“OMG! Did you hear Lemonade?”
“Yes! It’s so good, but did you see the writing credits? She barely wrote any of it herself.”
“Yeah, and none of the poetry from the film was hers, either.”
The above conversation is one I’ve been hearing for a long time. We prop up some artists for writing their own music, but denounce others for seeking outside help. Why is that?
The biggest offenders in this artistically oppressive landscape are copyright law and greed. Copyright laws have tightened their grasp around the music industry so firmly that partnerships have become almost taboo. Musicians, especially those of mainstream success, are greedy. People want their royalties, at the end of the day. Of course, there are caveats, and exceptions to the rule, but the rule maintains. The record labels and corporations are to blame as well; they want someone marketable to sing the songs, and the songs are an afterthought (until they’re recorded and sellable).
The SoundCloud raids of last year and the year prior are a great example of the tyrannical industry at work. All “illegal” content was torn down like tiny strips of musical freedom. Anything using unlawful samples or remotely resembling an unauthorized remix was taken off the site. Building on other people’s work is how a lot of new acts get their start, and it’s sometimes how we come to appreciate the work of the originator. Not that long ago, hip hop artists relied on sampling to create their desired sound. This was collaboration and innovation at its finest. This is also what the music industry lacks today. Today, we have Justin Bieber talking about how his (Diplo and Skrillex’s) vocal samples sound “expensive,” which, as we know, is not a new technique. If you want to hear a masterclass in sampling, innovation and collaboration, look to Kanye’s 2004 College Dropout, which was a monumental event in music. It is this kind of thinking – group thinking – that inspires new creation.
As the Buggles song goes, “video killed the radio star.” To me, this sentiment is timeless; with the rise of the music machine, organic conceptions are now a rarity. At the end of the day, there is a profit motive, if not consideration, behind almost every song or album release. I’m reminded of the artists who refused to have their songs aired on Glee, or of Taylor Swift and the infamous Apple Music debacle, or of any lawsuit ever filed regarding a copyright infringement. It is this exact profit motive, and the elitism in the industry, that prevents true art from being made – the kind of art that is born out of a mutual exchange of ideas and experiences.
Some favourite moments in my history of music appreciation were born out of joint efforts from two or more artists: Calvin Harris and Dizzee Rascal, Bon Iver & Kanye, Disclosure and literally anyone, Mariah and Boyz II Men (yes, I went there). This short list is just a small representation of the endless list of magic that has been crafted in teams. To go back further, let’s remember when Aerosmith and RUN-DMC got together for the genre-bending Walk This Way. Or, more recently, when Cudi (with help from Ratatat & MGMT) blurred the lines between hip hop and electronica on Pursuit of Happiness, beginning an entirely new wave of collaborative efforts between varying genres. This was the start of a new appreciation for electronic music, for me anyway. I’d even be so bold as to say this song, and the subsequent Aoki remix, brought electronic music closer to the forefront of popular culture, birthing completely new genres and artists within them.
From his article for Huffington Post, Amit Gupta writes, “… these collaborations can unlock untold creative riches,” which I find to be simplistically powerful. The adage, “two heads are better than one,” seems less corny when discussed here. We grow up consuming and collecting our own ideas and building our own personal culture from those around us. By becoming masters of our own experience, and pairing that with those of another, we can create beauty. By “unlocking,” as Gupta put it, each other’s artistic proficiencies, we immediately diversify and multiply the opportunities. And, by placing the art above all else, we can open our eyes and ears to the endless possibilities collaboration can generate.
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