This week we’d like to introduce you to Morgan Kibby. Be sure to check out Morgan’s website, and also follow her on Instagram. She co-wrote and produced three orchestral interludes with Lady Gaga on “Chromatica.” And she scored a series for Netflix called “Grand Army” that premiered on October 16.
What was the inspiration behind you becoming an artist?
I was very lucky growing up in a family that valued music, art, languages. My mother realized early on that I actually didn’t thrive in school unless I was engaged creatively either at the piano, theater, dance etc. so it was a perfect storm of familial values and personal passion that led me to the arts.
Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take?
It truly depends on what I’m currently working on. A film or television score can take months to write, address revisions, record, mix and deliver, while a lyric for a song can pop into consciousness in 15 minutes. It’s a very unpredictable dance within each creative discipline. To be very honest, the muse is an ephemeral lady, but paired with a kind of intuitive discipline, I try to ride the waves of flow state and what I like to call entering the “pain cave.” Namely, these latter moments are perhaps not the most inspired, but I have structures in place to make sure I’m still producing work I can stand by, that are still thoughtful.
With composition, I tend to make sure I’m building out a sonic world, a palette: What instruments? How many players, or is it just myself? What is the scope? Is it reflective of a period? Or does it completely go against the aural universe you might expect from said project? Once a palette is agreed upon between myself and the director, I will then set about demoing ideas, sometimes to the script if I’m brought on early enough, sometimes to picture in the post process.
With songwriting and producing for artists, I absolutely LOVE collaborating in the room, so that process is usually pretty immediate. I love when artists have visuals that accompany their work process. Tear sheets, movies they have in the background while they work… I’m very visual so that really helps me with melody writing. Same with lyric: what moves them right now? How can I best help an artist refine what they want to say in a way they perhaps would not have thought of on their own?
Does everything you create make money?
Absolutely not, in fact it generally tends to be the opposite. The scales have started to even out a bit as I’ve entered a new phase of my career and I’m no longer at the ground level of my trajectory, but to be honest, it really depends on what I’m working on. Even with cuts on a number one album, for example, unless I’m on a single, I don’t really see significant residuals and writers don’t get paid for their time in the room prior to a release. With scoring, I always get paid a fee for my work. But there are two financial hurdles: first, production companies tend to insist on buyout contracts these days;and secondly, as mid-level independent films are disappearing, so are those mid-level budgets. I once averaged out my fee for a project based on the hours I worked, and I was barely making minimum wage when all was said and done.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
Being an artist today is undervalued to an extreme that puzzles and sometimes angers me. Artists are the lifeblood to a living, breathing evolving culture. I think people forget that all the cliches of art exist for a reason. Without a supported arts community, who are we? What are we fighting for? I also think people don’t understand how much discipline it takes to be a self-employed creative. It’s brutal. There are no off days even when you’re at the top, sometimes ESPECIALLY when you’re at the top. Those of us that commit to our craft are unique in this way, in that we sacrifice so much to bring beautiful things into the world.
When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
Though I’ve always been aware of copyright, the general function, etc., I’m a bit late to the party in terms of understanding how important and integral it is to our creative futures, especially in the digital age. I really started to further inform myself this year.
Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
The fact is, as musicians, we all have. The moment something has a life online, it’s like an orphan passed from person to person. I recently found a video claiming to be an “official music video” for one of my solo project’s songs, and I was upset for several reasons. First and foremost, in an industry transformed by peer to peer sharing, and with the temporary COVID-19-related death of touring, streaming is one of our last remaining sources of revenue (small though it may be when you look at the monetary breakdown). If someone is pulling traffic away from my YouTube page, that is money I will never see for MY work. And in an industry where so many of us make so little, a hundred dollars can sometimes plug the gap and allow me to keep the lights on in my studio. Additionally, the images in said video were nothing I would have ever approved or created. My aesthetic vision is just as important as the music in my creative process. Claiming to be an official video strips me of my very visual identity and misleads my listeners.
What is your biggest copyright related challenge?
Tracking down infringing works and getting service providers to take them down. The internet is like the universe, it’s vast and expands every day. It’s impossible to protect myself and I’m not even a big artist. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for people who have larger and more popular catalogues.
What is the best piece of advice that you would give fellow artists/creators about copyright and how to protect themselves and their work?
Call your representatives. This quagmire is not on us to solve or bear the brunt of. As users and creators, we will always be under-equipped to fight what’s happening online and our focus should be on our work, not on chasing down infringements. After the most recent House Judiciary Committee hearing (during which I testified on behalf of creators), my instinct is that Congress is on our side. BUT we need to engage them even more, as well as encourage other artists to speak up. The time is now to further the conversation and put pressure on the DSPs so that they are forced to come to the table and find solutions. Keep in mind that they benefit financially from refusing to fix this, and that inequity is blatantly corrupt. Our intellectual property rights are a fundamentally American value. And so I will reiterate: engage your representatives. One phone call goes a long way.
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