You are probably familiar with a musical mashup. This is when a new song is “created by juxtaposing large, recognizable sections of two or more commercially releases songs.” Here is an example of one of my favourites. It combines the sounds of Earth, Wind, and Fire with the vocals of Ozzy Osbourne.
“To those who know both songs, the effects is jarring, and the first hearing might elicit a laugh at the incongruity . . . But listen a bit longer and it may dawn on you: this works.”
DJ Cummerbund’s Earth, Wind, and Ozzys is brilliant on a number of levels. First off, it completely changes the genre of the original song. Who knew Ozzy Osbourne could do disco. Speaking of disco, it was DJs of that era that started combining and blending already existing work together to create something new.
“Disco and hip-hop DJs were some of the first to experiment with what came to be known as A+B mashups, thought they were (and still are) called blends by DJs. A good DJ will create a seamless flow of music overlapping the end of one song with the beginning of the next. In the 1970s, some started combining large sections of two songs, or even two complete songs. Aiding to this was the availability of both instrumetnal and a cappella versions of songs released on vinyl twelve-inch singles for DJ use.”
In Playing With Something That Runs by Mark J. Butler coined a different term for this process that I really like. When a DJ mixes two records together, he is essentially creating a third record. When two songs match up perfectly in time, they create new song or sound that had never been heard before. The DJ essentially creates a new song that has been labelled “the third record.” This is done in the moment as a DJ seamless blends and mixes during his set. A lot of the times, this is an act of improvisation.
Mashup artists, on the other hand, achieve the same effect by spending hours creating. It can be slow and painstaking work to piece together a composition. “And this work is almost never remunerated–it is typically done solely for the love of it, and in this way exemplifies the source of the word amateur, the Latin, amare, to love.”
Mashups all Around Us
“Walk down a busy street in almost any large urban center and you will hear a complex mashup of recorded sound collectively emanating from cars, cell phones, restaurants, stores, offices, and the leaky headphones of passerby, all competing for milliseconds of your attention.”
Sampling Should Be a Form of Free Speech
“If sampling can be more like taking inspiration from another’s ideas than appropriating another’s expression, then it–at least in certain cases–should be treated as a form of protected speech immune to prosecution for copyright infringement. In other words, if all music can be thought of as raw material, is everything fair use?”
Sounds Are the Pallet in which We Work
“Composers who work with samples work directly with sound, thus becoming more like their counterparts in the visual and plastic arts. As Public Enemy’s Chick D. explains, ‘We approach every record like it was a painting.’ When composers sample existing works, they begin with expressions, transform them into ideas, and then again into new expressions . . . Sampling is a rich and complex practice, one that challenges our notions of originality, of borrowing, of craft, and even of composition itself.”
It’s About Control
“This control means a copyright holder is entitled to sell that copyrighted work, to reproduce it and authorize other to reproduce it, to generate derivative works from it (translations, remixes, etc), to perform the work publicly, and to seek legal remedies when these rights are violated. This creators are given an incentive to create, for they have some guarantee that they will be allowed to profit from this work and determin to a certyain extent how it is used by others.”
However, “it is often not the composer or performer but a record or publishing company who holds the rights to a song. Typically, creators transfer copyright (or elements of that right) to a corporation in exchange for manufacturing, promoting, and distributing the work. Copyright, therefore, does not necessarily protect creators.”
Right of Access
The purpose of copyright is “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
“Creators were given control of their work as an incentive to create–but only for a limited time; after that, the public could have unfettered access to those creations. This was meant to perpetuate the cycle of creativity, since the conception of new works often depends on access to existing ones. But for well over a century, copyright has become increasingly unbalanced.
In the early history of the United States, a copyright expired after fourteen years; but owing to numerous revisions over the past two centuries, copyrights now hold for the life of the author plus seventy years. In this case, whom exactly is copyright intended to serve? Since copyrighted material can now be protected for 150 years or more, it certainly cannot be primarily the creators who benefit. Typically, it is long-lived corporations who profit.”
Let’s Bring Back the Balance
I love when artists and DJs can create new compositions out of existing material. Let’s not dampen their creativity.