Landmark Music Copyright Case to be Heard Before Supreme Court Thursday

As we go about our days listening to music on our favorite streaming platforms, the way in which it is delivered may change forever today as the Supreme Court will hear the case of Google v. Oracle and render a decision that will affect musicians and their copyrights forever.

In 2015, I had the opportunity to meet and interview Blake Morgan, a musician, producer, founder and president of ECR Music Group (a label where the artists own 100% of their master recordings), and most importantly, an advocate. His passion to protect musicians and their rights to control their music was unwavering. Creating a hashtag and movement like no other with IRESPECTMUSIC, he fights for the rights of all musicians to own their own work and be compensated fairly. Our conversation was extensive and outlined the problems with the music industry and how it reaches audiences through streaming. It was informative, enlightening, and his passion to make change was unbridled.

On Thursday, Morgan posted to his social media accounts the following statement: “The U.S. Supreme Court case I’m involved with will be heard by the Court tomorrow (sadly, without RBG), and is shaping up to be one of the most important copyright cases of the decade. It could set fair-use standards for “content,” for years to come and our amicus brief––I’m standing alongside Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery, and the Songwriters Guild of America––is about standing up against the anti-copyright corporate overreach of Google.

Remember: without copyright, artists have no rights.

“This case (Google v. Oracle) again appears to be the latest in Google’s long-term strategy to use its market dominance and overwhelming commercial power to continually distort copyright exceptions, thereby artificially depressing the market price of copyrighted works.”

Read more about the case, here.

As this moment may change the course of how we hear music, how musicians rights are affected, and how the industry may change in the future, I thought it important to revisit our interview to develop a better understanding of what it entails and what they are fighting for.

May 20, 2015

For the past year or so I have been following a movement that has taken on momentum like a snowball rolling down the mountainside. The movement began when Blake Morgan, founder of ECR Music Group, responded to a comment made by Tim Westergren, Pandora Radio’s co-founder.

Tim Westergren wanted already struggling artists who weren’t compensated completely for the use of their music on his station, to take a decrease to keep it afloat. Pandora was not only afloat, the luxury cruise ship was sailing off into the sunset enjoying themselves to the hilt while the artists that powered that ship were stranded on an island all alone, and without compensation.

Frustrated by one of the only American industries that feel entitled to ownership without compensation, Blake responded to Westergren and this response gathered the attention of The Huffington Post. From this heated email discussion, grew the #IRESPECTMUSIC movement.

One by one, artists in the industry began to awaken and concur with the sentiments of Blake Morgan. The sentiments being that artists should be compensated for the use of their music on all radio and digital sources. It was recognized that to make a change, the laws behind the copyrighting of music had to change as well. The laws currently in place currently allow music heavyweights such as Pandora, Spotify and internet radio stations across the nation to continuously use music without properly compensating the artists. No other business model in our nation works this way. You create a product, you sell the product, you are compensated for the product, and the purchaser enjoys the product. Nowhere else is a product created and lent out for use without just compensation, under a pretense of giving it more visibility for future sales. What? If that model worked no one would get paid. We would all advertise products for free.

Like millions of others, I too enjoyed my playlists on Pandora. With an occasional advertisement here and there, I didn’t have to buy the CDs or download songs to my iPod. I could enjoy them digitally wherever and whenever I wanted. I always assumed that licensing was paid to the artists to play the music from those sources. I had no clue until this began, how the music industry really worked. In fact, I wanted to know more about this movement and how the industry worked. I wanted my readers to understand every time they used these platforms that they were hurting the music industry they loved. So I reached out to the man himself, Mr. Blake Morgan. Morgan graciously agreed to talk with me about #IRESPECTMUSIC and offer some insight on the ins and outs of the music industry.

Kathy Stockbridge (KS): Blake, thank you so much for agreeing to talk today. You have been in the business now for many years…tell me a little bit about your background and some of the changes you’ve seen over the years in the music business.

Blake Morgan (BM):  I love where I am in music and my musical life..because I’m a recording artist, and I’m a record producer, and recording engineer, and a label owner. So I kinda have this eagle-eye view of what it means to be a music maker in this country, and it’s a very fulfilling musical life to really have three careers happening at the same time.

KS:  Explain to those who may be reading this the differences between a musical engineer and record producer.

BM: That’s a really good question, a lot of people don’t know what it means when someone says I’m a record producer. Being a record producer, somehow in music, we don’t necessarily have a sense of what that means, but somehow the layperson inherently knows what a film director does. Right? So a record producer does for music and for making albums, exactly what the film director does for movies, you’re the director. So let’s say you want to make a record. You’re the artist and you are a singer-songwriter so you have essentially written the script because you wrote the songs. You’re the star actor because you’re the artist, the singer. Then the record producer is then directing the movie. It is clearly your movie, but I’m the one trying to understand what your vision for this record would be, and then realize it for you in a way that actually turns it, hopefully, into the record you’ve always wanted to make. It’s interesting because being a recording artist and singer specifically really helps me be a good record producer.

KS: Absolutely.

BM: And I know what it means to be on both sides of the glass. It has been a huge bonus, and I would argue its actually why the records I make are as good as they are, not to brag. But I’m serious. I really think there’s an intangible thing available to one when you understand what it means. There’s a reason why baseball players wind up being the best coaches. The fact that my new record came out last year, and I recorded and produced four records since then has been a really vibrant way for me to realize all of the things I will want to do in music, which led me to also forming the label. Which is an extension of that as well. So, it’s very busy, and people ask me all the time, do you ever sleep? and the answer is, not really. But all jokes aside, one of the things I did discover early in my career is that doing all of these things, people ask me all the time, doesn’t being a recording artist take time away from running the label? Or, doesn’t being a record producer take time away from being a songwriter? And the answer is, yeah, it does. Because I’m doing all of those things. But what I learned early in my career, is that in my case, my doing all of these things and doing them well actually takes much less time than making something you really cared about, that you really bled over, and then handing it to somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

KS: So do you find it hard to take off one hat and put on the next one when you’re doing a project like that when you’re doing so many portions of the album?

BM: No, and I can understand why one might think that would be the case. It’s just the opposite. On Janita’s new record that my label made, just released in March. I recorded and produced it, I mixed it, and I’m also playing bass on the record. I just happened to be the right bass player for the record. So she’s playing guitar and I’m playing some guitar which actually makes it much more electric, much more methodical on the one hand and also more creative on the other hand. When you can say, hey wait a minute, you pick that up let me pick this up, it becomes this Thomas Edison crazy workshop kind of thing. So you don’t really get in each other’s way, it’s just the opposite as I discover I’m using all of my muscles. I’m like a musical decathlete. It’s not just people who make music. It’s people who love music. They are standing with us and saying, wait a minute, sometimes we don’t know what’s wrong and what’s right. But this time we do. This is wrong. Let’s fix this.

KS: I’m really super impressed right now.

BM: It took me a long time to realize not only is that okay, but it is actually what I’ve really always wanted. The musicians that I admire the most, that I aspire to get to the level of their excellence; musicians like Daniel Lanois, Jon Brion, Nigel Godrich, artists/producers like that who play a lot of instruments and make a lot of different kinds of records with different artists, that’s the kind of musician I’ve always wanted to be. So they don’t really get in each other’s way, they help each other. So in the end, if I wind up becoming a musical decathlete or musical swiss army knife, so be it.

KS: And I’m sure it all helps you grow in each area as you experience it. Thank you for that explanation. I think we all picture it as the band comes in with their instruments, you turn on the recorder like a cassette tape, and then you’re done. And it’s so not like that.

BM: I think you’re right, and I think that is a part of what #IRESPECTMUSIC is all about and why I use those three words. I think there are some people out there still that sorta feel that its money for nothing and your chicks are free. So I think as artists fight to be paid fairly for their work, I think there was, prior to this last year because I think it’s really going to change, there was a vein that ran through where people thought why should you get paid for the job you don’t have. You don’t have a “real job.” And I don’t think it was personal. It was like, I work for real. I don’t really have a job, I have nine jobs. And I don’t believe that anything I do is more or less important than anything anyone else does. But we live in a capitalist society, and people get paid for their work in a capitalist society. I don’t think we can fight to get paid as musicians until we turn the tide and music itself gets a different kind of respect. And I do believe that that’s fundamentally changed this last year.

KS: I want to say, and please correct me if I’m wrong, music has evolved. Not only the sound of music, but the production of music has also evolved, and what used to be where artists would record their own albums and music and they would drive it to all the local radio stations and ask them to play it for free. I don’t believe it to be that way anymore. The people listening to music on the radio don’t understand that process with licensing, etc… With technology and how technology has evolved and helped, you see fewer DJs on the radio replaced by more recorded music. So could you explain the evolution of music through different mediums – vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, digital? How its hurt, and how do you see it progressing? Also, you once mentioned in an article that it hurts the middle-class artists. These artists are the ones that drag their gear around from stage to stage, now not getting paid. Explain that statement to our readers.

BM: I think there are two parts here. So let me address the middle-class artist statement first. The music industry just a few years ago was a 15 or 16 billion dollar industry. Now it’s like a 6 billion dollar industry. So all that money has gone away. I believe part of the argument that the opponents to artists getting paid fairly use is to put this idea out there that why should we care if Justin Timberlake is making a million dollars less than he’s supposed to. He still has plenty. Right? But here’s the point about the middle-class. That even for superstars like Justin Timberlake, it’s not just about Justin Timberlake. He needs to go to a recording studio and make that record. And that recording studio employs people. It also employs 20-year-old kids that are being paid very little, but they love music so much they want to kinda break in. And by the way, those recording studios are closing, all the great studios are closing. So many of the great venues here in New York City are closing. And that’s just not places that a middle-class successful artist like myself might go to play. And guess what? It’s also electricians that wire stages for sound, its carpenters that build those stages, and union workers are working at the door or maybe taking tickets or serving beer. This is a major job driver for our country’s economy. So it’s not just about millionaire rock stars. It’s about millionaire rock stars that aren’t getting paid, it’s about hard-working class and middle-class artists, AND people in other industries that dovetail into music. Right?

KS: Right.

BM: So, when you get to the middle-class artists themselves, like myself and some of the artists on my label, so what ends up happening in the music world in an industry where people are so desperate for the next payday or the next dollar that even the large record companies are thinking now about this quarter. Not about two years from now, or a year from now, or even this summer. They are thinking about kinda making that nut for this quarter. And that drives what we see in movies also again happening in music. That these places need HITS, they need blockbusters, right? So we all know when it comes to movies we’re much more likely to see Transformers 9 than we are to see Silver Linings Playbook 2. But that’s true for music as well. Don’t forget it was Motown and Atlantic, these kinds of labels, that developed artists for years. They developed them over the course of three, four, five records until you wound up with the iconic musicians and artists you think of. So the middle class in music has really suffered — 80 percent fewer songwriters in Nashville over the last 10 years. So this is really about the middle-class in music like it is in so many other professions.

So when it comes to technology, technology is completely neutral. This isn’t about the apparatus. Technology is neither good nor bad. It’s about how one uses technology, it’s about the individuals using it, morally or not morally. So the balance between art and commerce has always been a somewhat fragile one throughout the ages. It’s not like musicians had it made 400 years ago. What’s been happening in the last 10 years is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It’s where the idea is, that if you feel that a billion-dollar company is using your music without your permission and they are making money on it. And you’re not making any money on it. Suddenly, you’re anti-technology. So when Taylor Swift pulled her catalog from Spotify, one of the ways that she was attacked (hilariously I must add) is they claimed she was just a little girl. They attacked her unbelievably in such a sexist manner. But right next to that they said, “Oh, she doesn’t understand technology…this is about the future…you can’t stop the future.” Well, the future is not about not paying people? The future is the future they said. Why can’t we make the future better? Why can’t artists get paid in the future? Fairly? Right?

KS: Not for nothing, but those of Taylor Swift’s generation know technology much better than our generation. Just saying.

BM: Exactly. I don’t know any kid that would say, musicians shouldn’t get paid. But the idea put forward by these billion-dollar tech companies is that this is the future so don’t be against the future. In a CNN interview I did, the host was terrific, she asked me, well isn’t this about technology? You can’t stop progress. And I said, this isn’t about technology, this is about artists being paid for their work. No one is against the internet at all that I’ve ever met. I’m simply saying that if you use my music, by the way as radio is allowed to, terrestrial radio which is what #IRESPECTMUSIC is really focused on, terrestrial radio is allowed to play my music and not pay me anything. So the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) made 17 billion dollars in advertising alone. In one year, 17 billion dollars. They did not pay one dollar to any artists for using their recordings.

KS: Being naive to this subject matter, I assumed they pay royalties to artists or licensing fees to utilize those songs. So they don’t have to pay those fees?

BM: That is correct. #IRESPECTMUSIC is an homage to the woman I’m about to tell you about. So when you hear the song ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T” who do you think of?

KS: Aretha Franklin of course

BM: Right. So what most people don’t know or what some people don’t know is that Aretha Franklin has never made a dollar from that song being on the radio. Ever. In the United States. EVER. EVER. And that is because the United States is the only democratic country in the world where artists don’t get paid for radio airplay. Otis Redding wrote that song. The great Otis Redding. And Otis Redding gets paid. Or his estate gets paid when that song is on the radio. Songwriters do get paid. As they should. They don’t get paid as much as they should. But they do get paid something. But the artist that made that song the iconic almost national anthem that it is, Aretha Franklin, has never made a dollar from that song. And think about the repercussions of that in other kinds of music. Think about jazz. Think about our legacy jazz artists who are in their 70s or 80s now living uptown on the very island I’m on right now. Jazz for sure is about composition, it’s about new songs, new works, but so much of jazz is about reinterpreting standards. Right? John Coltrane never made a penny from “My Favorite Things” being on the radio. That doesn’t sound right to anybody. And what I always say is, how is it possible that on the shortlist of countries that agree with the United States is North Korea, Iran, Rwanda, China, I mean is this really a list that the United States of America wants to be on?

KS: So how do other countries manage to do this then? How do they work it? To where they are able to play the songs and yet still compensate the artists that are performing those songs.

BM: Everywhere else in the democratic world, everywhere else in the civilized world, both the artist, meaning Aretha, and the songwriter, meaning Otis, both get paid. And nowhere else has it driven music off the radio. Nowhere else in the world has it put radio stations out of business. Nowhere in the world is it even thought of to be anything but “of course we’re going to pay for the recording of the song.” This is ridiculous. And it’s Congressman Nadler who is a real advocate for musicians and for artists on Capitol Hill. Congressman Nadler, who is also on the House Judiciary Intellectual Property Sub-Committee, is working on legislation that would correct this. And he always says, I can’t think of anywhere else in our country, in our economy, where people are told that they shouldn’t be paid for what they do because it’s actually just promoting them.

KS: Right

BM: The example he always gives is, he says you just don’t get to drive a car off the dealership lot and tell the dealership, “Listen, I’m not going to pay you for the car because I’m going to put signs on the car and advertise your dealership.” It’s ridiculous. Unfortunately, this is something that we’re getting wrong as a country, and that is what #IRESPECTMUSIC has been all about. This petition, and putting pressure on Congress and urging Congress to support Artists Pay for Radio Airplay to join the rest of the civilized and democratic world. And we’ve gotten so far. There is so much that Congress is on the move on this issue. And I’ll tell you why. We all know the state that Congress is in, and how partisan it is. This issue isn’t a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats agree about this. And it’s very easy to understand why. It’s about jobs. This is about American jobs. And you know what? I am very proud to be an American songwriter. I’m very proud to be a recording artist, record producer, and label owner my entire adult life. It’s the thing I’m most proud of.

As Americans, I wonder if we’re taught to prize innovation above anything? Right? We’re the country that innovates. We’re the country that comes up with the next big idea. So we’re taught to prize innovation, but see here’s the thing. rock and roll is an American innovation. hip hop is an American innovation. jazz is an American innovation. Blues, country, bluegrass — They are American innovations. And on and on and on. Each of these is an American innovation. Music is one of the things that Americans still make that the world still wants. The people who make that music should be paid for their work.

KS: I agree.

BM: And when members of Congress connect with that, they go, well this is ridiculous. We’re not going to lose the rock and roll battle to Belgium.

KS: Yep, Elvis would roll over…

BM: Well Elvis is still alive…haha. One crisis at time please!!

KS: So tell me, how did this whole campaign come to fruition? What was the catalyst?

BM: So a year and a half ago, an email exchange between myself and the founder of Pandora, Tim Westergren, was published in the Huffington Post. It really became a firestorm. Pandora was encouraging artists to sign a letter they were going to bring to Congress. They were getting some artists to do it except unfortunately what Pandora was really doing was they were going to take this letter to Congress to lobby Congress to lower our royalties even further. So they were tricking artists to sign a letter that was not in their self-interest. So I actually wrote back. I got this email from Mr. Westergren at Pandora, and I wrote back, and I called him out on it, very respectfully. And then he wrote back, and I wrote back and that email thread became something of a firestorm, and there was a lot of press around it. It was such bad PR for Pandora that a couple of months later they pulled their own signature legislation that was sitting in front of Congress. They pulled it. They said we’re not going to fight this anymore. We’re not going to lower their royalties further, at least through legislation. That really felt like a sea-change moment. That was very different from musicians I think had been experiencing en masse for the last ten years.

I don’t know if we felt like it was a victory, but we sure knew it didn’t feel like losing. So it was following that victory, that cautious victory, that I said, You know what? What if instead of always playing defense, as we fought off another terrible thing. What if, we went on a joyful, respectful, offense and in fact tried to get this radio royalty at all forms of radio? Digital and Terrestrial. What if we got AM/FM to pay their fair share? What if we did that? “What is the clearest example of this?” And it’s the Aretha/Otis example. So that’s why I started thinking about that word RESPECT.

I wrote an Op-Ed, also in the Huffington Post, at the end of last year that was about an experience I had going back to my high school for career day talking about my life as a musician. Something very dramatic happened in this career day. And I wrote about that day and I ended that piece with the words #IRESPECTMUSIC . The piece really blew up and got a lot of attention. It was a month later that I posted a seven-second video of myself writing the words #IRESPECTMUSIC on a card with a hashtag and let people know that #IRESPECTMUSIC was launching. I didn’t even say what it was. The day that we launched, people started spontaneously posting these selfies with the hashtag. And we got hit so much on the very first day, that the site was running slow due to so much traffic. People were trying to sign the petition, and it was amazing. It was just amazing. And that’s how this movement really got born. Which was out of the email exchange with Mr. Westergren, and then the Op-Ed that I wrote, and the press I was doing, I just wanted to turn that hope and that positive energy into action, so that music makers and music lovers could stand together. So many music lovers have signed this petition. It’s not just people who make music. It’s people who love music. They are standing with us and saying, “Wait a minute, sometimes we don’t know what’s wrong and what’s right. But this time we do. This is wrong. Let’s fix this.” So a very simple message that’s positive said here’s this petition, we’re going to urge Congress to support this. And it’s worked phenomenally well. And it’s ongoing. I’ve been to Capitol Hill many times and talked with many members of Congress, and the tide has really turned. I’m going to be back in Washington in just a couple of weeks.

KS: What do you foresee? What changes do you foresee? How soon do you expect them?

BM: This is the year. This is a really big year. Copyright-Royalty Board is about to release their findings on a gigantic study they did on the state of copyright. Really the state of artists being able to protect and monetize their work. Congressman Nadler is leading the charge in Congress along with other courageous Democrats and Republicans to put together comprehensive legislation that is going to fix the terrestrial radio issue, issues on digital radio, records that came out before February of 1972 that are no longer getting royalties paid to them, which is ridiculous, as well as the rates that artists are paid making them much more consistent across different platforms. So there are major artist and copyright overhauls that need to happen in 2015. It’s really good news, A lot of this has to happen in 2015 because a lot of deals and agreements are up. So it’s been a fantastic time for the public to get mobilized, the grassroots way, and make their voices heard. We need that to continue. Something Congressman Nadler often says, with people speaking up that’s how change happens. That’s how Washington changes. People out here have said, wait we’ve had enough. So I think the time is now. I think we’re going to see profound, exciting, and dramatic changes over the next year if we continue to roll up our sleeves and do the work.

KS: This whole process has been very exciting to watch unfold. Where have you found the most success, the most support from? Is it certain areas whether it’s certain genres of supporters or demographics, or has it been spread out? Are there any groups you still would like to reach?

BM: It really has been across the board. It’s been superstars posting selfies, it’s been working musicians, it’s been up and coming musicians, it’s been middle-class musicians, it’s been engineers, it’s been an unbelievable panoply of people. One of the really exciting things is there have been these little spontaneous chapters of #IRESPECTMUSIC pop up all over the country. #IREPSECTMUSIC Pittsburgh, #IRESPECTMUSIC Nashville, I think there’s an Austin, there’s an Athens, there’s a Portland. So people all over are deciding, which is the beauty of the hashtag, (I don’t own the hashtag), so people are setting up their own chapters and having their own events. We had a big #IRESPECTMUSIC event here in New York in October, with members of Sound Exchange, other performance rights organizations, we had different artists perform, again Congressman Nadler showed up because it’s in his district. So again, it’s been a remarkable national movement that’s actually gotten off the ground. A real grassroots organization. I recently gave a speech at American University and there was a professor there in the back and he stood up at one point and said to the students, “You should really take note of this because this is a genuine grassroots movement. This is for real. This isn’t like those astroturf movements that you see sometimes.” It’s powerful because we’re free to actually speak our mind. It’s been a brutal ten years for music makers. If you think back to Lars Ulrich and Metallica. He correctly spoke up about musicians getting screwed by Napster. He was just absolutely attacked, brutally and unthinkably for doing that. Ten years later look at all these people who are stepping up. Zoe Keating, Taylor Swift, David Lowery, Aloe Blacc, the list goes on and on. Courage breeds courage.

KS: So how can our readers help you?

BM: Go to IRESPECTMUSIC.COM and sign the petition, and post a selfie with the sign #IRESPECTMUSIC. Find me on Twitter, find me on Facebook, and stay tuned as we have actions set for the next few weeks that are going to be kinda exciting. So stay connected and speak up and take action in making history. That’s what we tell people to do.

KS: Don’t want to digress here, but I think it’s worth mentioning this story. I read recently about you visiting your high school for career day. The one you mentioned previously. I want to share this with my readers.

BM: I was kinda the kid in class who would sometimes challenge the teacher, and get into trouble. Not because I was being snarky, but because I wouldn’t take necessarily what the teacher was saying as gospel. I was the kid who would challenge authority. That didn’t clearly change when I became an adult. It was funny because I found myself back at my high school, not just any old high school, but mine. (for career day to talk about his career). So I said to the kids, “If you’re in this room and you picked the art room, instead of the doctor room or the marketing room, or the advertising room there’s something inside of you that has called you here. And I bet you’re already hearing the voices that it’s not reasonable and that you shouldn’t go for it, so for my three minutes here, I just want to tell you that I for one hope you do go for it. And I hope you go for it with everything you have. And without a Plan B.” That’s when she (the teacher) stood up, at the Plan B part, where she stood up and said, “No, no, no, that’s not right. You should always have a Plan B.” That was the part that I stood up and said, “Listen, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Do you think any of the kids in the doctor’s room are being told that they should have a Plan B? Not everyone that goes to medical school becomes a surgeon. Do you think the people in the Law Room are being told to have a Plan B? Or the Marketing Room? This is what I’m talking about. And there are daunting risks in every profession. But I’ve never heard of anyone being successful anywhere who didn’t go for it with everything they had.” So that experience really illustrated perfectly how music is thought of and art is thought of as a profession that is not worth fighting for. But they are. They are professions that are worth fighting for. And the simple RESPECT they deserve is no more or no less than other professions. One wouldn’t imagine being so hard, especially when so many of these art forms are art forms that were innovated by our own country, our own citizens.

KS: I want to tell you. I’ve interviewed so many musicians about how they began, and what were their influences, and never once did any of these musicians ever tell me that their music career was their Plan B. This was something in them and they were going to do it whether they got paid for it or not. To them, it was a passion.

BM: Which is by the way, often the best way to get paid for something. I’m doing this because I have no choice. Necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes desperation can be too. But these were kids. These were kids saying, maybe I want to be a cartoonist; maybe I want to be a trumpet player; maybe I want to write a screenplay; maybe I want to be a dancer; I’m thinking about it. But to be crushed right out of the gate…when we encourage everybody to go to become a doctor and lawyer.

KS: Not everyone is cut from the same cloth. My son is the perfect example. He’s not going to be a doctor or lawyer. His skills lie elsewhere. And this is something I’ll encourage. Whatever you do…do to your best. Our local high school is very supportive of the arts with students. But not all high schools are like that.

BM: Because those fields are not seen as a necessity, but it’s seen as a luxury. But you see, the truth isn’t a luxury. Art isn’t a luxury. Life simply can’t be about car payments and mortgages. We’re here for something else. Aren’t we here to learn about ourselves and make this a better world that we want to actually live in? Isn’t comedy, and music, and art, and writing, and plays, and movies; isn’t this how we define ourselves? And certainly, when it comes to these art forms in music, these are a part of our national identity. Who are we without rock and roll? Or hip hop? Who are we? If we are going to walk around saying we are the greatest country in the world and we certainly have the potential to be, how are we going to look ourselves in the face and say that when the next Billie Holliday is being told not to go for it. The next Jeff Buckley can’t get paid because of Spotify. The next Elvis Presley doesn’t make any money on the radio. People aren’t going to go into a field where there’s no hope. So we have to win this battle now for our national identity. That’s what I think.

KS: I can recall in fifth-grade completing book reports about other countries and outlining things about them. I would list their population, their crops, and their culture, which often included music and arts. Never once did I list about a doctor and lawyer. Our culture is ever-evolving and this includes music. As a huge country music fan, I’ve watched the evolution of what we hear today from what once was bluegrass primarily, to now a mixture of that plus rock and roll plus so many other genres. It’s ever-evolving.

BM: A perfect example of what you were just saying, is I recently had the honor of meeting with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn from Nashville. She’s a Republican Congresswoman and every inch of her waiting area is covered with things relating to music. What I agree with and don’t agree with Marsha Blackburn out here in the world was frankly irrelevant. At that moment when I walk into her office and every single thing on her wall is about music; I think that’s remarkable. And that’s her saying, “Hey I’m a Congresswoman from Nashville, Music City, and I have to stand up for what my city’s about.” We’re about Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson and so many others. I thought that was amazing. I wish we saw more of that.

KS: Music is part of who we are and part of what we need to save. It is our culture. I cannot tell you enough what a great crusader you are for this effort. You are a great spokesperson. I feel the passion when you talk about the subject. And it’s…contagious.

As I ended the interview I was amazed at this man’s ability to speak from the heart. I truly believe people are given roles in life to carry out certain messages and as fate had it, Blake Morgan’s fate was to deliver this message. His tireless efforts, his continued talks and educational moments with not only lawmakers but students and citizens everywhere, educating them on this issue has brought forth change. As the fine professor pointed out, grassroots efforts are what makes this country special.

I conducted this interview in December 2014. As time progressed, I waited to print this hoping to have some good news to share. Since that time, Blake and his team of supporters have worked diligently to move this fight for air time pay for artists forward with great success. I am happy to announce that I recently received word from Blake with that through the support of Congressman Nadler and Congresswoman Blackburn, this bill was recently introduced and progress is being made.

The following spring I had the opportunity to see Morgan speak at Syracuse University to the students about #IRESPECTMUSIC and the importance to be diligent in the fight. That he has done. It is now 2020, and finally this case is being heard by the Supreme Court. We can only hope that their decision will help protect musicians and their rights to their own work from this day forward.

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