Marvin Gaye’s family won the lawsuit to the tune of 7.5 million dollars. So now Thicke and Williams have to pony up the loot. I’m a songwriter, a multi-instrumentalist and producer who strives for originality. Now nothing in songwriting is purely original. Most of us stick to the Western scale system and use I, IV, V as the root of our music. Different formula’s for different styles but the fundamental platform in which we write a song has been an established paradigm for years. So then what’s the problem? The business wants Mimicry! Repetition and for you to make it sound familiar! One need only look to Glam Metal to see the obvious….lol.
Making music is a huge business where ridiculous profits are possible (not probable for most). Promoting the new and unique is akin to risk taking and like any big business, they’re risk averse. They want to continue to reap profits from a proven method. It’s understandable. Fear of losing one’s paycheck is enough to incentivize them to want to err on the side of caution, so everything soon starts to sound the same. Follow the rules, sound like someone popular, get to the hook fast, have production that sounds like the pro-sounds that the major houses put out. One of the best examples of this is the Nashville sound, which has pretty much ruined country music. The commercially produced music coming out of Nashville is sounding like pre-packaged meals, looks great on the outside, but inside it’s bland. As long as the standard operating paradigm for the music business continues to be “do what has been done before,” we’ll continue to see judgements such as this.
We love songwriting for the framework, it’s like you’re given free range to roam within a certain set of rules and boundaries. But there’s nothing new in the universe, so being creative is a challenge. As a voice student, I was taught to never try to sound like anyone else, but to discover and cultivate my own sound. The same approach applies to my songwriting craft. I sonically isolate myself from popular music or even any music at all when I’m creating and let the words drive the melody. Even with all safeguards, it’s still possible to end up with something that may sound a bit like something else.
To intentionally create music that sounds like something else flies in the face of true artistry, but we can’t help but wonder if the jury had really been peers of Thicke and Williams (meaning a jury of fellow songwriters) would the outcome have been the same? I can easily distinguish the cowbell rhythm differences, and other major differences, but could the jury?
I use a submission service to place my music and I’d like to give you a little taste of my last rejection from Warner as it demonstrates this paradigm: “Hi Kally, First I want to say you are a true artist/writer. I admire when an artist is not afraid to do something new. The problem is, we work with straight middle America pop and RnB. I wouldn’t know where to begin to place your project so for that reason, I have to pass. If in the future I receive an opportunity that fits your style of music I’ll reach out to you.” I’ll take the rejection over watering down my artistic integrity any day.
I’d be willing to bet that many artists get worn down over time and eventually bend to what the business wants, which is guaranteed profits. It would be all to easy to sacrifice that integrity for the idea of “success” which is something every composer/producer must face.