Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Temptation to Plagiarize Yourself

Of course there are have always been debates about plagiarism with the music industry, some of the latest debates included Coldplay's "Viva La Vida," or Avril Lavignes "Girlfriend."  But up for discussion today is the (sometimes unwanted) temptation to plagiarize yourself as a musician or group. 

What is meant by plagiarizing yourself?  This is the act of (sometimes subconsciously) copying your own, previously successful material In order to recreate success of a former album or song. 

Sometimes this could happen on the artist's own accord, but on the other, sometimes record labels will give specific instructions to artists to deliver material that is "similar" to a previous hit and/or deliver material that falls under general categories, such as "up-tempo."

From both the artist and label standpoint, this strategy is sometimes unavoidable.  Unfortunately, market research can really only be conducted on how well the artist as a whole is being received by an audience.  Which in many cases is obvious.  This does not include the research that should be done to fully understand which specific tracks (or style of songs by this artist) are connecting best with their current and potential audience, whether large or small.  How many times as a listener have you made the statement "I love that band, but I am not really a fan of their songs on the radio, I like '#11' (Or whatever specific track.)  With this statement alone, we can derive the conclusion that the potential for '#11' to be a success among a band's current and prospective fan base is not being noted (Being that it is not being released as a single.)  This type of listener statement is all too common.  Yes, "A" was a big hit, but who is to say "B" couldn't have been a bigger hit?  What happens when the next album is released and songs in style "B" do not make the cut?  Could this potentially lose a fan? 

In general, this type of market research is greatly untapped, surely because of financial and time constraints.  Or perhaps, those involved simply don't care.

This lack of 'caring' leads to the temptation to copy former successful songs in order to essentially:  "Go with what works."  As an industry we must remember what makes "Career Artists" (In other words, artists that have very long, sustainable and memorable careers)  What makes these artists is the dynamic, yet smart, single song releases per album as well as an ever-evolving image and (at least slight) experimentation in musical style.  Sure, a long set of linear, similar sounding singles will rack up dollars, but it doesn't make an artist memorable and perhaps could potentially bland the career of an artist that had much more to offer.  Just a thought for record labels.

Here is a very current example of self-plagiarizing by Lifehouse:

Their single "Spin"enjoyed mediocre success in 2002,  But watch as the sound of "Spin" is (essentially) reworked in 2010 to be a huge radio hit:  "Halfway Gone."  Both songs are also strikingly similar to "Hanging By a Moment," the song that broke the band out in 2000.

   2002:  "Spin"                                 2010: "Halfway Gone"

                            The predecessor to both: 
                            2000:  "Hanging By a Moment"