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Derivative Music or Blatant Rip Off?

This post started off as my comment at the Fretterverse blog post titled: Derivative or Ripoff? So, be sure to also check out Josh's post for his thoughts.

My response:

Great topic to take on! It's pretty slippery though because most music is very derivative. The Satriani-Coldplay case brought up a lot of this sort of discussion. Artist integrity and karma are the most important elements before things have to get messy with attorneys, etc. At which point it's simply gone below the zone of what art is about. To a certain degree, style requires certain content and feel. With simpler Rock & Blues stuff, the feel is nearly everything, as the content is often a very common platform.

But it boils down to the artist. If he's aware of copping something blatantly and plagiarizing, then he should also be wary that he's a fair target. If you like something you've heard, and want to incorporate it into your own music the prudent thing to do is break it down, change it up and make it your own as best you can. Then, if you feel clean about it, go with it. You may still be a target, but it depends on who's complaining. We can read Youtube comment threads all day long where trolls do nothing but criticize even the best musicians for "ripping off" something. Nobody escapes that stuff.

It's always best for the artist to stay aware of his influences and respect them, while relying upon those influences for their essence. Intent can often be felt by others. I enjoy some SRV clones, and am disgusted by others. Asking myself "why?", I had to examine how pure the emotion felt to me. That's all I can ever do, but I definitely "feel" differences, hence I enjoy some SRV clones and don't others.

But as I said, this is a very slippery subject. NOTHING is totally original. Every automobile contains many of the same nuts, bolts, components, etc. What makes one model different from the next is in the styling cues and innovations. Still, we see an awful lot of similarity on the road, and many models and brands incorporate common raw hardware pieces. I wonder if Angus Young ever feels like he's ripping himself off or reinventing his essence.

For composers, there is an enormous wealth of music, material, genres and influences out there to synthesize with. It really helps to have a broad listening diet. A guitar player who listens to NOTHING BUT Steve Vai can't help but create overly Vai-ish material of his own. Although he may have integrity, and respect for Vai, he's perhaps too close to avoid inadvertently copping too much from his influence. And even with the noblest of intentions, he may find himself in trouble. Any guitar player who only listens to *Angus Young may want to mix it up a bit more.

The Beatles were the first to admit ripping off everyone, though ironically most people consider The Beatles to be highly original. The Beatles basically listened to a very broad spectrum of music from which they synthesized and made their own with good imagination and variety. Eric Johnson cites Joni Mitchell as one of his major influences. Think about that one.

We're all responsible for "growing and harvesting" new crops of art. Too much inbreeding anywhere will weaken and retard the genes. What WE bring to the table by being eclectic and imaginative keeps the art fresh & viable-- with due respect to our influences, and not getting into too much trouble with those who matter most.

* I really am a big Angus fan. Hopefully most of you get my point here.

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