Respect the artists

Blake Morgan fights for musicians’ rights

Musician/activist Blake Morgan.

Musician/activist Blake Morgan.

Photo courtesy of Blake Morgan

SOTA Productions presents: I Respect Music artist rights rally, Friday, Feb. 24, 7:30 p.m., featuring talk and performance by Blake Morgan. Janita, Klez, Justin Kolas and Mawd open.
1078 Gallery820 Broadway St.

All it took for lifelong musician Blake Morgan to become an activist was an email from Pandora Radio.

“The day before that happened, I was not even a blip on the artist advocacy radar,” Morgan said during a recent interview.

Morgan grew up in New York City with two artist parents—his mother, writer and feminism champion Robin Morgan, is actually a well-known activist. He graduated from Berklee School of Music (in just three years), and after signing with Phil Ramone’s label, N2K Sony/Red Label, and releasing his first album, Anger’s Candy, he decided working for a corporation wasn’t for him. Morgan broke his contract and started his own label, ECR Music Group.

Then, in 2013, he got that email.

“It was a blanket email to artists asking us to sign a letter that Pandora would take to Congress, basically just saying how awesome Pandora is,” Morgan said. “For whatever reason, I just decided to write back, and basically call bullshit, and say, ‘The thing you want me to sign is gonna be taken to Congress to lobby them to lower my royalties by up to 85 percent.’”

At the time, Pandora was pushing to pass the Internet Radio Fairness Act, a bill that would essentially lower the rates of what Pandora is required to pay artists.

“Each of us in our own lives, on some particular day, [has] just had enough of something,” Morgan said.

Being an activist wasn’t something he’d had in mind, but after sending the email, Morgan casually forwarded it to an old Berklee friend living in L.A. who asked Morgan if he could post the exchange to his blog, Wordsushi. The post went viral, gaining so much online traction that Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren personally responded to Morgan.

“When he wrote me back, he wrote, ‘We’re seeking a way for musicians to participate in the business,’ and I think that that’s the line that kind of changed my life in terms of stepping up to advocate for music makers’ rights, because I found it so insulting,” Morgan said. “I wrote back and said, ‘Here’s your problem: Musicians aren’t participating in your business. We are your business.’”

The Huffington Post caught wind of the exchange and featured it, making Morgan a public face for the cause. The heavy media attention led to Pandora withdrawing its legislation.

“I hold onto that story now that we’re living in a reality where we have a repugnant authoritarian administration that’s taken over, and we’re hearing a lot about how the smallest snowball can in fact cause an avalanche of activism,” Morgan said. “Unwittingly, I kind of stumbled onto that sort of phenomenon with those letters.”

After the Pandora fight, Morgan launched I Respect Music, an online awareness campaign to help build support for his own piece of legislation, the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act, a bill focused on securing fair compensation for performers from terrestrial radio, which currently pays royalties only to songwriters and publishers, but not performers. The bill was introduced to Congress in 2015, but with the new administration, it’ll now need to be reauthorized.

Alongside students from Chico State’s SOTA Productions program, Morgan will be speaking about the campaign—and will be performing his original music—for an I Respect Music artist rights rally at the 1078 Gallery on Friday, Feb. 24.

“The most important thing I can do is have conversations like this with you, and other people who haven’t heard about this yet; that’s why I’m coming to Chico,” Morgan said. “Congress only acts when people make them do something, and that’s what we’re gonna try and do.”