The way we now listen to music is similar to how we watch TV — through different streaming services. With the option to purchase a monthly membership on either Spotify or Tidal, we now have access to nearly any song we desire to hear. It’s developments such as these that help make the music industry valuable, attractive and influential as subscribers now can have a range of styles, genres and artists at their fingertips.
Users of either Spotify or the recently released Tidal do not need to purchase songs individually like users of iTunes are required to do, but are instead given music for a flat fee of $5-$20 a month. These providers seem great to us as college students who do not want to pay for each and every individual song we want to listen to on repeat. We also have the ability to explore and experiment with different artists, genres and songs we may be unfamiliar with but find interesting.
Although there are many perks to these services as consumers, they may not be as beneficial to the industry, as they seem to be challenging and affecting the creativity of both new and returning artists.
It seems as if now that consumers and musicians have easy access to almost every song ever produced, artists are so heavily influenced by the sounds, techniques and lyrics of others they are subconsciously integrating other ideas and creativity into their own songs, bringing up the issue of copyright infringement.
It is not necessarily bad for artists to be inspired by past musicians. However, recently, it seems to have halted the creativity for new and unique music to be developed and enjoyed.
“Gold Digger” by Kanye West, featuring Jaime Foxx, was released in 2005 and was a No. 1 hit, according to Song Facts, an informational music website. West’s song was influenced by Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.” The difference between the two besides the beat and style were their opposing messages about women.
Charles’ song is about flaunting a woman whom he cherishes, while West’s remake is about a woman who is a “gold digger,” a term defined by Merriam Webster’s Dictionary as someone “who becomes or tries to become romantically involved with a rich man in order to get money and gifts from him.”
Fifth Harmony, a group of five young female artists, was formed under the direction of music critic Simon Cowell in July 2012. The girl band released a song earlier this year titled “Like Mariah,” which combines two of Mariah Carey’s songs, “Touch My Body” and “Always Be My Baby.”
Fifth Harmony’s version does not have the same lyrics, but it does mimic Carey’s famous and distinctive vocal runs.
“I think artists that make their own version of old music need to incorporate some sort of reference to the original artist,” sophomore allied health major Ryan Ebersole said.
These songs are attracting the attention of the general public, but are also leading listeners to remember more about the original creators than the contemporary artists themselves.
When I first heard Fifth Harmony’s song “Like Mariah,” I could not put my finger on which Carey song the beginning melody was from, requiring me to research her, rather than explore the artistry of Fifth Harmony’s album. Eventually, I downloaded the song “Always Be My Baby,” as it brought me back to my fondness for Carey, which I had forgotten about for years.
Although I enjoy reminiscing about these old classics, current artists need to start inventing sounds that are distinctive and grabbing the attention of listeners rather than cashing in on the talent of another artist or band.
In 2013, Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. released an audience favorite “Blurred Lines,” which raced to the top of the charts across the world. Unfortunately, the release caused the three artists to defend themselves in court against the family of the late singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye.
According to Pitch Fork, an online platform for music criticism and commentary, the jury ruled that the three artists had copied and used the intellectual property of Gaye in his song “Got to Give It Up.” Pitch Fork also explained how the Gaye family received $1.7 million from the jury’s decision. The ruling was completely understandable, as the two songs align far too closely, which, rightfully, should affect both the success of the song and the popularity of the artist.
Instances like these should be encouragement for new artists to not solely follow in the footsteps of past performers, but to use their foundations to create new music that transcends the abilities of early musicians.
There have been so many remakes over the years, and after hearing the new versions of these old songs, I wonder if past artists have left anything new for artists to invent, create and share with the world.
A solution for new sound to be born may be to write and compose in an entirely different way than ever before, and the influence of Tidal and Spotify are no help. Artists need to take a moment to isolate themselves from past creations and instead find something deep within themselves that will spark new inspiration and success based solely on their own merits.