NEW YORK (Reuters) - Music mogul Clive Davis, who helped launch stars like Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys, said singers should focus on what they do best and not feel pressured to write their own songs.
Davis, chairman and chief executive officer of the BMG Label Group, said he has seen many entertainers lose their careers by not concentrating on finding hit songs — no matter who they are written by.
“The odds are always against you,” Davis, 75, told the Billboard Music and Money Symposium on Thursday. “You have got to go over the best material, and that should win out, not withstanding any track record. I don’t care how many No. 1’s you have written in the past, have you written a new No. 1?”
When Houston came to him after her second or third album and asked if she should start writing songs, he said: “Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra didn’t write, and they are among Time magazine’s greatest artists of the century.”
He said 80 to 90 percent of the artists with whom he has worked over more than four decades wrote their own material. But in recent years, more entertainers who do not write have gained stardom due to the hit TV talent show “American Idol,” where singing talent is discovered.
In fact, Davis had a public spat last year with inaugural “Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson over creative differences on her third album “My December,” on which she co-wrote all the songs.
“She was not signed as a singer/songwriter,” said Davis, adding that her manager believed there would be at least six hits on the album while market research had shown none.
“This issue only comes up when you’re dealing with entertainers who might or might not have the ability to write pop songs,” he said. Clarkson’s second album sold 11 million copies worldwide, so Davis said there was a lot at stake.
“My December” has sold only 754,000 units since its June 2007 release, according to music tracker Nielsen SoundScan.
The pair resolved their dispute shortly after the album’s release and are now working on a new record.