I’m a big fan of covers. Covers in pop music history have resulted in an iconic merging of genres such as Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” and Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie, along with many other iconic collaborations of music.
It’s interesting though, to see how 21st-century tools like the Internet and social technologies have expanded the cover or the idea of a cover artist as anyone with a guitar, ukelele, harp or in my case a keyboard.
The core idea of my side music project, and the reason I created this blog, was that an open setting like the Internet, an open mic venue or the outside world as seen in the Play Me I’m Yours project in Austin, TX can become a canvas for inspiration in a “hobby” musician such as myself.
Continuing my last post about the emergence of remixes and copyright laws, I find a lot of similarities between the remix and cover which are interesting in light of heavy copyright and legal action by the music industry in the past few years. Some similarities I find are:
- The cover of a song makes it distinctive in many ways. The tempo, restyling of the genre, new instrument, different tonation and changed lyrics can have a powerful effect on the meaning and audience of the song.Jimi Hindrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” as opposed to Bob Dylan’s original version is an iconic example. Bob Dylan’s version reflects a period of political turmoil throughout the world with its brilliant lyrics, while Hendrix’s version reflects an entire generation of people through its masterful focus on the music.
- A remix, on the other hand, takes a song and makes it different through elements such as the beat, instrument and a combination of other sampled works to provide it with new meaning. The remix is, in simplified terms, the more technological form of the cover.
This sheds some light upon how the production of music is viewed through different mediums, such as in notorious copyrighting litigation. A remix, even after paying royalties to the writer and producer, can be sued heavily as stealing copyrighted work based on the fact that it was produced through a computer, regardless of how much it was changed in the process.
The cover seems to be a bit more lax in this regard, in that there are technologies in place, particularly online, that can make any musically inclined person a cover artist assuming they have a camera or recording device without much consequence.
Youtube in particular, with its billion range of user-generated content and traffic, has made the cover song a way to practice musicality and creativity in the public domain without the threat of infringement, at least for the time being.
It’s similar to user-generated journalism in that a music community provides feedback, creativity and inspiration for a number of contributions based on the way they reach an audience. It builds and encourages creativity in the open realm, which is extremely valuable were it to stay open and free to share.
As Tom Junod of Esquire states, “This is what covers do. They are gifts and thefts at the same time, shouts of flattery and whispers of ambition- the court jester’s plot against the king.”
In summation, there’s a rich future in music covers, but first we must look to the past.
I recently watched a documentary in my Social Media class called “RIP! The Remix Manifesto”, which discusses the power of remix on today’s music and culture. The film also documents the rise of popular remixer Girl Talk, who is currently transforming music with his mashups of iconic pop songs- all of which are heavily copyrighted.
As Lawrence Lessig, one of the more prominent lawyers taking action against copyright laws today, states in the film: “[Remixes] are the literacy of a new generation.”
The film brings up an excellent point that music, since the capitalization of its source as a commodity, has been primarily about corporate gain rather than its experience for a long time. Thus is the fundamental of the copyright law: Music is “intellectual property” which is owned by the recording industry and artist alone, and may only be used by the public for listening purposes.
However, the Internet and expansion of the public domain has begun to shift this hierarchy, with an emergence of “download culture” and “free” as a primary business model (also known as “Freemium.”)
As an avid downloader and fan of remixes myself, I find that this is what the public domain should be- a blend of information, sound and culture with contribution from the quantity of the public- not just certain individuals.
As shown in the film, the record companies and music industry are now facing a massive loss of revenue which they have thus far chosen to handle by placing heavy copyright laws on “intellectual property” and taking legal action against “downloaders” for often petty instances of said action.
However, it must be said that with their apparent inability to innovate in an evolving technology culture, it seems that the recording industries will only run themselves to the ground, just as any other business must learn to constantly innovate themselves to keep success. It remains to be seen, however, as the saying goes: “Time will tell.”
Girl Talk, the emerging remixer who seems to be breaking copyright laws all the way to the bank, takes highly iconic pop songs and makes them relevant to a new generation with clever remixes. He is an artist without a label and his primary instrument is his computer, yet he sells out music festivals and concerts; basically, he is the modern music artist.
Girl Talk is gathering momentum as one of the first major contributors to the new “sharing culture”, rather than the old way of “What’s mine is mine” yet I won’t jump to the conclusion that he is the future of music, as the film avers in some ways. He is one of the first to say, “This is out there and this inspires me so I’m going to make something of it”, which opens the door for other artists to do the same. The core idea is to give credit where credit is due and let the creativity flow.
To end with a quote from the original rebel to the music industry, Bob Dylan, notes this about change in his iconic song “The Times they Are A-Changin”:
“As the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last, for the times they are a-changin’”.
Creative exploits, life pursuits.
In my quest for impulsiveness and joie de vivre in combining my hobbies of music and writing, I find that I often must coax myself into undertaking more spontaneous activities. As a zealous “overthinker” and obsessive planner by nature, these activities are (ironically) not an impulse and are combative to my knee-jerk resistance of change.
However, sometimes you need to just go and do,as I’ve written about before, and have been yearning to do more with my music. In warming myself up to this type of action, I would tell myself, “Oh just practice a bit more and then go play somewhere.” After a while of that, I finally found the chance this weekend.
In my haphazard perusal of Twitter this week, I found that there was a new public art project instated in Austin, Texas near where I live called “Play Me I’m Yours” where pianos had been set in several public areas to be played by anyone freely.
This art project stood out to me in that it is totally public and interactive while also inviting musical creativity as well as amateur input. In this way, the public can build off of their environment and variety in which they live. This event is lasting the entire month of April, and as I’m finding should be my life’s motto: “Do it now or you’ll forget it later,” I decided to go and check it out for myself.
The result is below- including my bit along with the random pedestrians I encountered.
This project has traveled from New York and Australia to the heart of Texas, and is truly an interactive “mini-SXSW” of sorts which I’m glad I witnessed/took part in.
“Inspire” (pictured above) is an App I designed for my social media class to daily refresh and revitalize the creative mind through personalized updates based on one’s taste throughout the web. Updates can include music, literature, art and any other thing that alerts the mind, along with the user’s own creations as a reminder of past inspirations. Although I am not a formal Iphone App designer, this class and project has “Inspired” me in this way to think about what I would design and use personally.
A march at last year’s SXSW.
This year’s SXSW is coming up in Austin, Texas and I’m fondly remembering memories of my long ago first SXSW experience to prep for this one.
I first discovered SXSW as a freshman in college, tagging along with my more hip, “on the down-low” friends- where I had some great times, although admittedly making some rookie mistakes.
No Age, at my last SXSW experience
SXSW is different from other music festivals in that it explores many technological aspects of the live music and film scene, especially in the last few years. Having hosted one of the first Twitter announcements in 2007, it has become a conglomeration of the latest technology, film, music and arts.
This year, I’m older and wiser, having had the pleasure of discovering the “Interactive” element of SXSW. Interactive Talks invite people that are interested in learning and discoursing about topics of interest with others of the same passion.
Below are some topics that have caught my eye for this year, although I’m working up to the day I will eventually have a badge (and not just hop onto all of the free shows):
“In art, what is left out is as important as what is included. Can the rules of making art help us make more useful technology?”
This presentation explores culture and technology together as opposed to one or the other. The element of revolution seems to be ever-present in both, whereas for example- Lady Gaga, number 1 on the Billboard charts, has used her eccentric modern style as the basis of the new Polaroid sunglasses camera, and much more. Exploring such comparisons as “The Assassin’s Code” with the death of God making art possible and the network making technology possible, the discussion goes in-depth toward concepts such as minimalism and philosophy in art toward writing, editing, designing, as well as writing novels, films and music.
This presentation is interesting in that it explores how oftentimes “the music isn’t enough” (not to be depressing or anything) and images really lure audiences in and help them decipher through the millions of albums in the entire music-sphere. Similar to a blog post where it’s pretty mundane without links and images (you’re welcome), music must have some aesthetic value to become interesting to listeners.
Exploring a deeper psychological function of the Internet, this presentation seems most interesting since I am pretty much an addict now. What are the implications of Tweeting and Tumblring and Facebooking and Myspacing our personalities or brands for the world?
Although SXSW doesn’t have an Open Mic night, I’m interested in exploring the musical and technological trends this year. To create a broader picture of some of the fabulous events that are going on, the Media Innovation Party with free beer, media discussion and food truck cuisine sounds awesome.
Explore more events and Interactive talks here! Have an awesome SXSW everyone!
Pictured above is Tantra coffee house (hence my punny headline)- a quaint little caffeine haven in San Marcos, Texas. This location has quite unique features, such as: a hand-painted Jimmy Hendrix coffee table, delicious and unique beverages, extra comfortable Victorian-esque couches, and an outdoor stage for several “weird” events that occur weekly here.
Some such events range from the weekly Tribal Night complete with Fire Spinning, local singer/songwriter showcases and “Open mic” nights. Hence how this cozy little place has caught my eye this week.
Since I go here a fair few times per month for my routine get-the-ball-rolling coffee emergency, I had the chance to chat with Sage, a barista at this location, about the openness of said “Open Mic” nights.
“My boyfriend does it all the time,” Sage said. “He just gets up there and plays some classical music on his keyboard and people usually dig it.”
Judging from this information and the freeness and nonchalantness of Sage’s character, I feel that the duo of my sister and I won’t be judged too harshly and might even be well-received at this location.
Another inspiration I’ve found this week was at a Feminist Book Club meeting that I attended this past Wednesday. One of the books mentioned in the meeting was of particular interest to my budding musician taste- Patti Smith’s autobiography “Just Kids”.
The story details her relationship and interactions with several famous artists of the time such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol, and details her exploration in songwriting and fame at this period. It seems like a great read, and she is an amazing musician:
So, inspired by the greats and some great new venues with which to practice my art- I’m feeling very hopeful this week. More to come soon including practice videos, more songs, and a video of our first “Open mic” performance!