Why Music Makers Are the Real American Innovators

Music is one of the things America still makes that the world still wants. The people who make that music should be paid fairly for their work.
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Cropped shot of a musician's feet on stage at an outdoor music festival
Cropped shot of a musician's feet on stage at an outdoor music festival

I'm an American songwriter and singer.

I first became a blip on the music advocacy radar when an email exchange between myself and the founder of Pandora, Tim Westergren, was made public in The Huffington Post.

What lay at the heart of that exchange was that I'd gotten tired of billion-dollar tech companies lecturing musicians like myself about how hard those companies are working to "find ways to incentivize creators."

Musicians know exactly how they could incentivize creators: they could pay us fairly.

That simple if not obvious idea has gained a lot of momentum, not only with music makers, but with music lovers too. It's an idea that's grabbing headlines, inspiring action, galvanizing organizations and associations, rallying Congress, and fueling a national, grassroots movement. A truly sweeping mobilization, united atop the bedrock principle that in a civilized society, music makers -- like all people -- deserve the respect of being paid fairly for their work.

So now, almost as if caught off guard by this rising headwind of popular opinion and action, these same billion-dollar tech companies appear to be floating a new argument. More and more, we're hearing them claim that music makers don't understand a critical economic concept: American innovation.

Apparently, we don't understand that tech companies paying us reasonably and fairly would crush and stifle American innovation. That's their argument.

But here's the thing. I don't really feel I'm in need of a lecture about the nature of American innovation from these companies, especially when -- in the case of Spotify -- they're Swedish.

In fact, music makers don't require a lesson on American innovation at all.

We know all about American innovation.

Rock & Roll is an American innovation. Hip-Hop is an American innovation. Jazz is an American innovation. Blues, Country, Gospel, Bluegrass, each of these -- and so many others -- are distinct American innovations.

Music is one of the things America still makes that the world still wants. The people who make that music should be paid fairly for their work.

That's our argument.

It's an argument so compelling that Congress is now running with it. They're on the move with two bi-partisan pieces of legislation -- remarkable in this gridlocked and polarized political climate -- which would fundamentally change the lives of American music makers for the better. The Songwriter Equity Act would ensure royalties for songwriters that would reflect the fair market value of their intellectual property, and The Fair Play Fair Pay Act would ensure all artists are fairly paid on digital and AM/FM radio.

We all know Congress acts when real people care enough to make them do so, and now it's really happening. As for the bills' opponents, their greatest fear is unfolding right before their eyes. Tens of thousands of American music makers -- and music lovers too -- are standing up and standing together. They're standing up to fight for the reasonable and fair pay for American music makers. They're standing up for the real American innovators.

We're seeing middle class musicians and superstars take stands. Organizations and associations, groups and individuals. We're seeing students standing up in their classrooms, with their teachers, their families, on campuses, online; tweeting, posting, signing petitions, writing their representatives, blogging, writing Op-eds. Voting.

Each of these actions is a message to the opponents of American music: we're not afraid and we're not stopping. We know this is a fight worth fighting because American music and art are birthrights worth fighting for. They're birthrights worth paying for, and they deserve respect.

Each of these actions, large or small, requires inspiration. They require inspired people who have decided to show courage in the face of enormous power and opposition.

These are Americans who are declaring that they respect what they do. They respect the songs they write, and record. The music they play. The music they make.

And each of them inspires me.

I'm an American songwriter and singer. I'm an innovator, and I respect my profession.

I respect music.

Blake Morgan is a songwriter and singer currently performing in residence at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City.

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