The Universal Rap: Doug Morris Is Bad, He’s Bad, You Know It

If, as so many rappers boast, the music business is all about getting paid, then the king of the business must be Universal Music CEO Doug Morris. As the top dog at the largest of the remaining major labels, he’s gotten Microsoft to fork over a fee for every Zune it sells (not that those fees seems to be adding up to much yet) and he’s going after any online service he or his lawyers can think of that uses Universal music. In a laudatory AP story, Morris and various observers and colleagues go on about how bad Morris is. When Morris tells the reporter, “I’m no tough guy,” it seems like even he doesn’t believe it. When he says, “I’m going to be a kamikaze pilot until that’s all straightened out,” you worry more about the ship he’s targeting than Morris’s fighter plane. (Also, for that it’s worth, Universal is pretty large, so no one would confuse him for a virtual kamikaze.)
Morris has one of the best jobs in the business — running a company with the deepest and widest music catalog out there — and he wants to stay there. So he has played hardball with all media players, with an emphasis on protection. (He’s a longtime record exec with some creative credentials, too.) He’s been vocal in recent months about wanting to get a piece of iPod sales, too, although it’s unclear how far that has progressed. iTunes is one of the few reliable places to sell digital music legitimately, so Morris might not want to cut that off.
Indeed. even though the AP piece and Morris’s press in general paints him as a defender of what Universal owns, anyone who has followed the music industry for more than five seconds can’t help but be amused that the head of a music conglomerate is fighting for artists’ rights. (Maybe the idea is that ripping off artists is the business model of major labels and newcomers shouldn’t try to edge in?) Still, Morris has a job to do. But will it be as easy to do that job as more and more successful new artists emerge outside the usual major-label structure?
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