I Read A Book: Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola’s Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling

Kembrew McLeod & PeterDiCola’s recent book, Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling is a truly excellent overview of the complicated aspects of sampling.

They manage to meld together discussions from multiple perspectives — from cultural, technological, musical, legal, and economic perspectives — in a highly readable format. There are few books (if any) that I would equally recommend to law students, musicians, artists, writers, and grad students to understand an issue, and while there are likely not many that will read this book cover-to-cover, these are some of the highlights:

  • the historical and musical history of sampling;
  • the legal issues of sampling, including detailed discussions of Bridgeport;
  • the sampling marketplace;
  • the viewpoints of artists — both those that sample and those that have been sampled;
  • and suggestions for changing the present system — not limited to changing copyright law.

Some of these issues have been covered in other sources — including ye average hipster party where that guy expounds on the importance of Paul’s Boutique and Fear of a Black Planet. But this book includes charts detailing the estimated costs of those album’s samples, including how the artists, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, would have lost money on every album sold if those samples had all been cleared. And that is the real value of this book, the ability to contextualize the complexity of the issues surrounding sampling in a way that helps the reader to understand the real world implications for musicians.

I especially want to commend the authors for the time and energy to conduct the qualitative scholarship to interview the large number of recording artists, lawyers, recording industry representatives, academics, and journalists. Without this first-person insight, this book could have been like many books and articles that discuss a subcultural phenomenon without having direct knowledge. Instead, the authors provide an easily understandable academic argument where those-in-the-know are sampled for their insight. (Not mentioned by the authors is the strange dichotomy where quotations, such as those used in this book, are accepted, but sampling of a musical equivalent by those quoted artists requires permissions — or the potentiality of being sued).

Also strongly recommended is the quasi-companion documentary, Copyright Criminals, that has just been re-released with lots of extras. The entire documentary is available to watch on Hulu (for those in the U.S.). And there is a companion DJ sample mix!

As a long aside, I also think it is interesting that in categorizing this book, the Library of Congress placed this book within the subject of “plagiarism in music” — this misses the point of showing the creativity of much of sampling — and confuses the issue of copyright with the academic/societal issue of plagiarism. (And there is a more relevant subject heading: “quotation in music“).

The book was released with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-ShareAlike license.

Disclosure statement: TLF is a career acquaintance of both authors, but has not discussed this review with either before posting.

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Today in WTF: Grammys combine Hard Rock/Metal Awards

Among music fans/geeks, the news circulated quickly (mostly on Twitter)`that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences –  the folks that run the Grammys – plan to eliminate 30 of its categories , mostly to avoid redundancies among categories. Fair enough, right? Best Hawaiian Zydeco Instrumental Duo will probably only have one  nominee every year, correct?

But as a metal fan, I’m both amused/slightly annoyed at the news that the best Hard Rock and Metal performance categories would be combined.With this new change, bands like Velvet Revolver, Buckcherry and Nickelback will be considered as the same genre of bands like Slayer, Iron Maiden, Mastodon and Dragonforce. According to the Grammy’s, attempting to distinguish bands between the two genres was “splitting hairs.” To that I say, sure it’s splitting hairs if you only listen to metal from the 1980’s.

The hard rock/metal category was always rife with controversy from the very first  award in 1989, when the Grammy’s infamously snubbed Metallica in favor of Jethro Tull. Actually, it’s fair to say the Grammy’s never understood anything about metal considering they only just awarded Iron Maiden this year. But I have long hoped that the existence of a metal category meant at some point when the old industry vets finally retire, the award could actually mean something for the genre, in a small way,  that the best metal releases of the year would MAYBE be nominated, and MAYBE win and MAYBE turn on new fans in the process. Silly thought, I know, but a girl can dream.

Instead, I anticipate a lot of  Kings of  Leon and Daughtry to take up space in that category in the coming years. In the meantime, there’s definitely room for metal publications/blogs like Decibel or MetalSucks or even *sigh* Revolver to play the role of tastemaker while reflecting the scene more accurately.

Music Criticism in a Social Media World

One of my go-to book purchases at the end of the year is the DeCapo Best Music Writing anthology. There’s no way for me to keep up with all the excellent music writing out there – in print and online – and I trust the editors of this anthology to clue me in on what I may have missed.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that more and more of the selections for the book have come from blogs – not just webzine-style blogs, either, but personal blogs. It’s a nice nod to all the underemployed professional music writers who continue to write on their own and also to fans and non-professional music writers who have a strong writing voice. One of the things I enjoy about the series is that it doesn’t privilege professional writers just because they have an official byline from a print publication behind their name, all are lauded for the strength of their writing, regardless of the publishing format.

But these days, even blogging seems a bit old-school and slow moving in an environment where music news routinely breaks and occurs on Twitter. (Of course, there are dangers to the format, as proven by the misinformation merry-go-round that surrounded R&B singer Teena Marie’s death in December.)

This past December, the Village Voice awarded the title of Music Critic of the Year to @discographies, an anonymous Twitter account that sums up the music careers of an artist within Twitter’s 140 characters of less format. Some traditionalists balked, but the recognition is valid. @discographies manages to sum up in 140 characters of less what some music writers can’t manage in a book, while staying witty and opinionated.

I am embarrassed to admit that I haven’t yet finished all of DeCapo’s Best Music Writing 2010, yet I read @discographies daily, in addition to other music twitter feeds and blogs. As much as I respect and enjoy the craft of long form music writing, the quickly digestable online nuggets of music criticism are what I gravitate to more often these days. I don’t think that the rise of short-form music writing has to come at the expense of traditional music writing, in fact, I think there’s an opportunity for broader discussion and sharing among music fans and critics. The voice behind @discographies agrees, saying:

Music criticism is part of the lifeblood of Twitter: every second of every day, people are out there psychoanalyzing Kanye or raving about Cee-Lo or going to a show and tweeting “jeez, Malkmus looks bored tonight.”  I  think Twitter is a new kind of vessel for delivering content; maybe even a transformative one. And one of the nice things about it is its neutrality: it’s as well suited to music criticism as it is to sharing recipes or storytelling or the (allegedly) funny remarks that were (supposedly) uttered by someone’s dad.

The concept of crowd-sourced  music criticism/journalism really appeals to me. I’ve been on Twitter while some of my friends and acquaintances have been at the same concert. To follow their passionate, sometimes contradictory reports [“Amazing Baby is rocking the house tonight!”/”I hate everything about Amazing Baby] gives me the kind of “fan’s eye view” that a review from Greg Kot can’t re-create.  Twitter music criticism isn’t taking the place of print, but extending the life of that criticism farther and faster than previously imagined.

Update on Hallyu Wave: It’s getting closer

Of our very diverse blog posts, some of the most popular are about hallyu, the export of Korean pop culture. While still very much a subculture outside of Asia, the idea of k-pop music used as psychological warfare against North Korea is being considered — in a similar way to the use of the music of Nine Inch Nails, Pantera, Queen, and Sesame Street was used at Guantánamo.

So who are potential psychological weapons of cute pop music? Some of the most likely candidates are Girls Generation (song above that will get stuck in your head — and yes, that is a sample of New Order), Brown Eyed Girls (video directly above) and the Wonder Girls. The Wonder Girls especially have been marketing themselves for a worldwide audience, including websites directed to the U.S. and other English speaking audiences.

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Transformative Reinterpretation or Total Rip-off?: Namie Amuro and Copy That

At what point is copying

  • homage (as a way of honoring and being respectful of the original)  even through direct copying?
  • transformative (in the traditional copyright sense) as building upon the original to create new meaning?
  • or copying as a means of economically exploiting copyrighted works?

This first post in a series about the difficulties in making this distinction focuses on three different examples of how difficult it is to carefully draw these lines, focusing on Japanese pop star Namie Amuro’s Copy That (official Vidal Sassoon music video-ish commercial above), and later posts will focus on Glee’s Madonna and Lady Gaga episodes, and Christina Aguilera’s Not Myself Tonight video (and dance responses), and other similar situations.

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When is 1000 true music fans not enough?: Faith No More, Kylie Minogue, hallyu, and J-pop

If you don’t know the artists (Faith No More & Kylie Minogue) and musical genres (J-pop & hallyu) mentioned in the title of this post, that doesn’t make you odd. You just aren’t aware of these music more popular outside of the U.S. (and the “hallyu wave” is not limited to music).

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have fans — they have many! The U.S. music audience often doesn’t get to hear the music popular elsewhere, yet American music is popular worldwide.

As Frederick Stiehl in his article about J-pop/Hallyu artist BoA,

America has known few foreign artists outside of Latin America or Britain. Indeed, America has proven itself to be quite resistant to foreign singers, and especially to non-English artists. A few exceptions include Icelandic Bjork and German Rammstein …. However, both of these artists demonstrate a specialized style, known to but not followed by “mainstream” Americans.

So where does subgenre begin when it includes an international superstar like Kylie Minogue?

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I Read a Book: Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music is a must-read for those interested in how economics combined with listener actions have led the traditional music industry to its present morass. And therefore, the subtitle should be: How the music industry decided short-term profits were more important than life-long fans.

While I prefer a more linear style, the book is written in chapters focusing mostly on one artist or group per chapter — which makes sense, considering this is a work of music journalism. I appreciate that Kot, a non-lawyer, explains the law and cases correctly (yet with the dismayed “this is really the law?!?” tone needed). And while not using the terminology of one thousand true fans, he explores what having dedicated fans means for bands now — versus under the old regime.

But there are some seriously odd moments while reading as a fan. I’m not really sure why when describing the backstory of Metallica, Dave is mentioned, but there is literally no mention of Kirk! (Or Cliff. Or Jason.) But I’m digressing…

I expect a certain degree of errors in any work, but please, dude, know your halos! Any NIN fan knows that Broken counts. Especially when writing about T.R.’s dealings with record companies.