If I were to choose the topic I found most fascinating from those that I have blogged about since starting this site back in September it would be remix culture. Remix and copyright is a constant area of conversation and debate as the internet continues to evolve and change the way we consume media.
In this post I will highlight and examine some of the viewpoints expressed by my Social Technologies classmates.
Clare opened my eyes to the fact that remixing has been happening for centuries. I was not familiar with 18th/19th centuries song-sheets until her post. She explains that because not many people living in those times could read music notation, songs were often distributed via song-sheets that contained only lyrics for people to sing-a-long with at home. The lyricist/composer would have commonly used the melody of an existing song to set their words to, making it easy for people to follow and enjoy. Of course this practice in the present day would be classed as copyright infringement. A modern day example of a recording artist setting their own words to an existing tune is The Flaming Lips. Their song “Flight Test” shares the same chord progression and melody as Cat Stevens’ (now Yusuf Islam)“Father and Son”. Yusuf now receives a majority share of the royalties for the song following a lawsuit.
On the subject of Led Zeppelin’s frequent usage of other artists musical ideas without reference, Anthony asked “Isn’t this the reason why as a student, when writing dissertations, how serious plagiarism is looked upon in universities throughout the UK, and how important to reference your source material rather than take credit yourself?”. There is a direct comparison. I am forbidden to copy the writing and ideas of someone else without referencing, not just when writing essays and research papers but also in this post for instance. To do so would be seriously frowned upon and so I completely refrain. I also wish to develop my own voice,and plagiarism is not in anyway going to help me do that. It might score me praise initially but the shame of being found out and the following implications would completely out way any benefits. Or maybe I am just too honest when it comes to this?
In the same way as I would feel about another student copying my work, I agree with Anthony that Led Zeppelin’s practices come across as arrogant, disrespectful and also highlight a lack of morals and genuine talent. I have low tolerance levels when it comes to stealing, and so if a work surpasses my copy/rip off threshold I find I have no time for it.
Remixing in my opinion should be done with the aim of creating something novel from someone else’s ideas, whilst making sure the original source you have consciously taken from is referenced. Not just for legal reasons, but because morally it is the right thing to do. As explained in Everything Is a Remix, you would have to have made fundamental changes to stand a chance of getting away with not doing so, and rightly so!
Giorgos mentioned he was put off from pursuing writing a song where he inverted the 1,4,5 blues chord progression to create 5,4,1 (B, A, E) after discovering that this idea had been done before by a number of people including composers for TV ads and professional pop song-writers. I commend him for wanting to be innovative from a young age.
Simply using the same chord progression is not enough to really cause many problems when it comes to copyright. I agree that 5, 4, 1 in itself is not very original, but nor is the pop song structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, etc, that has been around for donkeys years. Chord progressions like 5, 4, 1 have been used so many times that nowadays it would be impossible for anyone to copyright them.
In the realm of popular music it is how you use these chord progression that matters most, in other words the melody, harmonies and ostinatos you build around the progression, as well as rhythm and instrumentation. Artists tend to be most precious about melody, ostinatos and lyrics perhaps because they tend to be the most distinctive elements.
Check out the Axis of Awesome, who in this video brilliantly demonstrate the fact that a staggering amount of hits from the past 40 years (including The Calling’s “Wherever You Will You Go” which was recently covered by Clare for her spreadable media project) use the same 4-chord progression:
A number of different conclusions could be drawn from this video, for example:
- Each one of these songs is a rip-off
- The writers of these songs subconsciously used the same chords
- Writing a song with the chords 1, 5 , 6, 4 could help guarantee a hit
- 1, 5, 6, 4 is an unoriginal progression
I believe the points raised above vary with each musician/artist. I would be interested in carrying out research into just why 1, 5, 6, 4 is so popular and widely used. No doubt the answers lie in psychoacoustics and music cognition. I find it a satisfying sounding chord progression, yet would someone from a country such as India agree? Cultural difference may come in to play here.
David approached things from a different angle, asking the questions “what sets apart a parody and a remix?” and “a parody created to mock others work is not a remix, maybe?”. Taking the contemporary definition of the word, I would class a parody as a specific type of remix created through imitation with the aim of caricaturing an existing work by slightly altering and/or exaggerating certain elements. Different parodies offer varying levels of ridicule.
Parodying can also be away of paying homage to the original. Here are some humourous examples of parodies I found on YouTube for your viewing pleasure:
Ai Weiwei’s parody of Gangnam Style.
“Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody of Rambo.
To wrap things up I turn to Rob who wrote a piece entitled “Technology Mediated Remixing.” He highlights the fact that it is because of the sheer power and relative affordability of music and video editing software that has surfaced in the last 10 years or so that such a rich and diverse array of content and phenomenol growth of producers and consumers exists online today. Advances in technology have brought about a phenomenol growth in online producers and consumers, revolutionising things forever. The art of remixing is at its peak of popularity and it will continue this way if technology and consumable media continues to be accessible to the majority. We’ve never had it so good after all, as emphasised by Hugh Garry through showing us this video during his lecture:
With the findings of the Leveson enquiry coming out this week, and the amount times I have heard politicians saying “We now need to turn our attention twitter and the internet” as Leveson provides little in the way of suggestions to regulate online media, it seems our current freedom of expression seems under threat. I fear stricter regulation of the “ethical vacuum”, as the Lord so eloquently describes the web, is iminent. Could this bring about a crack down on the copyright infringements that are currently rife on YouTube? I imagine some parodies could become a thing of the past if the more touchy bigwigs get their way!
With this in mind I aim to indulge myself in participatory spreadable media and remixing culture as part of the next phase of the Social Technologies module to avoid regretting not doing so when the opportunities have dried up in the future. This could be the golden age we are living in right now!