The Music World As Seen By Doug Morris

Dan Gibson | October 10, 2008 11:45 am

There’s nothing like a glowing profile in Billboard to make a guy look good, and the mag’s “exclusive” interview with Universal Music Group Chairman/CEO Doug Morris is no exception. His office is presented in “modest statements” (if you consider a drawing by Bono “modest”), and he’s too focused and centered to give himself any credit for his accomplishments. Still, despite the series of totally softball questions, Morris dropped a few gems. Or doozies.

Doug was obviously one of the main forces behind the nearly universally panned RIAA lawsuits, but does that mean he looks back on that consumer attacking move with regret? Of course not!

Were the RIAA lawsuits a good idea?

It was an act to try and publicize that this is stealing and this is wrong. That’s one way to look at it. Did it work? I don’t know. Maybe it stopped some people from stealing, maybe it didn’t . . . Did they deserve to get caught? Probably. People don’t like policemen. I understand that. And maybe they’re right. But when you see all the stores close and you lose half your employees and you can’t sign bands to record them because people are stealing, we do things to try and stop it. You have a lot of people who think that things should be free. I don’t know how they think we should produce it for free, but there’s a lot of people who aren’t logical.

Speaking of not logical, clearly we peanut-gallery types in the blogosphere haven’t been terribly kind to Doug at times, but what does Doug think about the scoffers? He ignores them! I mean, he has a drawing by Bono in his office!

The lawsuits have been rough from a PR standpoint, in terms of developing a real hubris from a certain subset in the blogosphere and magazines like Wired. I felt, and many others I spoke with felt that Wired-a magazine I once wrote for, by the way-took some cheap shots in a November 2007 article that you were interviewed for. How did you feel about that piece?

They can write whatever they want. I think they see things differently than I do. My job is to protect artists, the people that work here, the copyrights . . . they have a feeling that I stop technology by trying to stop companies from infringing on our products-that we stopped the growth of all these companies because we don’t like the use of our product without a license. I think that’s their point of view. I have no problem with their point of view. I thought the magazine was funny because it’s supposed to be a professional magazine but then they try to ridicule people to make a point.

They were trying to make fun of me because I’m older and because I come from a different era. But like I told you from the beginning, there’s a couple of things that just don’t change. People don’t get that. They’re so entranced and enthralled by all the shiny, new technology, they don’t understand that it doesn’t work unless you have music that people want. No one’s going to download music they don’t like.

What I take seriously is the fact that we’re people who create art. Whether you like our art or not, it’s what we do. My whole point of view is this problem we’re in, which is caused by technology, will be solved by technology. Some genius on the other side will figure out how to stop the piracy that seems very logical to me. So all these people who come up with these opinions that they should have done this and that, it’s all ridiculous.

Meanwhile, what have they done? We’re running the most dominant company that there ever has been in the industry. We’re trying to do it in a way where we’re really respectful to people, where the people in this company are treated great, where they’re paid properly, where women are working in key positions in the company, where two of our chairpeople are people of color. Our greatest asset in our company is our people.

It’s such a bizarre equation that requires thought to separate what is real from what people would like people to think. I don’t understand. There’s a lot of unreasonable people in the world. You start with that. Frustrated, disgruntled people with their own lives who attack people who have done really important work. And I can judge this company because I’ve been here from day one, hired everyone here, and I know how we’re doing. For me there’s a great level of satisfaction.

I never listen to people. What will affect us is if we make a big mistake and we don’t get any hits and as a journalist I’m happy people write whatever they want to write. Some of the records we’ve put out I hate much more than I did that article, but I’ve held my nose and said they’re entitled to do it.

There should have been a follow-up question here, Billboard! What records made Doug Morris hold his nose? The public demands answers, or at least, I do. Still, I think he’s got journalists pegged. I tend to be frustrated and disgruntled, sitting at my keyboard trying to destroy the real artists. I never heard it put that way before, but he really nailed it.

After I recovered from my psyche being destroyed, I wiped off the tears and moved on to Doug’s real shining moments. Did you know that Universal and the other labels were cheated by MTV? Honestly, I didn’t either.

What about the promotional value of YouTube?

We don’t look at anything as promotion. Take a look at MTV. It turned out to be a disaster for us. We sold some records, but they built this huge company and we gave them our [music] for nothing, and what did we get?

Three years ago we were losing $7 million a year in the production of videos.

It’s a little strange that Doug Morris feels like MTV ripped the music business off, especially during the era when the network’s programming consisted mostly of music videos, but still Doug’s sitting in his modest office cursing the millions stole for him. His perspective is vastly different than mine, although that could be because I was someone who spent way too much money on music purchased after seeing videos on 120 Minutes or Yo! MTV Raps. I guess that’s not the type of promotion Doug was interested in.

Exclusive Billboard Q&A: UMG’s Chairman/CEO Doug Morris [Billboard]

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