Sammy Davis Jr. vs. Shania Twain

At first glance showman and entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. and pop-country queen Shania Twain do not seem to have a lot in common. However once we zoom in on their revenue streams we might find some commonalities. Looking at new and different music revenue streams in the music industry it is of importance to also look back. Not only look back on the good old days but also to scrutinize the past and learn from it. As with all industries (partly) dependent on technology, the music industry is prone to change, and quite rapid change at that. It is up to the players and the artists in the industry to recognize, learn, and to evolve with this progress. Both Sammy Davis Jr. and Shania Twain provide excellent examples of artists doing this, characteristically for the eras they operated in, both culturally and technologically.

It’s not a surprise that the man called ‘Mister Show Business’ would have had an early start. Sammy Davis Jr. started his career at age four while performing in his father’s group the Will Maston Trio (Sammy Davis Jr, n.d.). This would quickly lay the foundation for the rest of Davis’ career as he was immersed in the world of touring, entertainment, song, and dance. He quickly started recording for several labels, such as Capitol Records (Eagle & Leblanc, 2013) and made several successful movies, musicals, and even TV shows. 

In the 50’s the music industry relied on vinyl heavily, see Figure 1.

Figure 1

Revenues of the US music industries between 1950 and 2015, based on Pollstar and RIAA. 

Note: Naveed, K., C. Watanabe, and P. Neittaanmaki (2017). 

Almost 75% of all produced singles went into jukeboxes, which were very popular (Cowen, 2000). As such, having a hit single meant your single would be in most jukeboxes, and since there was only a limited selection of songs available, people would  inevitably hear your song. Davis didn’t have his first chart notation until the release of ‘What Kind of Fool Am I’ on November 3rd, 1962 (Billboard, n.d.). We can conclude from this that prior to this single Davis would not have been able to live off of recording royalties. He supplemented his income with acting, on Broadway, and on TV, and he became a well known and respected entertainer and performer. 

After the 60’s, his career started to flaunter due to shifting cultural tastes until 1972 when he released his single ‘Candyman’. He got an unexpected number one hit (Billboard, n.d.) which he used to his advantage and he started touring again. According to Schwartz (2020) most black artists in the 50’s and 60’s had record label deals with unfavourable conditions. Based on this fact we can assume Davis had a similar contract, and would have made most of his revenue from live performances. Because while live was only a fraction of the total music industry revenue (see Figure 1), he did not have to share it with anyone, as there were no 360 degree deals yet (Kellog, 2014).

When we look at Shania Twain’s career, we see a very different trajectory. She had a very rough start but was, much like Davis, immersed into music very early on. She played in several local groups and she gained some notoriety until she was forced to move back home due to personal circumstances (Hattenstone, 2018). This ensured that her debut album wouldn’t be released until she was 28, in 1993. As you can see in Figure 2, in 1993, the CD was fast on it’s way to become the primary income source from physical products, while vinyl products were in decline. It seemed Twain chose a fortunate point in time to start releasing CD’s. Next to her CD sales she of course would also have relied on merchandising, mechanicals, publishing etc. to generate income.

Figure 2

Music Revenue Since The 1970s

Note: White Box Analytics (June, 2020)

If you take a look at Figure 1, you can see that Twain planned her comeback tour (2015) just as the live industry experienced a steep growth. She sold over 695,000 tickets (Pollstar, 2015) after having not toured for eleven years, and her first album in 15 years (not counting live albums) came out in 2017 and charted at #1 (Caulfield, 2017). For an artist that has mostly been out of the limelight for 15 years, this is a testament to how engaged Twain’s fans have remained throughout the years. It’s interesting to note that perhaps streaming has contributed to this engagement since it can keep inactive artists relevant for longer periods of time.

Similar for both artists was the fact the music industry relied heavily on singles, albeit in different manners. In the 50’s and 60’s singles were a popular way to sell musical products to customers (Leeds, 2007), but in the 90’s it had become a leveraging tool for record labels to either sell single CD’s to customers or even entire albums. Consumers would hear the singles being played on the radio, but there was no way for them to buy the single separately from the album (Leeds, 2007).

One of the differences between both artist trajectories is the total worth of the industry. When we look at Figure 1 we can see that the total industry had grown significantly after the 50’s. Another difference is the physical formats. Where in Davis’ time vinyl was the predominant physical carrier, you can see in Figure 2 that Twain would have most logically derived most of her income from CD sales. Davis would have most likely had an unfavourable record deal, being a black recording artist in the 1950’s (Schwartz, 2020), contrary to Twain, who stepped into the industry in a steep growth period. In addition, Twain released her most important records before 2001/2002, when the 360 deal was introduced (Kellog, 2014). Lastly, it is notable that live revenue has continued to grow since the 1950’s, which could mean both artists derived their primary income from live but the height of the amounts grossed will have differed greatly. 

Another major difference in Twain’s advantage is that once streaming came along, her back catalogue started to generate a large passive income source. She was no longer at the height of her fame but yet her music was still beloved by many around the world. As the fans transitioned from CD’s to streaming, it created a new revenue stream for Twain which she could rely on for years to come, something Davis certainly did not have after his comeback in 72. This is also evident in the big discrepancy between both artists on Spotify, see Figure 3. We can assume that Davis’ fans from his heyday did not convert to streaming as heavily as Shania’s fans have.

Figure 3

Top 10 songs for both Sammy Davis Jr. and Shania Twain on Spotify

Note: Spotify (2021)

As we have looked and compared both careers and revenue streams, it becomes evident that technological growth has spurred on much of the industry growth throughout the years. As each new physical format was introduced, a sharp increase in the total recorded music industry became apparent and we could see old physical formats declining.  It is notable that although the music industry has grown significantly since 1950, the primary income stream, the live industry, has not nearly grown by the same percentage, although more steadily. Legendary artists like Sammy Davis Jr. and Shania Twain have made full use of these technological changes but at the same time they had to keep diversifying their income streams. Therefore, it is evident that ‘Mister Show Business’ and the pop-country queen do have something in common.

References

Billboard (n.d.) . Sammy Davis Jr. Chart History. Retrieved from

https://www.billboard.com/music/sammy-davis-jr-2/chart-history

Caulfield, K. (2017). Shania Twain’s ‘Now’ Debuts at No. 1 on Billboard 200 Albums Chart.

Billboard.

https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/7990429/shania-twain-now-debuts-no-1-billboard-200-albums-chart

Cowen, T. (2000). In Praise of Commercial Culture, 164-166. Harvard University Press.

Eagle, B., & Leblanc, E. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience, 260-261. ABC-CLIO.

Hattenstone, S. (2018). Shania Twain on abuse, betrayal and finding her voice: ‘I wanted a

break – but not for 15 years’. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/apr/22/shania-twain-unexpected-return-freak-illness-country-pop-star

Kellogg, J. P. (2014). Take Care of your Music Business. Malden, MA. PJ’s Publishing.

Leeds, J. (2007). The Album, a Commodity in Disfavor. New York Times.

Naveed, K., C. Watanabe, and P. Neittaanmaki (2017). Revenues of the US music industries

between 1950 and 2015, based on Pollstar and RIAA. https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Revenues-of-the-US-music-industries-between-1950-and-2015-based-on-Pollstar-and-RIAA_fig1_344190204

Pollstar (2015), 2015 YEAR END WORLDWIDE TICKET SALES TOP 100 TOURS

https://www.pollstar.com/Chart/2015YearEndWorldwideTicketSalesTop100Tours_chartItem_28.pdf

Schwartz, D. (202), Black Artists Are Still Getting Ripped Off the Way Little Richard Was. Vice.

https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3vb5j/little-richard-made-millions-it-all-went-to-his-label

Sammy Davis Jr, n.d. Bio. Retrieved from http://www.sammydavis-jr.com/

Spotify (2021). Top 10 songs for both Sammy Davis Jr. and Shania Twain on Spotify. Retrieved

on April 10th from the Spotify Desktop Client.

White Box Analytics (June, 2020). MUSIC REVENUE SINCE THE 1970S | POWER BI |

VISUALISE. https://www.whiteboxanalytics.com.au/white-box-home/historical-music-revenue

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