Happy Birthday, Quincy Jones!
Quincy Jones, whose contributions to the world of music cannot be overstated, nor can they fit in a single blog post, turns 81 today. In 2010, Jones authored Q on Producing, which presented his approach to making music. More recently, he contributed the foreword to A Friend in the Music Business: The ASCAP Story, written by Bruce Pollock, a look at the association’s influence on the music industry over its first 100 years and its continued importance and relevance today. He titled the foreword “Why ASCAP Matters.”
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I first joined ASCAP in 1955. I had previously spent a lot of time in France, and I knew about SACEM (Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Éditeurs de Musique), the French equivalent of ASCAP. I heard the United States had their own version of it, so that’s why I became a member. Also, many other composers and songwriters that I was familiar with were members too, like Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
For nearly 60 years, I’ve worked as a producer, arranger, songwriter, and composer in almost every musical style—including pop, jazz, R&B, rock ’n’ roll, and classical—and in all media forms, including records, film, and TV. It’s been an amazing journey. And through it all, ASCAP has always been there for me, making sure I received fair compensation for my work, thereby ensuring I could continue to work and grow as a creative artist. This has always been their main role—to be the champion for all their member songwriters and composers.
But in today’s music business, there is a proliferation of piracy everywhere in the world. Songwriters and music industry professionals are challenged to stave off this epidemic, because the means for producing, replicating, and disseminating intellectual property such as music is so quick, easy, and accessible to everyone. In this climate, the challenge is, how do songwriters and composers continue to be properly compensated for their work? The solutions are not easy to find, but if we don’t discover them, there aren’t going to be songwriters to write the great songs of the future. That’s why ASCAP is absolutely as essential now as it ever was and maybe even more so. It’s a gamechanging time throughout the business, with people reluctant to pay for various uses of music. That’s why it’s important for ASCAP to persevere—to make every effort to work with the entire music industry, as well as legislative bodies, in making sure songwriters continue to be treated fairly in terms of appropriate compensation. So far, for the first 100 years of their existence, they’ve done a great job; they’ve consistently worked very hard to represent us at every turn, whenever there’s been a challenge to our right to make a living from our creative work. ASCAP has their hands full, but they keep working at it and finding solutions. As songwriters, we certainly need them. They are essential to our existence.
I talk to young songwriters all the time. I tell them don’t forget God’s rules, and that’s to have humility with your creativity and grace with your success. Start with that. That’s very important. Then I tell them join ASCAP and you’ll get protected from piracy, because ASCAP is a rights protection organization. I tell them ASCAP will champion your right to earn a living on your creative work, and what’s more, will collect revenue on your behalf for that work.
Right now, as a society, we are not respecting the rights of songwriters—that they need to be compensated for their intellectual property, which is their songs and compositions. The world is running outside the boundaries of the concept of intellectual property rights, and we’ve got to get back in them, because it’s about respect for people’s property and the morality of not just stealing it because it is so easy to do. But even though the business is in trouble, young songwriters are creating great music. Music and water will be the last things to disappear from this planet. People can’t live without music. So we’ll need ASCAP to be doing their job until the very end.
I was so honored when I received the ASCAP Founders Award in 2013. Some incredible musicians have been recipients of this prestigious honor. ASCAP has an amazing legacy and a long heritage of nurturing and supporting the creative process. That’s why I try to do as many ASCAP events as my schedule permits. We all need to do our part to keep ASCAP visible and in the public’s eye, so everyone knows how important it is that they are there.
I was elected to be on the board of ASCAP, but at the time I was in the middle of an incredibly heavy workload, especially working with Michael Jackson and all my other endeavors in the ’80s. So I wrote a long letter to ASCAP recommending that Marilyn Bergman take my place on the board—which she did, and not surprisingly, she later became an awesome president and chairman of ASCAP for a period of fifteen years, until 2009. (Currently, Paul Williams has taken the reins and is continuing to do a wonderful job.) I’ve known Marilyn and Alan Bergman since we were next-door neighbors and worked together on the songs for In the Heat of the Night in 1967. She’s like family. I knew she’d be right for the board because I knew her soul, her mind, and her God-given gifts. She definitely has a leader’s mind. She’s brilliant. You can hear it in her lyrics.
If you want to know what ASCAP’s mission is and always has been, just read the first few lines of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman:
How do you keep the music playing?
How do you make it last?
How do you keep the song from fading too fast?