clark is often asked, “How did a white girl from rural Mississippi end up writing and producing rhythm and blues music?”
She usually answers with one line: “As far as I know, soul has no color.”
No doubt, a childhood spent in the deep pockets of the Jim Crow South in the 1950s and ’60s — a time fraught with racial and social tension — exposed her, at a very young age, to the power music has on the human psyche.
Beginning at age five, Clark would accompany her mother, a songwriter from the Big Band Era, to New Orleans where she would revel in the rhythms that would influence her own musical talents for years to come.
When Clark, who is founder, CEO and chief creative officer of DMI Music & Media Solutions, would sit down to write her own music, what flowed out of her was R&B.
Her first professional gig was playing drums at Los Angeles’ famed Roosevelt Hotel at the age of 15. Since then, Clark’s incredible musical journey has spanned decades across multiple genres and mediums.
Highlights include being discovered by Stevie Wonder and mentored in Hollywood, writing and producing for legends such as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan, and writing theme songs for NASA and Hillary Clinton.
Today, the Grammy Award-winning producer, engineer and songwriter runs a boutique, full-service music and entertainment agency with headquarters in Pasadena, Calif. and offices in Atlanta, where Clark currently lives.
Clark has always been an entrepreneur keen on making her mark. However, she realized the importance of diversifying her portfolio around the time companies like Napster began disrupting the “age of the CD” with music discovery and desktop cataloging systems.
A self-described chameleon, Clark jumped off the “mainstream music ship” and founded a company 23 years ago that has allowed her to continuously innovate.
At its core, DMI “prophesizes the importance of music as an emotional connector,” Clark said.
DMI does this through its patented SoundDNA service, which enables Clark and her team to research, analyze and implement cohesive music strategies for companies ranging from airlines to breakfast cereal manufacturers.
DMI also composes and produces original music, provides talent and branding for concerts and live events, and contracts song use and music artists for brand marketing. Build-A-Bear Workshop, General Mills, Walgreens, Kohl’s, AARP and Lucky Jeans are just a few of the companies that have worked with DMI.
A great partner
When Clark founded the company in 1997, DMI was at the forefront of entertainment and music marketing. From creating a brand’s unique sound and driving audio strategy, to composing and producing anthems and audio logos, Clark and her team developed brands’ sonic identities.
“Music is a powerful emotional connector. The concept of DMI was born from the idea that brands were mostly focused on the visual experience and music was always an afterthought,” Clark said. “I just knew the impact that music makes from an emotional standpoint.”
One of DMI’s key offerings is in-store radio services, a carefully curated soundtrack of songs that studies show can increase sales, and influence customer buying behavior and how shoppers interact with a brand.
This revolutionary service is what brought Clark and DMI to C2FO.
“I never even knew this company existed until we heard about you, and we needed you,” Clark said of C2FO.
Because DMI uses a subscription service for its in-store experience, considerable cash is tied up in its accounts receivable for 30, 60 or 90 days. Clark was looking for a solution to free up the working capital she already had to keep her business running smoothly.
“We have a lot of clients and we kind of have everybody on a rolling system with projections and forecasts for payroll and KPIs for the quarter and year-end,” she said. “Oftentimes, brands have to restructure their payables for whatever reason, which is understandable, but we’re not a bank.”
“When those things happen, we value C2FO as a great partner because it keeps us consistent and gives us the flexibility to get paid early when and how we want.”
Clark also appreciates the transparency and support of the C2FO team.
“It’s been a really wonderful experience. I had a call the other day with a couple of people from C2FO, Amanda LaFerriere (C2FO’s vice president of product management) and Jay Lott (manager of sales operations for C2FO’s Capital Finance) and we were talking about another project,” Clark said. “I got off the phone and I just thought, ‘Wow, that was the most informative conversation ever.’ It was really like I was talking to a friend.”
LaFerriere is passionate about furthering the success of women- and minority-owned businesses.
“One of my greatest joys in my role at C2FO is the opportunity to help businesses of all sizes grow, and the ability to center my efforts on lifting up businesses like DMI,” LaFerriere said. “Tena is one of the brightest, most creative entrepreneurs I’ve had the pleasure of working with. No doubt, she’ll continue to innovate and build successful businesses throughout her career.”
To summarize Clark’s musical resume is almost a disservice to both her and the impact she’s made on American pop culture. She’s contributed to multi-platinum movie soundtracks that include Hope Floats and My Best Friend’s Wedding, written for television shows like Desperate Housewives, and penned the jingle “Have You Had Your Break Today?” for McDonald’s.
Beyond her incredible resume of films and music, Clark is, at her core, a civil rights activist and advocate for women’s rights.
Clark wrote and produced the theme song, “Break the Chain,” for the organization One Billion Rising, a movement to end violence against women and girls. Clark was also commissioned to create “I Believed,” a commemorative song to honor former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day.
Her most recent project involved creating the theme song for a documentary about the community of Clarkston, Georgia — known as the most diverse square mile in the United States.
“I started doing this about 10 years ago. I just felt that if I was going to use this gift (the ability to write) that’s been given to me, I really wanted it to be for something that’s going to move the needle for good,” Clark said.
Clark’s 2018 memoir, Southern Discomfort, recounts her own coming-of-age story, raised by her Black nanny in a tiny rural Mississippi town in the 1950s and ‘60s. Clark understood from a young age that she wasn’t like her three older sisters or her beauty queen mother — she was a lesbian.
Throughout her life, Clark has always stayed true to her Southern roots, and that includes forging her own path and fighting for social justice.
Clark lives in Atlanta with her wife. They have five children, which she refers to as “hers, mine and ours.”
“Music is the thread that pulls through all of a brand’s touchpoints,” Clark said. “DMI doesn’t believe in random acts of music.”
As Clark continues to help companies find their unique rhythm, she said she views C2FO as a valuable asset to keep her business running smoothly.
“It’s a great partnership to have access to,” Clark said.