When I started writing music back in the day, I would take the music and lyrics from songs I liked and altered them. That would be version 1 of my new song. Of course, it sounded a lot like the original song. However after a few re-writes, you could hear that my song had influences but it was starting to take shape in its own unique way. The lyrics would end up changing completely however I might have kept the phrasing or the rhymes similar to the original. Once finished it was clear that my ideas/my intellectual property had an influence from something that came before.
It’s probably why people shouldn’t get all emotional over intellectual property. When you hear artists saying they put their blood, sweat and tears into their works, you might want to take it with a grain a salt. Yes, they did put their blood, sweat and tears in being influenced and taking what came before, shaping it, tweaking it and re-writing it, to create something which in the end, sounds unique enough to call their own.
And artists who do create something so new and off the wall, are more or less artists who are servicing a niche core audience, or are forgotten or unknown.
But no one expects artists to do something so off the wall original. People like familiarity. Derek Thompson in his book “Hit Makers” mentioned how people are drawn to music that might be new, yet familiar enough to be recognizable. In other words, that new song we like has enough variation in it to make it not a carbon copy of its source influence.
It’s the reason why we listen to a song on repeat. We love repetition. I bet you that on any given day, the majority of music you listen to is music you have heard before. Let’s say 9 songs out of 10, are songs you’ve heard before. And our love for repetition also means we go looking for songs that sound familiar.
So all of our ideas have already been stolen.
Now that we all know that, maybe we can focus on developing connections and creating works influenced by our past. And you create by using your influences.
Because there is no such thing as the genius loner. It’s a myth. We are all social people and our creativity is fuelled by our social environments.
Every single day, we take in our surroundings, we set meaningful and important goals and we are always thinking of solutions to problems.
A neuroscientist and a psychologist broke down creativity into three main buckets;
- Bending means you take a previous work and re-model it in some way. Think of my post about “Sanitarium” from Metallica.
- Blending means merging previous works together so you have multiple melodies and re-cutting it to suit what you want to write. Jimmy Page was great at doing this with Led Zeppelin’s music.
- Breaking is taking a short and important musical idea otherwise known as a musical fragment and building on it. Think of my post on “One Riff To Rule Them All”, which covers the A pedal point riff used in songs like “Two Minutes To Midnight”.
All three of these elements are connected and every creator uses these elements when they are writing, without even knowing it.
The differences between humans and computers is how we store information and how we retrieve information. For the computer, the riff stored on the hard drive will sound exactly the same three years later, however that same riff stored in our head would be different.
Our brain breaks it down, blends it and bends it with other information. This massive mash up of ideas in our brains is our creativity. And when we play that riff three years later, it has a different feel, different phrasing or something else. Some of them stink and sometimes we create something that breaks through into society.
To me, “Comfortably Numb” matters because of that brilliant outro guitar solo from Dave Gilmour. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” worked because of its timeless message and video clip. “The Final Countdown” and “Jump” had the perfect keyboard riff. The characters in “Living On A Prayer” are unforgettable.
Of course, each one has other attributes however one thing normally sticks with us. There was a certain authenticity behind each.
Which is funny because I’ve been reading a lot of press releases about the latest release of “insert any band name here” being “authentic”.
What is authentic?
How do we define authenticity?
I asked some friends and they reckon, authenticity is saying whatever is on your mind and doing what a person feels like doing.
Authenticity to me is someone who is the keeps their promises and is same person regardless of whether someone is looking at them or not. In all walks of life I have come across people who try to appeal to whatever is in right now. Whatever is in right now is momentary. It’s always evolving and changing. However a person who remains the same regardless of the status quo, could be the status quo for a brief time, by being authentic.