“Maverick recording artist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Blake Morgan’s studio chops, smart lyrics, and gift for the melodic twist have earned him a loyal critical and commercial following. After signing a seven-record deal in 1997 with Phil Ramone’s N2K (Sony/RED) label, resulting in the well-received Anger’s Candy, Morgan became disillusioned with the rigid, corporate side of rock & roll. After a successful tour that found him sharing stages with the likes of Joan Jett and Matchbox Twenty, he discovered a loophole that would allow him to extricate himself from the contract without too much bloodshed. The move would prove to be serendipitous, as he would go on to form his own independent label, Engine Company Records in New York City.” —James Christopher Monger, ALL MUSIC GUIDE
“As long as I can remember, ‘now’ has always been the most exciting time in my life.” Blake Morgan smiles, “And right now is proving to be no exception.”
Currently at work in his Greenwich Village recording facility absorbed in tracking his new album, Blake Morgan has indeed arrived at a unique “now,” and admittedly, he has a great number of reasons to be excited.
In addition to recording the new album, Morgan is celebrating the tenth anniversary of his remarkable venture: the launching of Engine Company Records in 2002. The phenomenal commercial and artistic success of that venture has defined the nature of the celebration: in October 2012 the label is re-branding and re-launching under its new banner—ECR Music Group.
Following an extraordinary decade of chart-topping albums, touring, national press, television, film, and radio, Morgan recognized it was time for the company to take the next step. “Anyone involved in what we’re doing here will tell you how radically we’ve grown,” says Morgan. “We began in one room with barely any catalog, and now we’re a globally distributed family of artists and labels.” Laughing, Morgan adds, “What they may not tell you is that I actually still try to run most of the company off my laptop.”
Running a full-fledged global music company while one is a recording artist and record producer would be virtually impossible for most, but Morgan explains that for him, it’s in his blood. “I grew up in Manhattan just a stone’s throw from CBGB’s, with well-known artists for parents. Every day I saw them working to balance practical life with artistic life. It’s not easy. But it may be less of a challenge for me than for some, because I’m so used to seeing it, and doing it for myself.”
Certainly, one great challenge came in the days leading to his founding of ECR. After breaking free of his multi-album record deal, Morgan had to figure out what to do next. Even though he’d garnered rave reviews and been the label’s most successful artist, he faced having to start all over again. He began by following standard industry advice, aiming for a different major-label deal. Then, at a packed label showcase, he had an epiphany: “It was great—the show, the band, the applause. But I couldn’t help feeling that all we were really doing was asking permission from people who don’t make music to make our own music.” That realization, he says, changed everything.
Instead of chasing a dream that had become a nightmare for him, Morgan decided to do something different. “I went to all the artists and bands I was already producing and recording, and said I was starting a label. A label where the artists would run the asylum, and own their own recordings. And with all the energy saved from all that nightmare-chasing, we’ve made and released record after record—profitably and artistically—and we’ve never had to ask permission to do it.”
In hindsight, that decision seems clearer than ever to Morgan. “I was talking to a music friend of mine recently about how, looking back at the whole mess, I realize the big mega-company was never a good fit for me. I never wanted to be on the ‘Death Star,’ even though they have a huge fleet and can destroy planets. My real ambition was to be part of a small group of dedicated people, pulling together. I told him I’d always wanted to be on the ‘Millennium Falcon.’ I told him that even if there were bits flying off the ship I’d still rather be there, because you’d be in it together, and you’d find a way. On that ship, you’d maneuver faster and adjust quicker than the bigger ships, and your victories would be sweeter and your defeats softened, all because you did them together. I went on this long ramble, and then my friend said, ‘Yeah. Also, they win.’”
So in this whirlwind of activity leading up to the ECR Music Group launch, the recording of his new album, and the daily balancing act of being a CEO, a record producer, and a recording artist, Blake Morgan finds himself today at this new, exciting “now.”
“And I wouldn’t trade our future for anybody’s.”