Clive Davis, American music executive and record producer is credited with the discovery and cultivation of countless musicians, having signed iconic artists from Bruce Springsteen and Janis Joplin to Barry Manilow and Whitney Houston. As part of MTV’s Pioneer Speaker Series, Davis sat down with a room of the network’s employees to discuss his new book, “ The Soundtrack of My Life,” an honest depiction of several of his famous clients, the ups and downs of his career, pitfalls from the past as well as his personal story.
A 60-year music industry vet and currently Chief Creative Officer of Sony Music Entertainment, Mr. Davis has played a huge role in the development of such stars as Alicia Keys, Leona Lewis and Jennifer Hudson. Nevertheless, he hasn’t let his view from the top distort his vision. Mr. Davis doesn’t pretend to be unaware of the state of music culture, piracy and the digital age. So what does the 5-time Grammy award-winner, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and now author have to say about the future of music? “You don’t outline revolutions, but if you’re a good executive, you’ll have the good instinct to sense it early and adapt.”
Given his approach to making an album, the creative control he lends his performers is greater than one might assume. He considers the traditional industry formula to consist of finding writers to create perfect songs; musicians to write the ideal composition and finally, to have just the right voice record it. In this way, you can sell millions of records to fans that appreciate the synchronized talents. However, some artists would often gripe to him that he allowed other singers to write their own lyrics, and they too should have this opportunity. His response: “My job is not to sit on talents you might have…if you can write a song, write it.”
He used this motto in his own life as well, never allowing himself to stifle his own talents. Growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, he never thought music would be his life. His parents died when he was just a teenager, leaving him with $4,000 dollars to live on. Davis would go on to receive a full scholarship first to NYU and then Harvard Law School before eventually working as Assistant Counsel at Columbia Records. This would lead to a string of successes, a few speed bumps and an all-together huge presence in the industry.
“Luck does not play into life but you always need to be ready for your lucky break,” is Davis’ humble response to his success.
And the rumor we’ve heard but never knew the truth about: did Clive Davis pass on signing The Beatles? “Never.”