Clive Davis Will Have His Revenge Yet Again!

Dan Gibson | April 18, 2008 12:00 pm

The news that Clive Davis is being reassigned to a different, less important post at Sony BMG was a little surprising; after all, his latest prize signing, Leona Lewis, debuted at No. 1 on this week’s album charts, despite her Muzak presence ruining my trip to a bookstore recently. His loss of power is another sign that the era of the mega-act is being read its corporate last rites.

Clive Davis might be running one of the few music entities anywhere making a profit, but that’s not enough for the 76-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer to keep his spot at the top. Like most things these days, his replacement, Zomba head Barry Weiss, features T-Pain.

The announcement surprised many in the music industry, as Mr. Davis, who has survived several executive suite setbacks only to rise again in a career that spans five decades, seemed to be playing a hot hand. This week’s No. 1 album is the debut from Leona Lewis, the latest in a long string of divas that Mr. Davis, 76, has signed and shaped.

The latest album from Ms. Keys, who Mr. Davis mentors, has sold 3.4 million copies since its release last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and his division operated at a profit.

But the pop hits that Mr. Davis is known for delivering typically require the kind of expensive videos and marketing campaigns that labels are reluctant to finance at a time when music sales have been sliding. Sony BMG’s decision to promote Mr. Weiss underscores the idea that hits alone cannot save the industry.

Mr. Weiss, 49, who also personally oversees many of his artists’ creative decisions, has enjoyed his share of chart success with acts like Chris Brown and T-Pain. But he also has a reputation for tightly managing expenses, and being savvier about the digital revolution. T-Pain’s hits, for example, have had considerable success as ring tones, the kind of high-margin, low-glamour products that are becoming more important to labels’ bottom lines.

Clive Davis might have discovered Chicago and Janis Joplin, but those artists sounded lousy coming out of a cell phone’s speaker, so it’s time to step aside, pal, and let the young guys take over. I’ve never been a huge fan of Davis and his neverending stream of women with big voices making somewhat overwarmed pop records, but it’s a little sad to see one of the old guard shoved aside. Davis will probably try to find a way to avenge this apparent setback, since he’s bounced back from this sort of thing twice before. Even so, you have to wonder how long Davis’ legendary “ear” would hold out as he approaches his 80s. Weiss’ rise to the top means just one thing; we’re coming just a step closer to every song released having either an appearance by Chris Brown or T-Pain

Longtime Executive Steps Aside at Sony BMG [NY Times]