Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Whitney Houston and the Business of Music

Like so many others, I have been riveted by the news stories about Whitney Houston's death. I watched in disbelief as music industry executive Clive Davis went ahead with a huge party just a few short hours after her death. I've learned from this torrent of recent coverage about Houston's life, that Davis was her only daughter's godfather. Houston thought of Davis as a close friend, a mentor. Several executives are already planning to meet to figure out how to market her music and capitalize on her death.

Houston's death and the party that Davis held should stand as reminders to artists to be careful with the music executives who control so much of their lives. These executives are not family. It's just business.


  1. It is disgusting how everything in this country is seen as an opportunity to make a profit. From the death of a human being to typical public endeavors like education and the prison system, profit is a central obsession of the movers and shakers of the American system. Now, I am not necessarily disparaging the drive to make a profit. What I am attacking is the idea that nothing is off limits to capitalism. Nothing! Not educating our children, not higher education, not our prison system, nothing. Sad...

  2. Though at first blush the decision to go ahead with the party seems crass and insensitive, we have no knowledge of how or why that decision was made. Or, for that matter, who was involved in making it. So, to suggest that this is evidence of Clive Davis' callous disregard for Whitney Houston, and that all that he really cared about was making money, is ridiculous. Whitney Houston obviously felt that their relationship was about more than just business, an opinion that she must have arrived at after reflecting on their personal interactions and his treatment of her over a long period of time.

    As for those "evil executives" who are "already planning to meet to figure out how to market her music and capitalize on her death", it should be remembered that the prime beneficiary of the increased sale of her music will be Whitney Houston's daughter. And that the publics interest in Whitney's music - heightened as a result of the publicity surrounding her death - will peak. If that seems callous to you, it may not have to Whitney who no doubt would have wanted desperately to provide for her daughters future security. Please, tell us, exactly what will all of her true, non-business, friends be doing in that regard?

    Business is simply another form of exchange between people. It is no more honorable or dishonorable than any other form of exchange. And if a profit is made in this case it will be because the people that buy Whitney Houston's music will have valued it more than the money they have exchanged in its purchase.

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  3. Che -

    Although I agree with your first paragraph, I think you may be overestimating the benefits to her daughter of the increased sales of her music and underestimating the benefits to people like Clive Davis. I read through some recent news articles on the subject and found out that Ms. Houston owns very few rights to her music. She did not write any of her biggest hits nor does she own the publishing rights to her albums. While her family may get some royalties, and will see some profits, her daughter will certainly not be the prime beneficiary of the increased sale of her music; it will be the Clive Davis' and Dolly Partons' that ultimately reap the rewards.


    Charlie Hall

  4. Davis and Houston had a relationship that surpassed that of the typical singer and music executive. Davis discovered Houston as a teen, nurtured her and shaped her into a superstar and one of the world's best-selling artists of all time. He maintained a strong hand in her career and life, attempting to keep his music prodigy with the megawatt voice and incredible range on track during her notorious bouts with drugs and alcohol, and tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown, and later maneuvered her many comebacks ... Davis enlisted the best of the best producers and songwriters in the business to craft ballads that showcased Houston's powerful range and vocal emotion. Under Davis' watchful eye came a string of seven number one hits, breaking a record set by the Beatles. -- ABC

    Whitney Houston had frittered away her $100 million fortune on years of drug abuse and high living and was on the skids when she died. Decades of narcotics use took such a toll on the R&B queen, who once sold more than 170 million albums, that she was reduced to asking friends for $100 handouts. She was leaning heavily on her mentor, music mogul Clive Davis, for financial help to keep her homes in New Jersey and Atlanta out of foreclosure. -- NY Daily News

    ... Davis was paying the majority of Houston’s bills before the pop singer tragically died at age 48 ... "Yes, Clive was paying the majority of Whitney's bills before she died. He was even paying for her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel; she was out of money. She didn't have anything left,” a source close to the situation tells ... "She might be homeless if not for people saving her." -- Radar Online

    Yeah, the "evil" Clive Davis was really taking advantage of Whitney Houston. I mean, discovering and mentoring her; making sure that she had the very best producers and songwriters; sticking by her through multiple boughts of drug abuse, her divorce and then supporting her after she had lost the $100 million dollar fortune that he had help her acquire - what a bastard. You are so right, "... artists [need] to be careful with the music executives who control so much of their lives. These executives are not family. It's just business."

    About that party:

    Gabrielle Union has defended her decision to attend Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy Awards party last Saturday just hours after the death of Whitney Houston: “I think if you weren’t there, I could understand [being upset]. We made a judgment call after [P. Diddy] and Clive talked to the family and they said, ‘Please go,’ basically to provide a more balanced view of Whitney’s life.” -- Bossip

  5. I have to agree with both of the above comments. I think that while Davis may have thought of Whitney as more than just a client, at the end of the day he cares most about business. If he didn't put business before everything in his life he would not have been as successful. These industries see death simply as another way to profit. Recently paper orders were put in to start the printing of both Muhammad Ali and Rev. Billy Grahams' books. They are preparing because they do not expect either man to live much longer. It is sad, to me, that they are planning ahead to profit from someone's death like this.

  6. It is sad that someone who Houston saw as family could continue on with life as if nothing had happened, but that just serves as a reminder that like anything else, the music industry is just business as usual. It is also sad that as soon as she died the music moguls would begin to think of ways in which to capitalize on such a tragedy. But like Houston and Michael Jackson even, it is almost like these decisions aren't really about the person who tragically just passed away, but as the person as a business enterprise. This person is the key to making profits and even in death, like Michael Jackson, each singer will probably make even more money than he or she generated during his or her life.

  7. The above post was made by Jennifer Wolfe.

  8. Since we don't know either of these folks personally all we're really doing is speculating. But I'd be happy to join in on the dish.
    From many things I've heard, Mr. Davis really tried to help Whitney Houston kick her addiction. He was there for her when other people in the business turned their back on her. And the fact is that Whitney was an amazing singer. And I don't think it's just speculation to say that she loved making music. And now, even in death, she can still make music.
    Mr. Davis has a business to run. Whitney Houston sells records. I'm not sure I believe he's capitalizing on her death in the sense that he's sitting in his office chair smiling about the money her death is going to bring him. But certainly, when someone famous dies, interest in that person rises. I myself downloaded at least two Whitney songs within the first 24 hrs after her death.
    If Mr. Davis, had refused to release any of Whitney's music, and the public demanded it, what would everyone think then?
    I would imagine that Whitney gets royalties when her music is sold. Now that money will go to her estate, which will go to her only daughter.
    While certainly, I think that there are people in the business who will take advantage of their clients, I think Mr. Davis and many other of the executives would rather have Whitney alive and well then dead and making money.
    But maybe that's just the optimist in me.