Clive Davis

If Stevie Wonder’s album had come out on J, would it have been a hit?

Last night I heard an obscure Stevie Wonder song on XM’s 70s on 7.  Actually, not knowing which of the hundreds of XM channels I’d left my tuner on before I’d walked into KLSX, I thought it was a NEW track.  And I was reminded how Stevie Wonder’s comeback album last year sank like a stone.  Was this because he was washed up, or because the audience had moved on and nobody made them pay ATTENTION!

Tomorrow Jay-Z is going to release HIS comeback album.  To make sure no one has forgotten HIM, which might be next to impossible, since he never really left, the man has tied in with Budweiser, Hewlett-Packard, TNT and NASCAR!  It’s saturation marketing that only a rapper can get away with.  We call it selling out if you’re white, if you’re black, it’s ripping off the man.

Yes, that’s what I learned discussing Jay-Z’s record on KLSX.  As long as you don’t compromise who YOU are, don’t change YOURSELF for the man, you can take ALL the money, tie in with EVERYBODY, we, the audience, are ROOTING FOR YOU!

Kind of funny that the audience is rooting for this mega-millionaire.  To me it seems desperate.  It seems more about the brand than the music.  And how important, how cutting edge can the record be, if America’s biggest corporations have endorsed it?  You wouldn’t have gotten Miller to feature N.W.A. in an ad when they were urging listeners to fuck tha police.  No, to me it appears that mainstream rap has lost its edge, turned into a cartoon, and most people know it, which is why sales have declined so dramatically this year.  You’re supposed to buy the music, not the marketing.  It’s ASS-BACKWARDS!

But Jay-Z has a profile.  What if YOU’VE GOT NO PROFILE!

If you’re over fifty, you remember Stevie Wonder’s heyday.  A three album, maybe five album, run that has only been rivaled by the Beatles.  Now maybe Mr. Wonder has burned out.  Maybe he can’t do it anymore.  But Stevie seemed to really want this.

He just went about it the wrong way.

Stevie is still living in the seventies.  When the artist was king, when you cut what you wanted to.  You had a contract that said you delivered an album, the label had essentially no input.  This is great for art, used to be good for commerce, but that was when FM rock stations PLAYED Stevie Wonder, before said rock stations either went out of business or focused on oldies or narrowed their playlist to something called Active Rock, which sounds like something you work out to but is really something that hurts the eardrums so much even Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t want to listen.  Hell, this is an issue THROUGHOUT the major label system.  They’re making records with no shot of exposure.  Really, if you want to sell tonnage, you’ve got to get on Top Forty radio.  If this isn’t possible, don’t sign the act, or make the record on a BUDGET!

Clive Davis is aware of the changed landscape.  Hell, he HELPED change it.  Making it about Top Forty hits rather than deep album cuts.  Oh, Clive might have signed all those acts he takes credit for back in the CBS days, but at Arista, and then J, it’s been big image/radio fodder music all the time.

Stevie Wonder just didn’t release a radio-friendly track.  He didn’t realize the marketplace had changed.  He should have let Clive school him on what to put out.

Artists HATE this, being told what to do.  But Rod Stewart was a has-been with a throat problem before Clive Davis resurrected his career.  And Barry Manilow had tanked with Concord before Clive took him back and built him up once again.  In their case, Clive took no chances, he had them cut the greatest hits of the past.  But what about Kelly Clarkson?  Good singers are a dime a dozen.  But most can’t write.  Certainly not a hit.  So Kelly was hooked up with Max Martin, teen pop writer extraordinaire.  The result?  "Since U Been Gone".  A smash so catchy, so energetic, that even white boy rockers signed on.

So first and foremost it’s about the material.  Recording HIT songs that can get played on the appropriate radio format.  You want to change the world, make a statement, then you don’t belong on a major label, you should be selling from the ground up, that’s what the Internet affords you, a chance to make inroads.  Major labels are mass media entities.  You SACRIFICE your credibility to play by the rules.  It’s your choice, hit songs or no sales.

But Rod Stewart didn’t really get any significant radio play with his oldie covers.

But like the svengali he is, Clive refined Rod’s image, and then marketed him appropriately.  Via television, via classy print ads.

You’ve got to make people FEEL GOOD about an act.  Whitney Houston is perceived to be a crack whore who’s blown all her money.  The only indication we have to the contrary is she’s finally left Bobby Brown.  Did Clive engineer this?  Or maybe insist she do it before he worked with her again?  And then, having separated her from the man she fell to the depths with, Clive dressed Whitney up and had her sing at private events.  He’s staging a comeback, not a desperate one, but an elegant one.  No new material is needed, just her appearance, with the voice and class she used to have.  Clive’s priming the PUMP!  He’s getting the media ready.  He’s not asking for mainstream press, but the ever-present reporters are leaking the story.  Making the public feel like insiders.  The orchestration is so low level, it’s not exposed for the manipulation it is.  Then, after a year, or even two, after going through HUNDREDS of tracks, maybe THOUSANDS, and recording an album with hits, Clive is gonna spend a fortune on hair and makeup and photographers and video directors and the sleek package that emerges will make you want to take Whitney home with you once again.

You don’t jam product down people’s throats.  You make them think they want it.  You make them think they’re PULLING IT!

The young ‘uns in the game have got it all wrong.  They came AFTER the late sixties/early seventies explosion.  They believe running a record label ENTITLES one to endless riches.  And freaked that it’s no longer easy, they’ve become desperate, and are signing, marketing and SPENDING like it’s the end of the world.  Hell, listen to these fucks rail about file-trading, doesn’t it remind you of despots near the end of their reign?

Now most of the music Clive Davis releases not only isn’t my cup of tea, it’s got the shelf life of a taco.  Because it’s not meant to be art, but to be SOLD!  And that’s the mainstream environment we live in today.  Those are the FACTS!  Don’t argue with the facts.

If you don’t care about radio, if you want to do it the hard way, build a career over time, that lasts, I’m behind you.  I’m not sure you’ve got any real talent, but I support your vision.  You’re the future.

But Clive Davis is the present.

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  1. […] ought-provoking, always intelligent, and always rooted in reality. sjohnston points us to this post on Clive Davis, which seemed timely in light of our recent disc […]


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  1. […] ought-provoking, always intelligent, and always rooted in reality. sjohnston points us to this post on Clive Davis, which seemed timely in light of our recent disc […]

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