Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Copycat World

There are only a handful of completely original artists in western Civ. Chopin, Picasso, Guesualdo, Faulkner, Cummings, Hendrix... to name a few. Most artists have their influences. Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach... they all had influences. Even though they had influences they sounded like themselves. But today, more than any other time in the history of art, the world is filled with copycats and thieves. The information age is partly to blame for this. Worlds just melt into each other and people steal without a second thought. This is just as true in the CCM industry I am finding.

If you are an artist, and you hear something cool, don’t steal it. If you hear Sufjan Stevens putting woodwinds and horns on his album, don't put woodwinds and horns on your album because you think it is cool. Now if you have always written for woodwinds and strings, or you are inspired by those things, go right ahead. But take a gander at Sufjan's bio. He was a woodwind player for crying out loud. It makes sense that that is a part of his vocabulary. Find your own voice. Go listen to Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah. Listen to what that guy did with just his voice and an electric guitar. Talk about heartbreakingly beautiful and individual.

In the end, it is the individual that wins out. If you say something individual with your heart and it can somehow speak through any instrumentation, it will have a staying power that no blatant thief can imitate.

Influences are fine. Creating a knock-off sound world because you want that world, believing you can't come up with something better, is wrong.

If you are considering jacking an idea from someone else, don't do it. Wait till you think of something on your own, and if you do take the idea, for crying out loud, pay homage by giving some credit. Or at least make it obvious you are paying homage.


Chaotic Hammer said...

Absolutely true, but I suspect that very few will actually heed your words.

Is this just a general commentary, or do you have a specific instance of this in mind while you're writing it?

I ask, because it reads like the latter is true.

Vitamin Z said...

Couldn't agree more. As one who worked in CCM for a couple years you know this will be one of my hot buttons.

The implication of your post: Hard work! We are lazy and copying is less risky and much quicker and take way less mental effort.

Seth Ward said...

It could be that something like that has happened to me, i.e. intellectual property jacked but in another artistic venue.

But yes, I hear about it all the time. I've had short story ideas jacked, song ideas jacked, CD artwork copied and things and pluggins from our last project. I don't show most of what I do on my blog. I usually try and save it till I am ready to realease it. If you noticed, I quit posting short stories... NOT that what I write is all that original or anything. But when I take a journey to another visiting blogger that I have never met and find elements of my story blatantly copied in theirs, it makes me take a step or two back.

A harmless example, I played a compostition for a compostion studio class one week and there was this student that played before me. His harmonic language the first week was totally different than mine. I got lots of great feedback from this famous visiting composer from Julliard, they guy who wrote the book for orchestration, and the other kid got a lecture on form. But thats okay because he was a young composer. When we came back the next week he had changed his whole piece and it sounded almost identical to mine.

Now, I thought I might have been paranoid, and just blew it off but I had a few other fellow students mention the change and "influence."

We can all be guilty of this. When I get in the mode of composing there are certain composers that I just won't listen to. Same with pop songs. I am hugely influenced by the Beatles. It is something I hear all the time. The weird thing is that I always worry it sounds like something else. Sometimes the influence of some is just huge. But I can tell you that it is NEVER intentional.

I just think artists these days get caught up in the world created by a few original artists and begin to try and imitate because they are lazy or greedy.

This all may sound negative but it really isn't meant to be. I just want to encourage artists, including myself, to be original. Even if at first it is cheezy. You'll work that stuff out in time. In the end that thing that was cheezy just might give the world the stamp of "you" in a non-cheezy way after you have worked it out a bit.

Is this making any sense?

Seth Ward said...

Hard work! EXACTLY!

euphrony said...

I had a good portion of the patentable part of my graduate research jacked (by a highly regarded prof at another university, none the less). So I feel for you.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Seth - Makes perfect sense. Maybe I'm just in a pessimistic mood, but I still don't think that you and the other artists with integrity are going to change the hearts or minds of the majority of copycats who are guilty of what you're talking about.

In fact, in the commercial world, you have a whole lot of "doesn't sound enough like so and so" and "doesn't look enough like so and so", where the whole aim is to make something as much like the original as possible.

And (not coincidentally) this is why so many people are down on stuff like CCM and "Christian movies", because they often shamelessly attempt to be a "family friendly" "Christian" version of some specific artist in the "secular" market.

Susanne said...

I think it's a shame that our world today loves copycats. Most people are uncomfortable with originals. Just look at American Idol. Most of those kids don't have an original bone in their bodies. One guy was attempting to sound exactly like Justin Timberlake, and he even got most of his mannerisms down. And people keep voting for him. Not that I watch the show or anything... :)
(A side note: I think it's hilarious that so many people in America think that whoever wins A.I. is the greatest pop star ever. They don't stop to think about who votes for these guys...not record producers, certainly not college music professors, not really great musicians - because it's just too painful for them to listen to. It's a popularity contest, plain and simple.)

I think our society has been "dumbed-down." I'm sure there are many people out there who intentionally copy other work, but I think many people copy something by accident simply because they aren't creative themselves. They think they've created something great, and they don't stop to think, "Hey...doesn't that sound like something I've heard before?"

Seth Ward said...

Hey guys, sorry I missed a couple of your comments here. I have got to get better at checking!

Euphrony, that really sucks. Nothing worse than a jealous professor.

Susanne, Idol is a beast all its own. It is entertaining but it certainly encourages the perpetuation of knock-offs. "If I want on A.I. then I need to sound like..."

Seth Ward said...

True, C-hammer. But at least I have said my peace and the soul that meanders over here looking for other-people's-material will find that I notice.

In the end, you are right. There is not much you can do about it.