This week, we would like you to meet recording artist, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and the founder and President of ECR Music Group, Blake Morgan!
What was the inspiration behind becoming a musician? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
There’s never been anything else I’ve ever wanted to do, as far back as I can remember. I was studying piano at the age of four, and have really never looked back. (When I was six years old I saw All The President’s Men for the first time and wanted to be an investigative reporter for about 30 seconds, but by the time we got home from the theater I’d already asked if we could buy the soundtrack so I could learn it––and thus, my short-lived journalism career was over just like that.) In the simplest terms, my relationship to music is identical to my relationship to breathing oxygen: I want to do it, I really enjoy doing it, but if I didn’t it wouldn’t matter because I’d still have to do it anyway, in order to be alive. It’s a powerful thing to know about oneself––that should I find myself without music, like oxygen, there’d be no way for me to keep on keeping on. And that, in itself, is both my inspiration, and what I enjoy most about the creative process: keeping on.
When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
Both of my parents are writers, so I grew up with an inherent understanding that their work––and the protection of that work––was what was putting food on the table and putting me through music school. As my own artistic life began to unfold, I came to understand that without copyright I, as an artist, have no rights. That the Framers saw fit to include copyright in the same clause of our Constitution which grants Congress the power to declare war and raise money speaks to how deep their understanding was about what the foundational importance of copyright is to a civilized society.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
That it isn’t “real” work. That music itself isn’t a “real” profession which is necessary and fundamental to our collective human experience. This misconception (often fueled and expressed by resentment and even anger) lies at the heart of the copyright struggle, and at the heart of artists’ rights. It’s a misconception which essentially voices the following: “why should artists get paid for a job they don’t really have?” When in fact, I have 12 jobs, each of which clothes and feeds myself and my loved ones: I’m a professional singer, guitar player, pianist, bass player, recording engineer, record producer, songwriter, arranger, mix engineer, music director, mastering engineer, and label owner. Personally, I don’t think what I do is more or less important than what anyone else does––I believe carpenters, bus drivers, teachers, and nurses should all be paid fairly for their work. Music makers should be too.
What do you do when you encounter someone stealing work that you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?
It still comes as a shock to some people that The United States is the only democratic country in the world where artists don’t get paid for AM/FM radio airplay. Stations are allowed to broadcast my music, without my permission, and without paying me. I’m not sure what your definition of “stealing” is, but that’s mine. Taking my property, then monetizing my property for your profit (while not paying me anything) is stealing. Broadcasters made $18 billion last year alone by selling advertising around our music, while not paying a single penny to a single artist for all that music. Stealing, anyone? And you know what their rationalization is? They’re giving us “exposure.” Please name another profession anywhere in our free-market economy where someone is told, in lieu of payment, that they should be grateful because they’ll be getting exposure instead. Seriously, try paying your bills with “awareness.” Try paying your mortgage with “exposure.” Exposure is no coin, of the realm, or otherwise. Sorry for this semi-joke, but people actually die from exposure. As a songwriter (Job No. 7 of mine, I believe) that theft takes a different but equally appalling shape: corporations are allowed to air or stream my work without my permission while paying me a rate neither I nor Congress ever agreed to. Nice, right? And of course then there’s YouTube, perhaps the greatest copyright-infringement facilitator of them all. They claim they they can’t possibly police their own platform for the millions of copyright-infringing videos containing music makers’ work. But they absolutely can, they just won’t. They police their platform all the time, and don’t allow numerous kinds of videos to be shown (beheading videos, child pornography, etc.). Theirs is not a case of unable, it’s a case of unwilling. Your question was, “what do you do when you encounter someone stealing your work.” Well, what I did was start #IRespectMusic, which became the largest grassroots campaign in the history of American Music and has helped move legislation and combat these inequities. Go to IRespectMusic.org, and you can read more about how you can help, and how you can join us.
What is your best piece of advice for fellow creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?
My best advice is to remember that copyright is a human right, supported by reason, history, and the United States’ Constitution. That like all human rights, it’s worth fighting for––even in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. The corporate and unethical forces applying downward pressure on artists’ ability to make a living may seem invincible at times, and the downward trajectory may feel inevitable. But it isn’t. Their side is only fighting on behalf of greed. We’re fighting on behalf of justice, and truth, and for an elemental part of what makes each of us human. For thousands of years and throughout human history, as soon as we’ve been able to secure reasonable food, water, and shelter, we’ve begun making things. We’ve told stories, we’ve sung songs, we’ve painted caves. We’ve done so out of need, not luxury, to express and explore who we are. This is an essential part of being human. Today, our individual rights of expression and the rights to our property are under attack like never before. But we’re fighting back, winning battles, hearts, and minds at a pace our opponents thought unthinkable. We will not go gently into that good night, we will not bend or break our bonds to each other, to our work, to our dreams, or to our humanity. We will not succumb to the lesser versions of our collective selves. We will stand tall and reach higher, one inch at a time if necessary, and we’ll win these fights by holding fast to each other. It’s a struggle that will inevitably be won, it’s just a question of when. As Ludvig von Beethoven once said, “No one should drive a hard bargain with an artist.”
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