Indeed, he says the skills he picked up as an executive vp and head of A&R at EMI Records and as the founder of entertainment and new-media law firm Davis Shapiro & Lewit have stood him in good stead as a banker. “I analyze music investment opportunities in much the same way that A&R executives analyze talent opportunities,” he says. “And we analyze advisory opportunities at Raine the way that lawyers or managers look at potential clients.”
The same week that the CD Baby sale closed, Davis was in Raine’s London office -- where he spends approximately 50% of his time -- to interface with clients and scout European opportunities. “If you look back at the last 15 years and the digital revolution, most of the innovation came out of Europe,” he says. “In the U.S., we have Apple and Pandora; Europe had Spotify, Shazam, SoundCloud, Deezer and a host of others. The business keeps taking me to Europe, because there are interesting entrepreneurs there.”
Though his wife, Rona -- a New York real-estate broker with whom he shares five children from previous marriages -- had joined him on that excursion, it was an otherwise typical week for Davis, with daytrips to Amsterdam and Stockholm to see potential clients and comb through data. “You have to meet the management and do your diligence,” he says. A member of the board of SoundCloud, Davis was back in London to attend one of its meetings via video conference. Davis also sees Asia’s burgeoning music markets as particularly fertile territory and averages four trips a year to Raine’s Shanghai office. (The firm also has offices in Mumbai, India; San Francisco; and Los Angeles.) “I don’t think anyone fully appreciates the impact that the Chinese music market will have in the West,” he says, adding that he expects that influence to be felt not just in technology but in talent. When he’s in New York, Davis can be spotted at Yankee games -- he’s a lifelong fan -- or playing tennis in East Hampton on Long Island, where he owns a home.
Like his father, who was once dubbed “The Man With the Golden Ears,” Fred Davis has built a career spotting opportunity in the music industry, but his talents are attuned to a technology-driven business where genres have blurred, borders have fallen and securing capital trumps signing the next pop star. It has also become a business in which the risks are much more prohibitive than they were 10 years ago. Davis admits, for example, that Raine’s work with SoundCloud -- which included investing $75 million in the struggling audio distribution platform -- “in a field where there were dominant music players such as Spotify and Apple, is about as high-wire as it gets.” Then again, the rewards are bigger, too.
Having a father who oversaw Columbia Records’ transformation to a modern pop and rock powerhouse and then founded Arista Records gave Davis an arguably unmatched education in and entree to the music business. His first industry job came while still at Tufts University in Boston, where he worked as Arista’s New England college rep, promoting the Grateful Dead, Patti Smith and Barry Manilow. After graduating from Fordham University School of Law, Davis joined EMI and, after rising through the ranks, left in 1994 to found his own law firm, which became Davis Shapiro & Lewit in 1997. Davis initially focused on representing artists, producers and executives. “It was essentially no different than what every other lawyer with a music practice was doing at that time,” he says. But that changed when Napster upended the entire industry. By 2004, he had begun to pivot away from representing talent and executives and toward entrepreneurs with ideas of how to fix the business. “There was a huge language gap then, between what the entrepreneur wanted to do and what the business wanted to do,” he says.
The first client to get Davis to reimagine his role in the music sector was, ironically, Napster founder Shawn Fanning, whom Davis met through the late Milt Olin, Napster’s attorney. When Fanning -- then the scourge of the industry -- launched digital registry SNOCAP in 2005, Davis helped him secure licenses from UMG and others. “I thought, ‘If I can get music licenses for Shawn Fanning, I can get them for anybody,’ ” he says with a laugh. At a moment when piracy was rapidly shrinking the music business, Davis saw a role for someone who could act as a broker between the new platforms and traditional rights holders. Before long, his client list included YouTube, Kazaa and Myspace. “The popularity of streaming opened my eyes,” he says.