Two books that have recently hit bookstores are must haves for anyone connected to the music industry. Hitmaker: The Man and His Music by Tommy Mottola and The Soundtrack of My Life by Clive Davis detail the rise and rise of two of the industy’s leading music executives. Both books are generously filled with many behind the scenes stories on the inner workings and mechanism of what it takes to develop career artists, finding the right songs, being in the right place and right time, and trusting your gut instincts. That’s what propelled both iconic executives to the very top of their professions, generating billions of dollars in revenue for their respective labels (Mottola at Sony, Davis at Arista/J Records/Sony BMG) and overseeing the careers of many of today’s equally iconic artists.
Beginning on the streets of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, Mottola credits his neighborhood, his friends and family for not only instilling in him his love of music but also how it shaped and developed the ears that would enable him to sign and develop the artists that enabled Sony Music to become the leading music label of the 90’s. Culminating with the Latin music explosion of the late ‘90s, Mottola also describes some of the marketing methods used by Sony to introduce new artists nationally then internationally, including an eager 20 year old Mariah Carey, Mottola’s ex-wife with whom he does admit he may have wronged but makes no apologies turning her into one of the most successful recording artists ever.<
Davis’ rise to power began in Brooklyn where Davis was an over-achieving but popular student, growing up in a middle class Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Earning his law degree from Harvard University, it wasn’t until he became chief legal counselor for Columbia Records then president of the label where he discovered his “ears” and found he had a natural talent for spotting talent. In Soundtrack of My Life, Davis describes his “awakening” to the new music of the 60s at the Monterrey Music Festival. After his dismissal from Columbia Davis went on to become the founder of Arista Records, guiding the careers of Aretha Franklin, Barry Manilow, Pattie Smith, and of course his greatest discovery, the late Whitney Houston. Davis proves to be a man that cannot be brought down when, after generating record breaking profits for Arista’s parent company BMG, he’s forced into retirement only to have BMG financially back his new endeavor, J Records, where Davis’ magic touch was once again influential in introducing Alicia Keys to the world. Now serving as Chief Creative Officer for Sony BMG, Davis at 81 is still at the top of his game, overseeing the careers of The Foo Fighters, Rod Stewart, The Dave Matthews Band, and a host of other influential bands and artists.
Both books are filled with interesting behind the scenes stories, perseverance, facing adversities and survival, plus how being on top makes you a target as well as beloved. Both Mottola and Davis showed that it wasn’t so much their power that made their employees and artists love and respect them, it was how they cared and nurtured talent within their organizations and their promises to stick with and stand behind them as well as making them superstars. Mottola and Davis are the last of the great record label presidents who truly were hitmakers, the likes of whom in this digital age will never see again.