Yes, it’s time for a fresh dose of Beam At Alien (at least, for those who are fond of anagrams). These pieces raise a question that’s partly legal and partly philosophical, or at least ethical. But the question may make more sense if you listen to them first. Let’s start with “Isn’t It Good?”:

 

Next up, “So Far Away”:

 

Here’s another tune you may recognize — “Tried to Please Her”:

 

And here’s “Not Just Anybody”:

 

But all is not lost — we can “Make It Better”:

 

And in case it isn’t obvious by now, “Life Goes On”:

 

You can probably “See How They Run”:

 

Or you could “Let Me Take You Down”:

 

And let’s conclude today’s tub of nostalgia with “You Were Only Waiting”:

 

The question that I’m puzzling over is this: At what point does the composer of a song cease to have the right to control (or collect money for) the use of what is essentially a new piece of music that reimagines the original?

These tracks were all done in Reason 7, by the way. More than half a dozen great Rack Extensions were employed — too many to list.

Of course, uploading this material for you to listen to is entirely illegal. I would have to fill out all sorts of paperwork to acquire the licenses. Licenses for medleys can’t even be acquired through the Harry Fox Agency — they have to be cleared with the copyright owner. Harry Fox would charge me about $20 per song (per year, every year), and very little of that would end up in the pockets of the songwriters or their heirs, because $16 of the $20 is a processing fee that stays with Harry Fox.

Clearly, listeners’ reactions to these pieces will be based in no small part on the familiarity of the melodies, chord progressions, and so on. If the music were substantially similar, but original, listeners’ reactions would be different. On that basis, I clearly have an ethical obligation to the songwriters, irrespective of the legal situation.

Or is my ethical obligation to the promotional teams at Capitol Records that brought these songs to your attention in the first place, all those years ago? It’s the promotional people who created your familiarity with the tunes. So my ethical obligation may be quite different from my legal obligation.

Welcome to the modern world.

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6 thoughts on “ReImagined

    1. Good guess, but I forgot to mention that this was done entirely in Reason. The organ is a Rack Extension called Revival. It’s closely based on the drawbar organ concept, but it goes much, much further.

    1. Heh-heh-heh. Thanks. It was kind of an interesting exercise to find an R&B/hip-hop chord riff that would harmonize that melody. I had to add an extra bar of rest in the middle of the melody to make it come out right..

  1. I have a plan, a fantasy, really, that solves this problem. Everything is copyright-free in the traditional sense, but every thing you view online should cost money–in microcents or nanocents. So if you quote someone or use a part of their song, everyone who hits that page and listens or downloads would be charged a penny or a thousandth of a penny or a ten-thousandth of a penny or some agreed-upon standard. And the original creator and the page owner would get part of that nanopenny flow. You might still need some brief period in which an artwork or song was not copyable but that would be more about the artist’s temporary right to keep his work from being adulterated than about money since he or she would get compensated every time his art was reworked or even referenced. I calculate that adding less than $5 to the ISP bill of every person in the world would make a major impact on everyone from the New York Time to Jim Aikin, providing an income stream and reducing this perverse universe we are in which every web startup must go into the ad sales business.

    1. I like this idea, Phil … but I suspect that the administrative overhead that would be needed to figure out exactly how many nanocents should be allocated to the various content sources used on a given page would be prohibitive. We would need a magnificent new bureaucracy to oversee that, and in the end the revenue would be apportioned the way it’s done by ASCAP and BMI using their flawed statistical models: Most of the money would go to a few big players, and the rest of the creative artists would be left out in the cold.

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