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Everyone Copies

I have been reading and writing about music copyright laws and corporate control of music business. Here are some of my thoughts:

An important consideration is that music is learned by copying. "Original" music expresses what a composer has learned through imitation and by copying the best expressions of predecessors. Playing familiar material is an essential method to learn the techniques and styles of music. There is, in the best case, a tradition of teaching, sharing and support among musicians. If you understand the history of any and every music tradition you will know that there is a free and generous flow of musical ideas, melodies and performance methods and styles. There is also a tradition of credentials and evaluations of the skill of performers. The best features of musician communities are destroyed by ownership and greed. Only a few composers and performers benefit from the current methods of music wealth control. Most musicians and their audiences suffer from increasingly repressive controls.

I agree with David Shield's arguments developed in his book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.. He stated:" creativity is inextricably bound up with plagiarism. Two-thirds of Shakespeare’s Henry VI comes directly from other sources; this is true of most of his other plays as well. Our (misguided) notions of creativity derive from the Romantic period; in Shakespeare’s time, creating ex nihilo was not the model. Embedded in Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” is the French national anthem. Aaron Copeland based a significant part of “Appalachian Spring” on the Shaker melody “Simple Gifts.” Genius borrows nobly. Art is theft. Good poets borrow; great poets steal. James Joyce said, “I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors-and-paste man.” Who owns the words? We all do, though not all of us know it yet. Art is not a patent office. It’s a conversation between and among artists. Reality can’t be copyrighted, especially in the digitized universe we now occupy."

A recording is more easily defined as a commodity and the right to copy a recorded performance is easier to defend. While it may be correct to defend the right to a recorded performance, as soon as the performance is broadcast, I may start singing the song, play it on the piano and make an arrangement for my band and perform it in public. It is my ability, talent and creativity that allows me to hear and then perform. My performance will be different from the one I heard and it may be better. It is the act of broadcasting music to a receptive audience that creates the magic of social interaction. It is a listener who buys a song if he or she likes it, shares it with friends and creates a market for the song. Audience participation and creativity is as essential as the songwriter's creativity.

One question is - does music have special properties not shared by language based commodities? The answer is yes – mostly because music is a powerful component of culture, but at the same time, is non-essential. Since local performances all over the world follow the tradition of folk music; popular songs are performed often with audience participation. Compositions in the public domain are freely available; they are usually older songs, written prior to corporate copyright controls. Some argue persuasively that every popular song becomes public property and performance should not be constrained by corporations who demand payment every time the song is performed.

Another key truth is that commercially successful music is a team effort. The songwriter or composer will languish in poverty and obscurity until the team arrives to turn the creation into a money making commodity. Even when an independent songwriter masters current technology, completes the recording in a home studio, designs the CD cover and copies the CDs in a home computer, the finished product requires distribution to make money. While there are proliferating opportunities to present downloads online and to sell CDs thru internet websites, without publicity, sales are meager and costs are substantial. As a business model, Indie CD production is a bust.


  • Topics presented at Persona Digital Studio are from the book,
    The Sound of Music
    by Stephen Gislason.
    Click the Download button to order the eBook 

  • Persona Mandala

    Persona Digital Studio is located on the Sunshine Coast, Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada.

    Persona Music Recordings: Our Music Catalogue includes recorded performances under the names P2500 Band, Em4U, and the Persona Classical Consort. Some music online is offered to illustrate music history, advance music education and appreciation. The recordings presented online demonstrate Persona Studio's arranging, recording and mastering techniques. All the recordings are completed in house by Stephen Gislason.

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