Discussions of plagiarism in songwriting have become rampant in recent history, and after reading this recent NY Times article on the topic, I feel a need to share my thoughts. While I understand there are legitimate instances of intellectual property theft, my response to “hey one of your lines sounds kinda like a line I made one time” is… “Seriously? You ever notice that Twinkle Twinkle and Baa Baa Black Sheep are the same song and oh yeah, they totally ripped of Mozart?”
I hate that you can legally destroy someone for emulating a vibe. (I’m not a big fan of Blurred Lines or Robin Thicke at all for other reasons, but for this particular cause I guess I’m on their side…) Every single song we have today was built on the songs of yesterday– we would not have rock music without jazz music. We would not have jazz music without classical music. And I would 100% be a different musician if I listened to different artists growing up, the same way that Picasso would be a different painter if, I dunno, Cezanne didn’t exist (art historians-did I do ok with that analogy?).
People, and especially artists, are sponges. We observe our surroundings and create value and meaning from them. We soak up the art that we find most interesting and relatable.
I’d truly be honored if somebody took a piece of my song and did something surprising with it. I love the way hip-hop encourages sampling and lyric-lifting as homage. Have at it, somebody!
Look, if I wanted full ownership of my songs I would never share them. I’d leave them locked up for only me to enjoy. Music belongs to all of us. I hope we can shift to allow more creative expression in this industry, because if you want to be militant about songwriters who borrow phrases and melodies, you’ll have to throw every single one of us in jail.