An Interview with Blake Morgan

Blake Morgan
Blake Morgan is a New York-based songwriter/artist/label owner who gained additional attention when his pointed email exchange with Pandora CEO Tim Westergren, published in the Huffington Post, went viral. MI sat down with Morgan to discuss that, Mel Watt’s recently proposed Free Market Royalty Act, and the many other issues surrounding it all.

Look for a few clips of Blake’s music at the end of the interview.

In reading the interview, if you prefer to skip to Morgan’s take on a particular subject, please click the desired link, below. Or, just enjoy the read.

 

Hear Blake Morgan on labels and the blockbuster mentality

 

Musical Background

Can you give me a brief history of your musical career?

I started playing the piano when I was four and, by five, I was already doing recitals and concertizing and stuff.  So I was on a track to be a classical pianist and a composer, and that was very much what I was sort of enjoying doing.  And there’s I think by now a fairly well-known story that I  took a Beatle record off the shelf, and I went over to my mom, and I said, “I know this one’s name is Ringo; what are the other names?”  And she was, like, rustling around in a closet and she had her back to me; and I said this and she stopped what she was doing and turned around. She said, “Wait, what?”  And I said, “I know this one is Ringo, what are the other names?”  And she said, “Ok, so sit down, we’re gonna talk about this.  No son of mine is gonna walk around and not know the names of all the Beatles.”  So, that was Meet the Beatles, with the four of them with the turtlenecks on the cover.  And then I just burned through that record.  And I just burned it out, completely burned it out; and I then went to the shelf and grabbed the next record.  And my parents, being reasonably organized human beings…they had the records on the shelf in chronological order.  So I went through from, sort of, five to ten or eleven. I went through a six-year period listening to the Beatles in chronological order and having my mind blown by the next record, and the next record, and the next record, very much like the way the country had.  You know the Beatles broke up right, really, before I was born, and so I sort of went through Beatlemania in my own way in a chronological way.  And I just started listening to the Beatles, and they supplanted Beethoven and Bartok on my turntable and in my headphones and, you know, rock and roll and pop songwriting started getting into me.  And I started… I’d been writing a lot of music and they started becoming more song-like than piece-like …

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You had classical training in the beginning?

Oh yeah, I was in music school from four and five, and lots of other things too.  Because I think a real advantage that I had, and I have had, is…a lot of kids  who want to grow up to be artists have that instinct or that desire crushed out of them, sometimes by their families, sometimes by the world, sometimes by both.  And in my case it was totally encouraged.  And if I’d wanted to become a professional wrestler they would have been like, “Ok, well…”  And in fact they used to say that to me, “It would be hard, Blake, but I’ve got to tell you, we’ll learn the rules, and we’ll get you the best costume, and we’ll work on…”  You know, they would have supported me in anything I would have done, and more than that, they would have been engaged.  But the most important thing is that when I clearly showed that I wanted to be an artist, it wasn’t just encouraged; it was taken very, very joyfully seriously, if that makes sense.

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And how did your expectations change from when you began, in terms of what you thought you would be going into in terms of a music environment in the world, and how it is now?

Well I think that that question gets answered, like, every week, because it changes all the time. And one of the really, maybe the second really lucky thing that I, or the second factor that I’ve been lucky with in music is I’ve had great teachers. So I’ve had mentors outside of my parents.  I’ve had, I’ve gotten to work with incredible people, who know a lot and who can be a master to my apprenticeship.  And it’s given me a huge advantage, because I haven’t had to start from scratch.  And that is something, actually, that’s really changed in the modern music world, which is, that chain of master-apprentice, master-apprentice has really been broken.  And there is some upside to that in that people are, you know, on the one hand people are kind of more innovative; they’re discovering new wheels all the time. But at the same time, they are also reinventing the wheel all the time, so they have to start from scratch.  So there’s some innovation to that.  But I’ve had great teachers like Terry Manning and Phil Nicolo and Phil Ramone and the list goes on and on, and great piano teachers when I was a little kid and so forth.  So I really was able to stand on the shoulders of giants, and sometimes it’s not about huge things.  Sometimes it’s about writing a better song, and sometimes it’s about how to mic a drum kit, which, it would knock you out how people who make records just don’t know how to do that anymore.  And I don’t say that in, like, people don’t know how to do anything anymore; they do; but I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had teachers.  So that’s changed.  My expectations are constantly modeled by that, because they’re also the ones who were, like, “well you know it’s helpful when the expectations change.  You can do this or you can do that.  So I’ve had a lot of guidance.

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“I’ve gotten to work with incredible people, who know a lot and who can be a master to my apprenticeship. And it’s given me a huge advantage, because I haven’t had to start from scratch. And that is something, actually, that’s really changed in the modern music world, which is, that chain of master-apprentice, master-apprentice has really been broken. And there is some upside to that, in that, on the one hand, people are kind of more innovative; they’re discovering new wheels all the time. But at the same time, they are also reinventing the wheel all the time, so they have to start from scratch.”

Hear Blake Morgan on the backlash when artists speak out

 

The Transition From A Major-Label Deal To Self-Owned, New-Model Label

Do you feel that because of the whole digital culture, not really digital culture but the whole do-it-yourself internet-opportunity culture has also affected the quality of the music that comes out, as well?

No.

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No.

No, you know I think what the internet does is it provides a megaphone for everybody, ok?  So it sounds like everyone is saying more, but they’re not. They’re just saying it in front of everybody else.  So there’s really more music being made now than ever, and that’s a good thing.  And there’s more music being published than ever, and that’s a good thing, too. But the percentage of really great to really bad is exactly the same percentage as it’s always been.  But maybe because of the internet, maybe there’s a way to discover some of that music that would have been lost otherwise, you know?

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Right.

You know it’s a dicey; it’s kind of zero-sum.  I think in the end it’s kind of zero-sum.  You hope that more people can get through, but the white noise in music is just gigantic, you know?

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Right, well there’s not that culling of talent, I think.

There isn’t, and that’s also a label problem. I have a unique kind of eagle-eye view because I’m a record producer, and I’m a recording artist, and I’m a label owner. So I get to kind of pull back and see the forest for the trees.  And it’s interesting to me what labels do, and it’s interesting to me what producers do, and it’s interesting to me what artists do.  But there are very few that do all three of those at the same time; and it’s been the best thing that ever happened to me as a musician. But it’s fascinating to me… I really nurture the artists on ECR.  And that doesn’t happen anymore, and it’s because it’s not economically viable for major labels to do that; it’s a blockbuster mentality, in the same way that movies are a blockbuster mentality in Hollywood. That’s the only way that they can make their money back. So of course that’s always been there, but at the same time, there was a time in music where it was simply understood that you were gonna be nurtured through your first four records, because that fifth one was gonna be the one. And that certainly doesn’t happen anymore.

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You started out with a major label, and then you ended up with ECR.  Can you tell me about that transition?  What was it that made you do what you did?

So I’d been in a band for actually what felt like a long time, and the band came to an end and broke up.  And I made this little EP of six songs that was actually quite different than the music I’d been making earlier. And I just recorded this totally for myself.  I had no idea what was gonna happen.  I had been trying to get a record deal for a while.  I made this EP, and it got in the hands of Terry Manning, who is a great producer and owned Compass Point Studios.  He worked with Led Zeppelin, worked with ZZ Top, Lenny Kravitz, Shakira, on and on.  And he loved this CD.  He got these six songs and flipped out about it.  And he got on a plane, having never met me, and flew to Miami from the Bahamas where he lives, and sat in Chris Blackwell’s office.  He co-owned Compass Point Studios with Chris, so he was his great friend.  And he sat in his office and wouldn’t leave until Chris listened to this, and he said, “You’re gonna set up a showcase for this kid, and I’m gonna produce the record.”  And we did set up that showcase; but what ended up happening was Phil Ramone heard that I was about to showcase for Blackwell, and so Phil said, “I want him; I’m gonna take him.”  And he did.  He set up a meeting with me and he was like, “Listen, you know whatever is gonna happen with Chris, I just want you to know that we’re starting this label, and we want to build the label around you.”  And I said to him, “Well gosh, that sounds pretty great; um, but there are two things.  The first is I want this to be the last record deal that I ever have.  I want to know that I’m gonna be with this label forever, ok?  And the second thing is I want Terry Manning to produce it with me.”  Because I’d gone and met Terry by then; and he said, “No problem.” To both of them.  So I got a seven-album deal, which is unheard of.  I got a seven-album deal based on six songs.  And I never performed for Phil.  And I did the Blackwell showcase but by then it was sort of like, ok, whatever.  So in an inadvertent way, Terry is sort of responsible, because he had set up the other thing.  So I did make the record with Terry.  It’s a wonderful record; I still love it.  Lenny Kravitz is on it; he guests, he does a duet with me.  And it was an incredibly fun time and Terry is a lifelong friend.  And Phil remained a friend right up until the end of his life, last year.  But what ended up happening was the label was really just starting, and they just didn’t know how to do a lot of stuff.  They were throwing a ton of money at stuff that didn’t matter.  They weren’t paying for other things.  And, the reality is, I always say this to people, when you get a major label deal. We’ve all heard of artists hating their major label deal.  And it’s always for a variety of reasons.  And the truth is I never like to hear anybody else complain about that.  You know you got a big deal, and it didn’t work out; what’s the problem.  But the thing is, is that when it’s actually happening to you, it’s like being seasick.  Everyone else thinks it’s kind of funny, but you feel like you’re dying, you know; and it was hurting my career.  And I was going to radio stations promoting the record, and the radio stations were saying, “Listen, Blake, you know the single is a great song, and we want to play it, but we can’t.”  And I’d say, “What do you mean?”  “We can’t play it because we don’t think your label’s gonna be around for the long haul.  We don’t believe in the label.  We don’t know what this is all about.  They only have one radio promoter guy, but they have millions and millions of dollars.  What are they doing?  So I’m just telling you off the record, we can’t play your song.”  And this would happen again, and again, and again, andlittle pieces of my heart would die with each of these.  And I told Phil all about this and I said, “Listen, the label’s in trouble.”  And they tried to alter some things, and they had signed some other people, but in the end, just about a year after I had finished the record, I said, “Listen I’m not gonna-, I’ve gotta-, I can’t-, I can’t make another record for you.  I’m not gonna make another record for you.”  And Phil said, “But you’re under contract.”  And I said, “I know, and it’s not personal, Phil.  It’s not your fault, but, you know, the eyes are not on the prize here at this label, and I’m not gonna, I mean, I’ll deliver six more records, but it’s gonna be me and my friends sitting around laughing for forty minutes a record.  That’s what it’s gonna be.”  So he let me out of the deal.

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Well that was good.

It was good, and he understood.  He was always a music-first kind of guy, and he didn’t want any acrimony, and there wasn’t any.  It wasn’t him; it was the other people at the label and just the circumstance.  So I got out of my deal, and I had a little money to live on for a while but I really had to figure out what I was gonna do.  And so I sort of took the standard advice of my management and everything, which is that we started setting up some showcases to look for another deal.  But by then I was the guy who’d had the big deal; I wasn’t the guy who was gonna have the big deal ahead of me.

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Right.

Right?  And that’s why I had to get out of that deal, because if I had kept going it would have destroyed my career.  So I got out and I got my record.  I got the master for my record.

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Nice.

Which changed everything, right? And I’m sure Phil had something to do with that.  So I started doing these showcases, and because I’d done a lot of recording and because I’d co-produced that record, Angers Candy, a lot of my friends in music were like, “Hey could you help me with my demo?”  So I started producing people’s demos, or their EP’s, like the one I had made myself.  And I did this big label showcase up at SIR, um, which is an excruciating and horrific experience, if anyone out there is attempting to do this now.  What we did is we did a showcase at 4:30, which was exactly twenty-five minutes long, where you shuffle in thirty label people.  And then you do another one at 7:30.  It’s the same thing for twenty-five minutes, and you don’t say anything, and it’s very sterile, and you play and they go, “Hmm.”  And they’re all standing there, and you finish a song, and, you know, get golf claps.  And in between these two showcases I went to the bathroom and I splashed cold water on my face, and it was a totally cliché moment; but it was true.  I just looked at myself in the mirror and I was, like, “What the fuck are you doing?  What are you doing?  Why would you do this again?  Why are you asking permission from people to make music?”  So I did the showcase.  And so then I had to think about what kind of offer would I want, and what are we hearing from these people?  What are we gonna get?  And I was walking down — this is a totally true story — I was walking down the street with my mom, and we were going to see a movie, and I said, “You know, I, there’s some part of me that feels like if I had any guts, if I had real guts, what I would do is I’d stop waiting by the phone, and I would start my own label.  That’s what I would do.”  And she said, “Yeah you know, if you had any guts, that is what you would do.”  And I stopped, in the middle of, it was 5th Avenue and 12th Street, and I just stopped and went, “Oh my God.”

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Epiphany.

Epiphany, and not a great one. Like, “Oh, my God.”  It’s like saying, “You know, if I really had any real guts, I’d run a three million-mile marathon, now that’s what I would do.  Oh my God, that is what I have to do.”  And I knew it was what I had to do.  And I went around to all of the people I’d been working with in all the bands and all the artists and I said, “You know that demo that we’re making?”  “Yeah.”  “It’s not a demo, it’s gonna be a record.  You have a record deal. We’re starting a label.  And you know what; you’re gonna own the master.”

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And this is what you do very differently, right?

Exactly, so the ethos of the label was born right then, which is, I don’t want you to have to go through what I went through, ok?  So you’re not making a demo to try to get a record deal; let’s cut out the middle guy.  You have a record deal, ok?  So this is how this is gonna work.  And that’s what happened. And so we were able to get a roster of artists right off the bat.  Because they were all like, “Ok.”  And we launched the label on my laptop.  I went to my drummer, who built the website, and that’s how we started.  And over the course of ten years we grew, and grew, and grew, and grew; always with the elemental principal that all the artists on the label own 100% of their masters.  Last year we rebranded from Engine Company Records to ECR Music Group, because we had grown so much we now have a roster of artists and we have a roster of labels, the way Warner does or Universal does; you have imprints, right?  So, for instance, my artist, David Cloyd, he started his own imprint.  So he’s got his own label now that he can bring people into as part of ECR; it’s beautiful.  But everyone owns their own music, and all of the artists that are on the label, including me, none of them are signed to the label.  Their work is signed to the label; their records are signed to the label.  There’s a great Margaret Atwood quote about wanting to meet a famous person; and she said, “Wanting to meet someone because you love their work is like wanting to meet a duck because you love pate.”  And so we don’t sign the duck; we sign the pate.  And people then say to me, “That’s insane.  What happens if you work with an artist for five years and your break them, and then they just go to another label?  And they go to a bigger label?”  And my answer is, “Well you know what, if that’s what that artist wants to do, then that’s what they should be able to do.”  And that’s what they would end up doing anyway, as soon as their contract was up.  I don’t want an artist who doesn’t want to be here, you know?  And also that would be good for us, if we were able to break an artist that got to that level, in that way, because that’s what they wanted, ok, great.

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Now it actually reminds me of how you described how you were parented.

Yeah.  Yeah.   Exactly.  Maybe that’s in there, too, so that’s more mentoring, you know?  But the thing is, is that that scenario, no one, it’s never happened.  So no one’s ever left; no one’s ever done that, because when presented with that, when presented with the big wide world, they choose this because this is better.  I get to say that because I founded it, but it is.  It’s a better model.

And it’s a perfect model that I didn’t have, like, some genius epiphany to come up with that model.  You know, necessity isn’t the only thing that’s the mother of invention; desperation is too, and it was just me trying to get on my feet.  And it was a good model; it was like, “Oh, that would make sense.  That would be easy.  Let’s do it that way, you know?”

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“And we launched the label on my laptop. I went to my drummer, who built the website, and that’s how we started. And over the course of ten years we grew, and grew, and grew, and grew; always with the elemental principal that all the artists on the label own 100% of their masters.”

Hear Blake Morgan on: Is the Netflix streaming model the one?

 

Internet Radio, Business Models, Legislation And Regulation, and Speaking Out About Pandora

Now speaking of models, I’ll segue to business models and Pandora.   Now you’ve been very proactive in speaking about the Pandora attitudes and business practices.  Can you give me your perspective on that? 

Sure.  So Pandora had a golden opportunity, and, unfortunately, it’s an opportunity that they missed.  Congress mandated… Ok, in this country we have three kinds of radio; we have internet radio, we have satellite radio, and we have traditional radio, traditional meaning AM/FM.

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Terrestrial.

Terrestrial radio, ok.  So Congress mandated, as internet radio and satellite radio came into their own, that they have to pay a performance royalty.  Ok?  There are two kinds of radio royalties.  When I say r-e-s-p-e-c-t to you, who do you think of?  You think of Aretha Franklin. Well Aretha Franklin has never made one penny from that song being on the radio, on traditional radio.  She didn’t write the song. Otis Redding wrote the song, and Otis gets paid, as he should.  We love Otis.  Congress realized that this is clearly wrong, and so with “how are we gonna come up with laws for internet radio and satellite radio?” They said, “You know what? You have to pay Otis, and you have to pay Aretha.”  You have to pay them both. The rest of the world does.  We’re the only industrialized nation that doesn’t pay both sides of the royalty, ok?  What Pandora then did, unfortunately, and what they’ve been doing consistently, is that they’ve been trying to get rid of the performance royalty, the Aretha royalty, at digital radio.  At internet radio, ok?  They had a golden opportunity.  What they could have said is, they could have said that Congress is mandating that we pay Otis and Aretha, and we’re honored to.

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What are you referring to now?  Are you referring to the Mel Watt Bill or IRFA?

Well the Internet Radio Fairness Act was the bill that they supported.  And the Internet Radio Fairness Act, which was hitting the Hill a year ago, right now, was an attempt to get rid of the performance royalty.  That’s the royalty they don’t want to pay.  So here’s what Pandora could have said: They could have said, “Congress has mandated that we have to pay the Aretha royalty and the Otis royalty, and we’re honored to do so, because we’re the future of radio.We’re making lots of money.  And if you’re a musician out there, you want to be on Pandora. Stand with us because we’re standing with you.”  Instead what they said is, “Traditional radio has gotten away with murder for ninety years, because they’ve never paid Aretha for anything, and we want to do that, too.”  And that’s what broke the hearts of musicians, because we really wanted to like Pandora.  But they aggressively have lobbied Congress to try to get rid of the performance royalty.  The way I got involved in the fight is that I got an email from the founder of Pandora, like thousands of other musicians did, which was saying, “Could you sign this petition in support of Pandora.  We’re fighting for you, and if you could help us tell Congress that you stand with us we’d really appreciate it.”  And I wrote back to Mr. Westergren, the founder of Pandora, and I said, “I would love to believe that that is where your heart lies but the reality is that this letter that you want me to endorse and sign is going to be used to lobby Congress to lower my royalties.  You’re asking me to sign something that will hurt me.”  This email exchange went public in the Huffington Post, and it made a lot of waves.  So that’s how I became a blip in this particular struggle.  But the issue with Pandora, there’s good news here, which is that a year later we are now looking at legislation – you just mentioned the Mel Watt Bill – that’s the first one to come along.  What he’s put forward, and I’m sure there will be other bills too… The struggle has moved almost 180 degrees.  A year ago we were fighting to not lose the performance royalty at internet and satellite radio.  A year later we’re now in the position where we’re fighting to have the performance royalty added at traditional, terrestrial radio.  And it’s gonna happen sooner or later.  Mel Watt is the first one to put forward a courageous bill that would do it.

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Let me ask you this; you also write your songs?

I do.

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Basically, all of them?

Yeah.

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So you’re a songwriter and an artist?

Right.

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Do you relate in these situations, like with internet radio, do you relate more as an artist than as a songwriter?

You know for me there’s no difference.  I’m an artist who’s a songwriter; that’s my art.

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Because in many of these cases, there’s like a 12 to 1 ratio of what is paid to artists as opposed to songwriters because, again, of the different crazy laws that govern different things.

Well it depends.  An artist on a major label, who doesn’t write their own songs, might get an enormous advance, or an enormous amount of money, but they don’t get paid more from radio.  They don’t because they’re not making any money on traditional radio.  So the money in music has always been with the publishing; it’s always been with the song.  But it’s really important to understand that this inequity; to keep it simple, that’s why I call it the Aretha royalty and the Otis royalty.  We’re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t pay both on the radio.  The list of countries that don’t; that are on the same list with us, is awesome.  Are you ready for this? North Korea, Iran, China and Vietnam — absolutely the list of countries we the United States want to be on.  And in a moment of American exceptionalism, I have to say it’s utterly embarrassing that we’re on that list; and it actually looks like next year, China’s gonna institute the performance royalty.  So China won’t even be on that list.  And that we’ve spent 25 years lecturing China on their crappy copyright situation, and they’re gonna jump ahead of us, it’s just terrible.  You know this would go…  this is such an important issue for our artists, songwriters, bass players, percussionists, tour bus drivers, recording studio janitors; this funds music.  This would fund music across the board and really plug up one of the two gigantic holes in the bottom of the bucket where music was just bleeding out, the other being, obviously, piracy.  But the radio thing, this is an easy fix and it’s one whose time really has come.

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The songwriting community is concerned with these bills; they support, I believe, a performance royalty.  But they’re afraid that what’s going to happen is that broadcasters are going to take some of the songwriter royalties, which are not very high, to equalize…

But they can’t.  Yeah, but they can’t.

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But they can.

No, but they can’t.  There’s, there’s…

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Well there would need to be protective legislative language.

Well the protective legislative language of the law is in place. They would have to then lobby to have those laws changed, which they’ve been trying to do for eighty years anyway.  They always want to pay less, you know?  But the reality, this is like, in this way, big radio is like big tobacco.  They don’t want to give an inch anywhere.  And then you say, “This is really bad for us,” And they go, “No, it’s not.”  Until  public opinion changes.  And what’s happening right now, I’m glad that I’m a part of it.  There are other artists who’ve spoken out, too; but this is the first time there has been a groundswell like this, where artists are not afraid to speak out respectfully and intelligently.  Right?  Music Intelligentsia, right? Intelligently, to talk about this kind of thing and say, you know, this is an easy fix.  And another reason that this is such an important issue is that this is an area where music lovers, who aren’t music makers, say, “Wow, that’s patently unfair.  Aretha Franklin has never been paid for that song? You’re kidding me.  The irony that she is not paid for Respect is humiliating, you’re kidding me.  And she’s paid elsewhere in the world?  And she can’t get those royalties because until we pass the law here, there’s no reciprocity; you’re kidding me.”

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Do you feel that there’s a difference; do you remember when Metallica got involved in a suit against Napster in the 1990’s?

Of course.

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And the PR that they endured against them because they were portrayed as wealthy, greedy artists, rock and roll artists, really had a major impact on them, and, I think, on the PR that has evolved since.  Do you feel then that that’s turning around now in terms of the fan base?

It’s clearly turning around, because everybody understands that thieving and stealing is wrong.  Stealing is wrong, ok?  So you know what, all of these years later, Lars was right.  Everybody know Lars was right, ok?  And perhaps because he’s abrasive and acerbic, maybe he was the wrong spokesperson to make an argument that people would have been able to hear clearer.  But, you know, history doesn’t work that way.  He was courageous, and he came out at a time to say something unpopular, and he said it bravely.  Here’s the thing about being, you know, what you said about the millionaire rock star who does that.  The reality is, it doesn’t matter, ok?  If you’re not a millionaire rock star… I’m the poster child for the middle class rock star, that’s exactly what the reality is for most people, right?  So I’m a middle class recording artist. So what happens when you’re a middle class…? What happens when you’re a nobody and you speak out is that people say, “Oh, well you’re just speaking out because you’re bitter because you didn’t make it.”  Then if you’re a middle class recording artist and you’re doing really well, but you’re not Metallica, ok, then they say, “Well you’re just jealous.  You’re jealous of Pink Floyd.”  Right? But here’s what happens when Pink Floyd speaks out, which is what they did in defense of what I did about Pandora.  They wrote an unbelievable… Pink Floyd got back together, which is in itself a sign of the apocalypse. That’s amazing, right?  Pink Floyd got back together and wrote a staggeringly beautifully written op-ed in USA Today criticizing Pandora; eloquently and intelligently, the same way, about the same thing, that I was, and then the backlash they got, if any, or the criticism was, “Well, you’re millionaire rock stars.  What do you need more money for?”  So there’s going to be a very small percentage of people out there, mostly online, who are gonna say that for anybody.  You know they’re gonna say it if you’re Metallica.  They’re gonna say it if you’re Blake Morgan.  And they’re gonna say it if you’re starting out and you’re 19 years old and you’re in your garage.  That’s gonna be the argument across the board. You can’t win. Except you can win, because the truth is, it’s the truth.

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I wonder if the people with star power did it not just for themselves, but spoke, created a movement that also encompassed the middle class and the aspiring…?

Well I don’t know; I think that could be true.  I do know that if what I’ve done and am trying to do is resonating with people.  I know that part of it is the middle class part.  That the idea, you know… music, this isn’t a game; this is my profession.  This is what I wanted to do since I was four years old; I never wanted to do anything else, ok?  It’s my profession, like the way a doctor has a profession or a lawyer, or a plumber, or a farmer, or a teacher.  It’s my profession, and all I’m saying is, “You know what, there are some times that we don’t know right from wrong, and we don’t know fair from unfair, but there are lots of times that we do, and this is clearly unfair.  If the rest of the world can do this, we can do this.  We’re the United States, come on.

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Speaking about having a profession reminded me again of the fact that songwriting as a profession, separate from being an artist, is very, very difficult now.

Well it usedto be so easy.

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Ha-ha.  Well that’s the thing, but now it’s almost impossible.  Do you relate to that? I mean, do you know artists; do you have artists in your company who use songwriters apart from themselves?

The only artist that I’ve really worked with who is known to a large degree for songs that she didn’t write was Leslie Gore.   We made a record together in 2005 and she did two of my songs.  In fact she did songs on the record — it was really beautiful — from different ECR artists.  Leslie is an Academy Award-nominated songwriter.  So she’s a pretty serious songwriter herself, but she’s certainly well known for songs like Its My Party and You Dont Own Me.

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Because that’s from a different time, when there were professional songwriters.

Right, well, and there are professional songwriters today.  There are more professional songwriters today than ever; but you’re talking about a time when, like the Tin Pan Alley time, when someone would go to work every day and write songs.  Well I go to work every day and write songs, ok?  So, but that part of the world has, I think, it has changed; you know, it has and it hasn’t.  Labels have staff songwriters all the time.

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But many fewer.

Right, many fewer.  But everything is many fewer.  We use to have twenty major labels, and now we have three, soon to be two, soon to be one, soon to be none, ok?  So you know there used to be lots of things there aren’t any more.  And this is… piracy is one reason why, and the radio picture is another reason why.  If we can fix the radio thing, it’s gonnareally go a long way, too.  You know, it would employ songwriters, so there you go.  So…

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Do you, well again, I would bring up the 12/1 ratio difference and that’s because labels who basically have sort of an 85/15 split with their artists…

If that.

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They’re making the initial deals with radio distribution companies.  And they’re getting the bulk of the money, and the rest, which is much smaller, is going to…

Well but that’s always been the case.  Any rock star who owns a boat, the label owns the marina.  Ok, that’s always been the case.

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But these deals are not regulated in the sense that… it’s like songwriters are under consent decrees with ASCAP  and BMI, as opposed to labels that are doing direct…

They’re doing direct deals.  And another thing that’s happening more and more is that artists are leaving their labels, not exactly the way I did, but the effect is the same.  But here’s the other thing that you have to understand; here are a couple of stats.  Of the 75,000 albums that came out in 2011, 74% of them sold less than 10 copies each.  Not 10,000 copies, not 10 million copies.  74% of all of the albums that came out in 2011 sold 10 copies or less, ok?  Now if a kid makes a record, her or his mommy is gonna buy 10 copies.  That’s what we’re talking about, ok?  91% of all the records that came out in 2011 sold 100 copies or less.  Now you can’t tell me that that is not affecting the livelihood of songwriters, because it is.  Because there is no livelihood.  That’s why.  Here’s another stat; of the 15 million songs that are for sale online right now, 14 million of the 15 million don’t sell one copy in any given year.  It’s just a fact.  It’s just white noise.  It’s nothing, right?  The break-even point for labels is usually 10,000 copies.  Major labels, that’s when they start to break even.  That’s when artists start to break even.  So think about what I just said, and think about how many of them are not breaking even.  The major label model is, we’re gonna release a hundred records, 99 of them are gonna do nothing.  One of them is gonna hit, and then that one is gonna pay for all the 99 that lost.  They have like a 1 to 2% break-even rate.  ECR has an 89% break-even rate, ok?  So that’s the merit of this model. It actually proves that what’s morally right can also be the best business model.

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Can you explain to me what makes the difference in terms of your business model, in more of a breakdown?

The simplest way to put it is, fighting the battles that you can win.  So one of the things that I learned with my Phil Ramone/N2K/Sony experience is… one of the things they did the week my record came out is they took out a $100,000 ad in Billboard Magazine.  I was the back picture of Billboard Magazine; big picture of me, a couple of press quotes, Blake Morgan.  And what that did, separate of wasting a $100,000, is… I could have made a record.  I mean now, I could make 10 records for $100,000.  I could have been on the road for two years for $100,000.  I could have bought a van and been smart.  And, I mean, think about what I said: instead it’s one week of one page of one ad for a guy nobody’s heard of.  And you know what that ad did? It pissed everybody off.  Everybody who saw it got pissed off.  They’re like, “Who’s this guy?  I’ve never heard of him.  His record hasn’t even come out yet.  It’s coming out this week or next week and he’s got all this money behind him.  Ugh!”  So it pissed off everybody, they wasted a $100,000, and it didn’t do anything, right?  So that’s an example of fighting a battle you can’t win.  So that’s an example of what we don’t do.  Here’s another story.  A couple of weeks after my record came out, I sat in a marketing meeting at that label, which they did not want me to do.  They never wanted me in these meetings; but I always wanted to.  And this is another… I was able to learn stuff in these meetings.  But they don’t want the artist there; but I insisted.  So I was gonna sit there, fly on the wall.  So they start in this big conference room, big conference table, and the marketing team, and this one woman says, “Ok, well let’s get started.”  So we started with some good news.  “It looks like Blake is debuting at #8 on the Billboard Heatseeker Chart.”  Which is like some chart for seeking heat; I don’t know what it is.  So Blake is #8 on the Heatseeker Chart.  And the head of marketing said, “You’re kidding; that’s fantastic.  Does anyone know how many people are ahead of him?”  So I’m sorry, but it’s not just the early bird that gets the worm; it’s the bird that has something more than a bird brain, who can actually, like, add.  And I said, “You know I gotta be honest with you; some of this stuff is lost on me but if I’m #8, I have a feeling that there are 7 people ahead of me on the chart.”  And this is what happens.  People are horrified.  We all know that somehow this is the way the world works; that people just don’t know really what they are doing.  They didn’t know what they were doing.  It’s not like that’s not the case now; they don’t.  But when your life is on the line, and when you’re an artist who owns a label, who makes records, I’m able to treat my artists differently.  One of the ways that I treat them differently is that they all work at the label.  My vice-president is David Cloyd; one of our artists.  He’s the one who started his own imprint.  So you can hand an artist a fish or you can teach them how to fish so that they’ll eat for the rest of their lives.  That’s what we want to do.  We have a small roster of people.  There’s nobody I work with that I don’t want to make 10 records with, you know.  So it’s a huge investment of energy and time and love; but it’s working.  So, we do it.

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What do you think about what’s going on with direct licensing, and also the consent decrees?  Are you involved with ASCAP?

I’m with BMI.

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With BMI, who also has a constraint.

Uh huh.

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What do you feel about that kind of government regulation?

Well here’s the interesting thing about the Mel Watt bill.  The Mel Watt bill is sort of… there are two parts to it.  The first is it institutes the performance royalty on all forms of radio.  There isn’t anyone in the music world that doesn’t support that.  And it’s amazing when you have, like, labels, and performance rights organizations, and musicians and artists and unions all agreeing on that; so that’s easy.  The second part is, what Mel Watt has proposed is to get rid of the compulsory license, ok?  That’s why it’s called the Free Market Royalty Act.  Now there are some people who are really scared about that, and there are a lot of other people who are really excited about that.  The idea being, if we get rid of the compulsory license and negotiate on the free market through SoundExchange… and not enough people understand SoundExchange or know about SoundExchange…

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For the master. But not for the song.

Right, so, the compulsory license for the song… are you talking like mechanical?  Ok; but they’re related and this is why.  And I use that example because I’m someone who would be really interested in seeing the compulsory license removed, ok?  The mechanical royalty, which is the compulsory license for songs, let’s just put it that way.  Here’s the thing about that.  So they instituted it, the rate in the United States is 9.1cents per song, ok?  Which means that when you press a thousand CD’s… like, let’s say that I do a CD, that I make a CD and I press a 1,000 copies, and one of the songs is a cover song of somebody else’s, right?  So I have to pay 9.1 cents times a thousand because I pressed somebody else’s song a thousand times.  But here’s the problem with the 9.1 cent regulation; it feels like it’s a minimum wage, right.  It feels like, hey, as a songwriter, I’m guaranteed 9.1 cents per song; you can’t screw me.  The only problem is it turns out it’s really not a minimum wage.  It’s a maximum wage, because nobody ever pays 9.2 cents if they don’t have to; and they don’t have to.  So if you think about it in terms of a speed limit instead of a minimum wage, that’s more like it.  It’s like it’s not, this isn’t the recommended speed; this is the maximum you can get.  So that’s one of the arguments to get rid of the compulsory license, which is that it’s not really a minimum wage or a guarantee thing; it’s a cap.  And if we got rid of the cap and were able to negotiate in a fair market, we would have the option to do two things.  And by the way, songwriters sometimes would yearn for this as well, which is that you can also opt out.  “I don’t want you to use my song.”  “What do you mean? I’m paying you the compulsory license.”  “I don’t care; I don’t want you to use it.  I don’t want you to use my song for this.  I don’t want it, you know?”  So that’s something, artists don’t have the ability.

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Would you say that kind of relates to moral rights in Europe?

Sure.  So the compulsory license, again, artists elsewhere have the right to opt out of agreements.  In the United States, a country where I hear so many people wanting government out of our lives, right?  Well what Mel Watt did with this bill is, he basically said, “Ok. You want that?  Great.  Let’s put it in.”  It’s a very bold… you know, he’s a smart man.  And it’s a very bold thing that he put in the bill in order that this would be a part of the discussion.  Now to be fair, there are a lot of organizations, music organizations and a lot of musicians, who do not want the compulsory license removed, because they’re afraid that people will circumvent negotiating collectively through SoundExchange.  The argument is that labels will try to circumvent it and gobble that up and drain the swamp.  I’m not somebody who thinks that that will happen.

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Why?

Because in the end, working through SoundExchange and bargaining through SoundExchange I think is going to be more profitable for everybody.  And what labels always do is, they simply go where there’s the most amount of money.  You know, honestly, that’s the root.  Labels have been trying to gobble up people’s publishing; I mean they’ve tried to do everything.  I should also say that on ECR, all the artists own their own publishing.  They own their own songs.  They don’t just own their own masters.  They own their own songs.  They own their own publishing.  I produce all the records that come out on ECR with our artists.  I never take a percentage as a producer; I don’t get points on the record or anything like that.  So that’s another way … I forget that.  But that’s a clear way that we are unique, as well.  So the compulsory language and the compulsory part of it is really an interesting part.  It doesn’t look like that’s a part that – it looks like the performance royalty and instituting that is the next part that really has a chance to get through.  And I think that the discussion about the compulsory license is a really exciting one to have, as people learn more about it and kind of figure it out.

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“So here’s what Pandora could have said: They could have said, “Congress has mandated that we have to pay the Aretha royalty and the Otis royalty, and we’re honored to do so, because we’re the future of radio. We’re making lots of money. And if you’re a musician out there, you want to be on Pandora. Stand with us because we’re standing with you.” Instead what they said is, “Traditional radio has gotten away with murder for ninety years, because they’ve never paid Aretha for anything, and we want to do that, too.” And that’s what broke the hearts of musicians, because we really wanted to like Pandora. But they aggressively have lobbied Congress to try to get rid of the performance royalty.

Of the 75,000 albums that came out in 2011, 74% of them sold less than 10 copies each. Not 10,000 copies, not 10 million copies. 74% of all of the albums that came out in 2011 sold 10 copies or less, ok? Now if a kid makes a record, her or his mommy is gonna buy 10 copies. That’s what we’re talking about, ok? 91% of all the records that came out in 2011 sold 100 copies or less. Now you can’t tell me that that is not affecting the livelihood of songwriters, because it is. Because there is no livelihood. That’s why.”

Hear Blake Morgan on U.S. v. global royalty issues

 

Labels, Webcasting, Streaming, And Piracy

You also mentioned a little earlier that you thought eventually there will be no major labels.  Can you talk about that?

Well, I mean, I don’t know.  I don’t know.  There really used to be so many, and there really are only three, and really soon there are only gonna be two.  And when you have two… you know, I guess you can have Coke and Pepsi for fifty years or so and it works.  I mean, I don’t know.  But in the end the reality is their model just isn’t working.  It isn’t working.  And it’s not working only because they’re terrible; they’re not, you know.

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So tell me why, if you think they’re not, it’s not working.

It’s not working because the blockbuster mentality can’t last, you know?  We’re moving from an ownership culture to a streaming culture. That’s what it looks like right now.  Spotify is far from perfect; and Spotify, you know, I’m not the only musician who has a lot of problems with Spotify.   But there’s one part of the streaming model that I do find really intriguing, which is – and it doesn’t monetize this way yet – but I think there will come a time when it will.  What the streaming culture rewards is music that lasts.  What the blockbuster mentality rewards is this week; what happened this week.  It’s fast food.  And I’m not saying that artistically, it’s fast food; I’m saying economically, ok?  So the example I always give, going back to The Beatles, because everything should: So I’ve bought Eleanor Rigby six times, ok?  I bought it on cassette, CD, vinyl, mono box set, stereo box set, and the Yellow Submarine remix.  Ok, so yes, I’m a freak, but there are people much freakier than me.  So I bought it six times and honestly that monetizes to roughly a dollar a time.  It’s like they made $6 off of me for buying that song six times.  I’ve absolutely listened to that song 5,000 times.  I know it for sure.  And you know what?  I bet I have another 5,000 in me, before all is said and done.  Well, they’re never gonna make any more money off of… I mean they could remix it again and I’d probably get it, but the reality is they’ve made $6 off me, no matter how much I’ve listened to it.  In the streaming model, Spotify monetizes right now about to about half a cent per stream.  It’s appallingly low.  But for a freak like me who has listened to a song like 5,000 times, it monetizes to much more than $6, right?  It monetizes to, you know, over the course of time, like I just said, like 5,000, its $25.  So there’s a way that the music that’s great, that lasts, actually can make more money over time.  It doesn’t do that now because Spotify isn’t monetizing in a way that really does help artists.

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Can you talk about that a bit?

Well, they just don’t pay enough.  That’s the end of the discussion; they don’t.  And, but here’s the difference with Spotify, and people conflate Spotify and Pandora:  Pandora is radio; Spotify is not radio.  It’s a different model.

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Pandora is known as a webcaster and Spotify is streaming.

Right.  So, and, by the way it should be noted that iTunes Radio came in, you know Spotify is complaining that they pay 50 to 55% of their total revenue to the performance royalty, the Aretha royalty, right?  And they can’t make any money except for the hundreds of millions of dollars they’re making on their stock market; just the other day they were finally valued on the stock market as a five billion dollar company, which is up two billion dollars from six months ago, ok?  And the founder is cashing out his stock and making two million dollars a month by cashing out stock in his own company.  They have lots of money, and that’s been a huge problem with Pandora, too.  They’re pleading poverty to Congress and then at Wall Street they’re saying, “We’re a huge success; buy our stock.”  It doesn’t add up.  Here’s the difference.  iTunes Radio came in and they’re paying 70% of total revenue.  iTunes Radio, they came in saying, “Oh we’re gonna pay; we’re gonna be the best.  We’re gonna come in and be the paragon of paying artists.”  And then Pandora says, “Well, they can do that because they don’t have to make money on music because they have all this hardware,” which is like saying, “Well, they’re only able to do that because their business model works.”  Spotify, they too, they’ve walked a different walk than Pandora as well.  And in fairness, they supported the Internet Radio Fairness Act, so that’s a no-no.  But when they’ve been confronted, and artists have said, “You don’t pay enough,”  Spotify says, “You’re right, we don’t pay enough; but here’s how we’re gonna pay enough.  When we have enough, we’re gonna pay70% of revenue.”  Which they do, they pay seventy percent of revenue to rights holders.  They say, “We’re always gonna pay seventy percent and the more paid subscribers we get, all of the money is gonna grow.  So as our money grows, the money that we’re gonna pay out grows.  That’s our business model.”  So I do have to say, they are far from perfect; but they have walked a different walk, and also, these are legal licenses.  They are licensing our music legally.  So it is a different thing.

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Although, I’ve heard it posited that it’s so little that is it really that much different from piracy…? 

Yes, it is; because it is paid.  It is paid, and it’s licensed.  It’s legal; it’s licensed, and it’s paid.  If I wanted, I could have my music removed from Spotify, ok?  So it’s not perfect; in the evolution of everything that’s worked, there was a time that it didn’t.  You know?  It can be a lot better, but it’s vastly different from piracy.  Piracy is theft, you know?  And of course the argument with piracy is the argument with radio, which is also the argument with touring.  The argument’s always the same when they don’t want to pay you.  The argument is, “Well it’s promotion.”  Right?  So setting aside how much you should be paid on the radio, you’re getting promotion and that’s good for you.  The only problem with that is that then you turn to piracy, and they say, “Yeah but see piracy is good for you because all these people are hearing your music.  It’s good for you because it’s promotion.”  But then the next problem is then you tour and they say, “Well you should make money touring and selling T-Shirts and stuff.”   And here’s the problem; once you start doing that, then venues say, “Well, we’re not going to pay you; we don’t have to pay you.  It’s promotion for you.  This is good for you.”

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And not only that, but again I’ll bring it back to the songwriter who does not tour and sell T-shirts.

Right, exactly.  So if all of these things are so good for us, how come everyone is doing so bad?  What’s causing it?  What’s causing the drag?  Is it all the unicorns out there, running around crashing into music and destroying it?  If this is all such good news, then why is there such bad news everywhere; tell me.  I would love somebody who makes that promotion argument… I’d love for them to tell me, you know?  And believe me when I tell you if people just walked into the Gap and stole jeans and walked out, the argument would never be, oh, but it’s promotion for the Gap.  Because, that little tag on the back pocket, people see it and, “Oh, it’s pair of Gap jeans; I should get those.”  It doesn’t work that way.  The Gap wouldn’t say, “Oh this is really… here, have our jeans.  It’s really good for us.”  Right?

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 So you think that streaming is the future?

I don’t know.  It just… It really does feel like we’re moving.  You know Stephen Wright, the great comedian, had a great line.  It’s something like this, “I have the most amazing sea shell collection in history, and I keep it on all the beaches of the world.”  Right, so we’re moving from a time when you have a record collection, I have a record collection, you’ve been listening to music I haven’t heard, and so I come over to your place and you’re like, “You gotta check this out.”  And then I do the same thing, or we make playlists.  You know, we’re making a different kind of playlist now, because everything is on Spotify.  All of, basically, recorded music in history.  So it’s not about what you have versus what I have.  It’s what are we both… what have we both checked out, right?  So there are a lot of exciting things about this streaming world to me.  And one, the question is simply how is this gonna be monetized fairly.  I have cable television.  I don’t pay for CNN.   I pay for cable television, right, which pays for CNN.  So that’s one of the ways that this streaming model can work.  It’s like well I’m not paying to listen to Thriller, I’m paying to have the option to listen to Thriller.  But when I listen to Thriller, it gets paid for.  It’s not the same thing.  It’s not stolen.  So there is something very exciting about it as long as the money works out, which is unclear as to how that will in the short run.  Spotify is not making money, you know.  So the question is, is Spotify really there to make a splash and then have an IPO of their own so they can…Some of this is not just isolated to music.  How is Facebook making money?  How is Twitter making money?  These are all questions.  So.

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What do you think of the idea of having a levy, some kind of copy levy, which would be added to your subscription to your ISP or something like that…That would be for music and then for films, so that royalties would be paid out… 

You know, it seems to me that the model that’s working on the streaming front is the Netflix model.  Netflix is doing something. You know Netflix is working, and they’re making money.  They have their own original programming now, which is terrific.  Movie studios love them, because they’re making money through them.  So Netflix isn’t going to Congress and saying, “We can’t pay for movies.”  You know the thing I always say is, “It’s like music is Pandora’s only product, and what they’re saying is they can’t pay for their only product, which is like a bakery saying, “I can’t pay for flour.”  Or a pizzeria saying, “The only way we can stay in business is if we don’t have to pay for dough.”  Right, so Netflix is able to do it, and that’s a streaming model.  Ten years from now, are people really going to be buying DVDs, or are they just using Netflix or other Netflix-like businesses?  It seems to me that that is where music is going, undoubtedly.  I mean, and of course people are wrong all the time, and I could be, too.  But that’s where it feels like it’s going.  If Netflix doesn’t have to be contentious, then why does Spotify have to be contentious?  Why does it have to be different for music?  Right?  So I think, I really do think that’s the model.

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The subscription model?

Right. And people do subscribe to Spotify, which is again why it is different.  But Netflix is doing great…They’re not saying that they’re not doing great.  And they listen to their consumers; they build a relationship with their consumers.

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And they apologize when they’re wrong.

They apologize when they’re wrong.  They use to have the DVD model and then they did the streaming thing.  They kind of messed up and hurt their brand.  Ok, you know what, mea culpa, they fixed the reputation.  You know not all corporations have to be bad. It’s just that all too many of them are.  So that’s a great model for movies; that’s a great model for music moving forward.  And I think that how many times things can be copied. You know I have this collection versus the collection you have.  I don’t see how this can possibly be the future.

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Have you had any more dialogue with Tim Westergren?

No, I haven’t.  I haven’t.  It’s not personal, and I don’t know whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.

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I just thought any more dialogue might be helpful.

Well, you know it would help if he showed up at places that musicians are talking.  You know he was the keynote speaker at CMJ last year, and I met you at CMJ this year, and he didn’t even show up.

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Right.

And nobody from Pandora showed up.  And the panel that I was on was about Internet Radio and royalty fairness, and I don’t mean this in a conflict, in a

conflicting, antagonistic way.  I just mean that a panel like that, it would serve people better if somebody from Pandora had showed up and made…

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They were supposed to, I believe.

Well maybe, but it’s amazing, like, you know, but that’s another sign.  Again it doesn’t have to be antagonistic, but it is important.  This is a fight worth winning, and it’s important that musicians understand that not everything is bad news.  A year ago he was the keynote speaker, and the Internet Radio Fairness Act was dangerously close to being taken seriously as becoming a law.  A year later, he can’t even show up at CMJ.  And we’re not talking about that bill at all, because it’s dead for the year.  We’re talking about a different bill, like Mel Watt’s or the others to come, that in fact would add the performance royalty. So that’s a huge shift in a good direction.   I wish that they’d had the courage to show up.  You know decisions are made by those who show up.

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“Here’s the difference. iTunes Radio came in and they’re paying 70% of total revenue. iTunes Radio, they came in saying, “Oh we’re gonna pay; we’re gonna be the best. We’re gonna come in and be the paragon of paying artists.” And then Pandora says, “Well, they can do that because they don’t have to make money on music because they have all this hardware,” which is like saying, “Well, they’re only able to do that because their business model works.”

SOPA, PIPA, Google, And Public Opinion

How did you feel about the whole SOPA/PIPA debacle?  And how do you feel that has influenced public opinion and what goes on now?

It’s another way that…it was another thing that ended up frightening people away from fighting for what’s right.  And it was definitely bungled.  It wasn’t reeled out right, you know.  But again, history is full of this.  The first time that anything comes around, it’s not usually nailed.  That’s why I say in the evolution of everything that has worked, there’s a time when it didn’t, so long as you believe in evolution.  There’s a lot about that fight that brought those concerns to the forefront for people, for the first time.  And it’s not surprising that it failed.

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Well what do you think about that?  I mean there’s certainly a polarity between the artistic creative world and the tech world. I mean there’s a lot of divisiveness there and that was certainly fueled during that Congressional situation. How do you feel about that and whether there’s some way to get closer together? 

Well the balance between art and commerce has always been awkward, always, throughout history.  What are things worth?  How should people get paid?  Is it even financially feasible to be an artist of any kind?  And I don’t mean an artist performer.  Songwriters are artists.  I mean the arts.  Painters are artists.

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Creative work.

Yes, so the relationship between commerce and art has always been an awkward one.  But you know it’s funny, I’m a Star Trek fan and in Star Trek they’ve worked all this stuff out. It’s amazing, right?  Like health issues, not a bigdeal.  Race, gender, sexuality, economics. You know they always talk in Star Trek about, “Oh God, back a couple of hundred years ago, this was a mess.  We actually allowed people to starve, and they didn’t have money, so we figured out how to do these things.  If we work together…”  So that’s one of the great things about Star Trek. It’s an idealistic future, and it was born in the 1960’s in an idealistic time, ok?  So I see things like SOPA/PIPA, and I see some of the struggles as the early steps towards us coming together as a planet.  It sounds so whacky when I say this.  Like, “Oh boy this guy, I thought he really had it together.  He’s a total wing nut.”  You know, but I’m serious. There really isn’t international law.  It kind of doesn’t exist.  We’re kind of beginning to come up with the beginnings of what, how do countries get along about issues like this.  So for instance I was talking about the idea of reciprocity, again coming back to just this performance royalty thing.  What other countries are saying is, “If you’re not going to pay our artists in your country to be on the radio, well then we’re not gonna pay your artists in our country.”  If we were to pass the Performance Royalty here, the Aretha royalty, guess what; we’d also be paying French and German and Polish artists here when they’re on the radio, which means that when our artists are paid over there or played over there, we’d get paid.  Except the United States has the biggest artists in the world.  This would be…this is a jobs bill, whether it’s Watt’s bill or the one to come along.  This is an American jobs bill.  This is about the United States economy.  To answer your question in a simpler way, the number one export of the United States is not steel, it’s not computers, it’s not cars.  It’s art.  And a lot of people don’t think of Avatar and Iron Man 3 as art; but you know what, it is.  That’s art.  People want to make fun of Miley Cyrus?  Ok.  Well, she’s an artist. She is.   Maybe you don’t think she’s a very good one, but that’s beside the point.  It’s an export, and one of the reasons that the world speaks English is because of our art, ok?  So this is a chance, you know, that’s, now as a Star Trek fan, this is good globalization to me.  This is an opportunity for us to come together and figure these things out, so a couple of hundred years from now, we can look back and go, “Oh my God, can you believe it, we never paid Aretha.”  (Laughter)  How’s that for an answer?

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To go back to my question, let’s say…Google…is a huge force now. It’s a global force in many fields now. And I believe that that culture, the internet culture, so to speak, and I hate to pigeonhole it, but…Facebook, Google, they’re all into sharing, and sharing starts to blend into stealing, or no ownership. How do you see that resolving itself, or do you?

Well in a perfect world, in our Star Trek world of the future, you know, the thing about the Stephen Wright sea shells thing resonates with me, because in a perfect world, if everybody is streaming, and nobody is owning, then nobody’s stealing, ok?  So if nobody owns anything when it comes to music, then nobody can steal it.  You could post links, like “I’m crazy about this song,” and you can post a link, which people do.

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But people own the rights. Google doesn’t want people to own the rights.  Just today they won a lawsuit against the Author’s Guild and others.

Right.  Well I think all of these tech companies are afraid, because they would be liable, the SOPA/PIPA thing would have made them liable.  It’s not just that you’ve stolen a Red Hot Chili Peppers track, it’s that you’ve created the network through which it was stolen, so then you’re liable for each of those things as well, you know?

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Well they also get a lot of advertising from…

Well Google is one of the, you know, is an unfortunate partner with ad-sponsored piracy.  The real hole in the bottom of the bucket in music and in movies and in literature; but since I’m in music, I’ll talk about music.  The real place that we’re bleeding out is ad-sponsored piracy.  So, have you ever wondered what’s in it for these piracy sites?  Like all of Blake Morgan’s music is there, and you can just get it.  So why would they have a site?  How are they making money?  Well have you never noticed that right next to my music is an ad for Chevrolet?  So Google is an unfortunate partner, because they are refusing…you know there are certain things that Google won’t allow in searches, right?  You know, don’t hold me to this, but I think it’s true.  You can’t just search like, you know, beheading movies or something like that.  There are things that you can’t, that Google works very hard to make sure that you can’t, that doesn’t show up in a search, right?  But piracy is not one of them.  So anyone reading this or listening to this, you know if they go and they look for Blake Morgan’s music on piracy sites, you’re gonna find it in 30 seconds, you know?  And it’s making money for other people, just not me.  So the idea that music can’t make money is also a specious argument.  It’s making money for everybody except the musicians.

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So in that sense, there is ownership, and then there’s sharing the fruits of that labor .  It’s two different kinds of ownership.

Right, right.  But the classic ownership that we’re use to thinking of, where I own the thing.  I don’t see how that’s possibly going to stay.

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I agree with you, but I was actually more referring to intellectual property, and compared to owning…

Right, right.  Well. if we can stop the theft, and part of the argument in the theft, which is I think the argument that Lars was trying to make, which is, this is property.   This was created.  This is owned.  There is ownership here.  This isn’t just something to give away.  This is like the Gap jeans thing.  This is property, you know?  So I think that the intellectual property part of it…I’m very optimistic about that part.  It’s bad news for CD manufacturers, you know?  But cars were bad news for buggy whip manufacturers.  But the intellectual property part of it is the part that, I think, streaming has an opportunity to show up for, the way Pandora had an opportunity to say: we’re proud to pay for the performance royalty.  The performance royalty is gonna happen anyway.  So they had an opportunity to get on the ground floor and say, we’re gonna be the paragon of behavior, and I think streaming has the opportunity to do that, too.  We’ll see if they do, but they do have that opportunity.  In a world where every listen is paid for, that’s good news for intellectual property, right?  Netflix is good news for intellectual property.  So again, Netflix is a good model for that.  I think there’s a lot of good news for that.

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It’s also good when they start creating their own content, because then they own intellectual property.

Right.  And then they know how that [plays out].  Exactly.

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Yeah.  I think that the thing with Google winning —  or actually the case was dismissed — the case about  the book settlement…In effect, they took all the books, and you can only opt out.  Which is again, sort of like…

Well it’s like the compulsory.

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Like a takedown.

Blake:  Exactly, exactly, exactly, so.

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Hear Blake Morgan on the music lovers/music makers conundrum

 

Copyright Reform

And how do you feel about notice and takedown incidentally, because that, I think, will be addressed…

Well, what part of it?

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Do you think it works?

Well, it does when people actually do it.

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Do people actually do it?

Yeah, we use to do it all the time, and my VP, David Cloyd, was in charge of it, and he would do it for hours.  And then he did it one day, and it destroyed his computer.  One of these piracy sites infected his computer with a virus that completely fried his computer and destroyed it, and he had to get a new computer.  And at that point we decided, as a company, that this is not a useful allocation of our energy and our resources.  Number one, it stops us from doing other things. Number two, it destroys his computer.  And number three, it doesn’t matter because they’re just gonna put it up elsewhere anyway, you know?  David Lowery just did something really fantastic in working with Israelite and working to get the fifty biggest infracting websites…

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Lyrics.

Exactly, about lyrics, and that’s great.  And that’s great.  You know each of these things is about educating music lovers and music makers, where people say, “Well wait a minute, I should be able to look up your lyrics.”  “Yes you should be able to look up my lyrics at a licensed site, that’s all.”  That’s all.  So each one of these things changes the perception.  A friend of mine uses the seatbelt laws as an analogy for what we’re trying to do with music.  There was a time when people were like, “I’m not gonna wear a seatbelt just because you tell me,” and then everybody wear seatbelts now.  It’s really not you losing your personal freedom, ok?  It’s you losing the personal freedom to kill yourself and the other people in your car and other cars.  And now you know if you don’t wear a seatbelt… I mean I can’t remember the last time I got into a car and people didn’t put on their seatbelt.  I can’t remember.  And if you did people would be like, “What are you doing?  Ass, put your seatbelt on.”  So these things do change, and I think that’s a good example of how they do.

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Speaking of changes, what about copyright reform?  Maria Pallante says that she wants to start instituting, or looking into, The Next Great Copyright Act.

We need something.

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What do you feel we need?  What works, what doesn’t?  What would you like to see changed?

I think the first thing that needs to change is changing, which is exactly what you just said.  It’s, you know what, we have, separate of SOPA and separate of PIPA, we have to try again.  We have to try this again, now, and get a little further down the road with something that’s going to work.  So the first thing is the political and personal will to actually change what’s going on.  Past that, then it’s going to be very complicated, and it’s gonna… which is another reason why right now I’m not even focused on that personally.  I’m focused on the radio thing, because in comparison to the other, this is low-hanging fruit.  I mean it’s a mile off the ground.  But it’s… this is easy and that’s why, you know, it’s a winnable fight that music lovers, that pirates even, will say, “Well, I gotta tell you, that’s really unfair.”  So if we can have pirates agreeing on this, like let’s…  Isn’t this what we say we wish Washington was like?  Can we start with what we agree on, and then let’s build on that?  So that’s why I’m focused on the radio thing.  It doesn’t enter into the piracy thing, but it does.  There’s a little Venn diagram overlap, you know.  But I’d love to see this battle won now, because it can be; and then we move on to the other ones.   We need overwhelming copyright reform.  Of course we do.  I think that’s also gonna happen in stages.  Usually when a huge thing doesn’t get passed, what they do is they break it up, and they pass little parts of it in little pieces.  So maybe, maybe that’s what will happen.

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Well the last one, I think, took twenty years…

Yeah, so you know, in comparison to that we’re moving at light speed.

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Music Makers And Music Lovers Unite

And what about you?  Has this whole Pandora episode and your becoming a spokesperson, is that jettisoning you to do more proactive work?

Yeah, I, you know, this is my favorite time to be alive.  It’s my favorite time of my life.  I’m making more music than ever.  My new record just came out.  I’m making two great new records with our artists Janita and Melissa Giges.  Next weekend I’m gonna be in the studio with David Cloyd working on what’s gonna be his new record.  I’ve been on a radio tour.  I’m doing an interview with you and so many other people, and we’re talking about fairness for musicians and artists.  These are all related, so I’m definitely a multi-tasker.  I’ve clearly [been] for the last few years; so they all feed each other.  They make me better at what I do.  I look forward to a time when we don’t have to be fighting this particular fight at radio, because we all won and we all stood together, and that’s how we won.   And I look forward to doing that and then moving on to the next fight, you know?

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Do you feel that the music community, the professional music community, do you feel that enough musicians and artists and songwriters understand what needs to happen, and do you feel that there’s a community that’s gathering for that?

I think it’s really starting to, and I think for the very first time, a grassroots, organized, respectful uprising of artists and musicians, and, not only in music, but writers, painters, animators, the list is long…Everyone is beginning to show a lot of courage to fight the fight.  And I’ve never seen anything like this.  I don’t know anyone who has.

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What things can you point to that you feel are very effective or are starting to take hold?

Well the first example is like what I said.  Look at where we were a year ago, and look at where we are now.  It was unthinkable, a year ago, that we’d be able to beat back IRFA, the Internet Radio Fairness Act, last year and this year.  And in fact, this year we’re talking about adding on.  We’re talking about righteously instituting the performance royalty everywhere, which is clearly what should happen.  Which is clearly what the rest of the world does except for Iran, and North Korea, and China, and Vietnam.  So that’s a great example of…that’s a win.  That’s a huge win.  And Pandora’s doing great.  They’re doing great.  They didn’t need that.  They’re doing fine.  They’re doing great.  So that’s an example of, I wish that they’d come in on the ground floor and done the right thing, but you know what, ok.  So that’s an example of how people speaking out — David Lowery, myself, Pink Floyd, oh my God, and so many others in different ways.  Thom York and Nigel Godrich have spoken out recently.  Aimee Mann was on a different thing.  People are climbing out of the bushes, and that’s always the first and the second and third and fourth step, which is to say, look, if you’re going to throw tomatoes at me, throw tomatoes at me, but I’m telling you this is right.  And a lot of times, we don’t know right from wrong, but this is easy.  This is right.  And the more people that do that, like any struggle or like any social shift or awareness, that’s always how it happens.   It’s always a small group of people that end up making a big change.  It’s the only thing that has ever made a big change in any area of the world, you know?  So it’s a very optimistic time, and there’s an unbelievable amount of work ahead.  But it’s a good time.  And here’s the most exciting thing, which is what I’m seeing all the time:  I do an interview or I do TV or I do radio, [and] the people at the radio station, the people at the TV station, the camera people, the tech, come up to me afterward, and they’re saying, “You know I didn’t know that.  I didn’t know that Aretha never got paid for “Respect.”  I didn’t know that.  I’m horrified.”  These are music lovers. These are not music professionals.  And unlike what we’ve seen with piracy or what happened with Metallica, this is an argument and this is a time, I think, where music lovers and music makers are starting to be on the same side.  You know, where the white, a different white noise, and that distraction and that conflict is not a part of it.  And if music lovers can join with music makers, and we can make this argument together, then it’s over, then we’re gonna win.  And they are beginning to understand that artists and musicians being funded fairly for their work is good for music lovers, because then there’s more good music, you know?  If you really don’t’ want just three or four really bad outlets for music – labels or radio stations or Clear Channel, people like this — if you don’t want that, this is a way that you can… a rising tide really does lift all boats, you know?  Why isn’t there more good music out there?  This is why.  So we can fix this.  So that’s one thing that I think has really changed over the last year and all the years that came before.  But that’s what I’m really seeing like at light speed, which is the mood and the understanding and the divide between music lovers and music makers is shortening.  The gap is closing, because we’re on the same side; and this issue — the performance royalty at radio — is an issue that all music lovers understand.  They’re like, “I can’t believe, I just didn’t know.  I didn’t know.  I didn’t know that Leslie Gore never got paid for You Dont Own Me.”  I mean that’s an American classic, and that’s a woman who should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  And you know what, they don’t know.  So, so much of this is about education.

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Yes, it’s kind of like what you said for Congress:  Figure out what you agree on.  And this is an issue that you feel is the case.  Then you have their ears for the next issue.

Exactly, exactly.  Then you would have their ears for the next issue and then you can also say, “Listen, we weren’t kidding around.  We won.  We can win this.  Let’s win the next thing and the next thing; not in a greedy way, not in a, you know, this is all is ridiculous, but in a fair way.  Like we’ve seen in so many other areas, in so many other ways, ok?”  So that gap is really closing, and Congress is interested in the performance royalty.  It’s good for Congress.  Republicans love this.  Democrats love this.  What can we say that about, at this time in American history?  Republicans and Democrats are both for this, and you know why? Because of that reciprocity issue.  “Wait a second, if we pass this here, you mean we get money from overseas? Oh!”  This is something they can take back to their districts and say, “The number one export of the United States is art.  This is how we get our art….This is how we get paid for our American art from overseas.”  All this money will come home.  That’s something that turns Congress on.  You know, it’s good for the United States economy.

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“Congress is interested in the performance royalty. It’s good for Congress. Republicans love this.Democrats love this. What can we say that about, at this time in American history? Republicans and Democrats are both for this, and you know why? Because of that reciprocity issue. “Wait a second, if we pass this here, you mean we get money from overseas? Oh!” This is something they can take back to their districts and say, “The number one export of the United States is art. This is how we get our art….This is how we get paid for our American art from overseas.” All this money will come home. That’s something that turns Congress on. You know, it’s good for the United States economy.”

A few clips of Blake’s music

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Great interview, lots of depth and detail about what today’s musicians and songwriters are facing in the digital era.

    Blake has become a force in this conversation and is another example of the changing landscape. A landscape where artists are finally speaking out about the changes ithat are having a negative impact on our entire creative community.

    We continue to lose talented, professional artists who are no longer able to earn a living wage in the digital evonomy. We need to get the artists involved, so the public and our legislators understand the importance of artists and their work.

    Artists need to play a major part in all negotiations regarding copyright and artist compensation. If we allow technologists
    to dictate terms for the future of arts and artists in American, the results will be devastating for not just the artist, but the audience as well.

  2. Patricia Gauble says:

    I am very impressed. I believe that Pauli Carmen introduced you to facebook and I have asked Santa for all your music for Christmas!!
    I grew up with Champaign Band, lived in Urbana-Champaign…

    It was my good fortune to have followed Pauli’s link to you….
    Thank you for your music/lyrics which has touched my soul….take care and try not to change….your ideals will keep you moving in the right direction..

    trisha

    • Thank you for this interesting article. So young and already a great pianist and composer. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to All

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