“A good composer does not imitate: he steals.”
Usually when someone like Stravinsky, a man of immense talent and knowledge in the field of music, gives you advice you want to take it and apply it to your own work. Unfortunately, in this case, stealing ideas from songs/compositions will get you into some serious legal trouble (especially today).
Take for example this recent event: Tom Petty has been awarded songwriting royalties for Sam Smith’s hit “Stay With Me.” Apparently people started to sing along to this song with lyrics from Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and realized they were eerily similar. It seems Tom Petty thought so too. Have a listen to this mash up and you’ll hear similarities in the chorus melody.
This isn’t nearly the first case of plagiarism in recent memory of popular hits. Remember the Coldplay song “Viva La Vida?” I’m sure Joe Satriani does…
What is the one common factor that has allowed these artists to have a case against another artist? The melody! Within music copyright laws you can not sue for someone using the same chord progression. If that were the case no one would be able to write a song destined for radio airplay (which is a whole other soapbox moment I may get into at a later date).
But what are you to do if you want something similar to your favorite song but can not pay to afford the fees to license that specific track? It’s obvious many people like specific genres for a reason. With the way the music business is working currently there is bound to be an attitude of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” There just may be a formula to produce an instant hit…
The reason I bring this up is because in the world of marketing it is understandable that people will want a big hit song for their video. They might even want a number one hit for their on hold messages! With the cost of licensing fees and the consequences of not paying those fees if you use the track what is a smart alternative? A sound alike!
Yes it is possible to have a song that sounds similar to the hit song you want but will avoid copyright infringements. Remember, the copying of melodic content is what will get you into hot water with copyright law. This does not apply to using similar instrumentation, gestures, tempo/song speed, or chords. The idea of a sound alike track isn’t new either. It has been used frequently in many mediums for quite a while. One of my personal favorite examples is the classic Animaniacs cartoon “West Side Pigeons.” Besides the title alluding to the great “West Side Story” you can hear how similar the music is to the work of Leonard Bernstein.
The same ideas can be applied to any genre of music: pop, rock, indie, hip hop, etc. I will always try to advocate for creating original content BUT if you are in desperate need of something that sounds like the latest radio hit, yet can’t afford the song itself, a sound alike could be the answer for you.
Do you prefer an original composition for your marketing content or do you think a sound alike track would bring in more attention and suit a production better? Let me know in the comments!