In Part 2, here is Blake Morgan’s post SXSW wrap up–if you’re going to Canadian Music Week in Toronto next week, be sure to see Blake’s panels!
Chris Castle: We did a panel together with David Lowery at SXSW about the artist rights movement. What was your assessment of how that went?
Blake Morgan: I thought it was great––and frankly, it was moving to me––for David and I to stand together publicly for the first time, in the same place. It put a real charge through the audience. It felt like Batman vs. Superman, without the “vs.” part! I won’t forget it anytime soon.
Chris: I went to another panel with Panos Panay that was hosted by the lobbyist for the MIC Coalition. I’m paraphrasing now, but just a bit. The lobbyist asked Panos whether Berklee students complained (I think she actually said “whined”) as much as their older counterparts to which Panos replied that what was refreshing about students who grew up in the post Napster era is that they don’t have a sense of loss the same way that older musicians do. Which I would take to include you. What’s your thinking on that position?
Blake: Well that’s a really disappointing statement to hear, not only as a music maker but because Berklee is also my alma mater. The only parallel I can think of is, “It’s really refreshing that whales who’ve been born since the dominance of the whaling industry don’t have the same lifespan-expectations that their pre-whaling-industry counterparts did.” What the fuck? So it’s “refreshing” that a generation of musicians––and those who are currently going to music school––no longer have a realistic expectation of being able to make music a profession? Does someone need me to send them the definition of the word “refreshing?”
Chris: As you know, Austin has recently realized how endangered the music community is after the Austin Music Census really spelled it out in clear analysis. What’s your take on the census and do you think that the trends identified in the census would be replicated in New York or other cities?
Blake: I think the Austin Music Census is one of the most important efforts in this fight to secure a healthy future for American Music, period. What’s in it, and the conclusions the Census reaches are scary, but not surprising. And as a native and life-long New Yorker, I’m sad to say––at least when it comes to New York City itself––that those conclusions are echoed here in New York City, in every part of every music maker’s life. A real termination of artistic diversity here, be it venue-wise, recording studio-wise, even rehearsal studio-wise. Lots of banks securing street-corner real estates, and even more going to condos. The Lower East Side, where I grew up, is almost unrecognizable at this point. Where CBGB’s stood (and where I performed in a band for the first time when I was 13 years old, by the way) is now a John Varvatos store. Yup.
Chris: Did you have any particular experiences in Austin that especially resonated with you?
Blake: You know, I’ll tell you…I was so shaken by the corporate nature and lack of artistic spirit at SXSW, that at one point I called an artist friend of mine in Los Angeles and let him sort of talk me down from the ledge. It really helped, and he really helped put things into perspective for me. We talked about songwriting, and what we were working on, and why. It felt like I got an inoculation-shot of art for an hour.
However, he also reminded of something. He reminded me that Tom Waits was the featured performer at SXSW just a few years ago. This year? It was John Legend. He reminded me that when Waits was selected there was outcry from many––because he was too famous! Now look, I think very highly of each of those artists, both Legend and Waits (and I worship Waits), but for a festival that used to be aimed at the fringes, whose goal was to bring to light extraordinary artists who the mainstream was perhaps ignoring, this is a disturbing trend. That resonated with me too.
Chris: My sense is that the era of lobbyists and insiders telling musicians, songwriters and artists to “shut up and sing” is now in the past. What’s your view on that? Is the era of “Big Daddy” lobbyists passing to grassroots activism?
Blake: Yeah, I think the lions have broken out of the zoo now. And the zoo keepers really don’t know what to do. We’re fighting for our way of life, our passion, our families, our profession. They’re fighting to make even more money, and sometimes to secure their own jobs at the expense of what’s morally right. Rock & Roll artists, Hip-Hop artists, Blues artists, Jazz artists––and all the rest––you know, if we’d really liked being told what to do, we’d never had become artists in the first place.
Chris: Did you see evidence of grassroots artist activism on your trip to Austin?
Blake: I honestly––and really, I don’t like being this guy––but I didn’t see much of any artist-anything at SXSW this year. I probably saw 25 performances, a half a dozen panels at least, and had numerous conversations in the halls and bars during the trip. Most people were quite demoralized, and uniquely, really didn’t want to be. They wanted to be moved––not pitched. They wanted to be compelled––not told. They went there for music––not spring break. I worry about the future of SXSW, now that it’s practically the “Tostitos SXSW Festival as presented by Chevrolet.”
Chris: With a Google Play day stage.