In The Thicke of Things

I was pretty curious when I first heard about the continuing lawsuits that have been flying back and forth between Robin Thicke and his label and the children of Marvin Gaye.  The suits (I don’t really know how many!) are because of Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”.

I think what really might have sparked this whole fuss was when Thicke gave an interview in GQ Magazine where he said:

“Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give it Up.’ I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it.”

When the Gaye family started to make noises about the similarities between the two songs, Thicke actually threw the initial punch by suing the Gaye family FIRST, claiming that there were no similarities.  I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of anyone doing that before.  It was supposedly to “protect” the song, which was was No.1 on Billboard for 12 weeks in 2013, and a huge hit for Thicke and his producers Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris Jr. It was also up for, but didn’t win, a Grammy for best song.

Since then, the accusations have been flying back and forth, with the Gaye family also accusing Thicke of copying Marvin Gaye’s song “After The Dance” for his song “Love After War”.  But instead of talking lawsuits for a moment, let’s have a listen.

If you haven’t already heard it, here is Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines”:

And now, here is Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”:

The usual elements that are brought up in song copyright suits are melody and lyrics, which is why those are the parts that you submit when you are creating a documented copyright for a song.  You can’t copyright a chord progression or a title, although occasionally they have come up as part of a suit.  In this case, the issue is the feel and/or beat, which is created by the percussion, drums and bass.  The chord progressions in each song (and the key, for that matter) are different.  The lyrics and melody (where there is one) are different.

So has there been an infringement?

For what it’s worth, here’s what I think.  They are an awful lot alike because of that groove. Whether, technically speaking, a similar groove will be enough to claim copyright infringement, I will leave that up to the courts.  I’ve read arguments on both sides, one claiming that Pharrell, who I admire a lot, likes to pay “homage” to those who influenced him and what harm is there in that?  But that groove is really, really similar.

I could almost write the whole thing off if I thought to myself that Thicke had subliminally come up with that groove because the song was ‘way back in his memory somewhere.  But his interview says it all.  He liked the groove in that song and they (for the lack of a better word) copied it.  It was, in that respect, intentional.

What do you think?  Where do the lines get crossed?


Be Careful Out There

I was recently contacted by a songwriter who had himself contacted an online Nashville-based company after he saw an ad for them on a music website.  When I checked it out, I saw that this company’s website was pretty straight-forward:  “We find songs for…” and then it proceeded to list a whole bunch of big name country artists.  So they were either a song publisher or song plugging company.  Below the long list of artists, there were three buttons.  The first button was supposed to be a FAQ, but the questions represented weren’t anything like “who we are and what we do”.  No, instead they included questions like “Do my words need to be perfect when I send them to you?” ,  “How long should my song be?” and “Do I need to copyright my songs before I send them to you?”.  All of their answers to these questions raised red flags for me.

The first question was “Do my words need to be perfect when I send them to you?”…any legitimate song publisher or songplugger WANTS A “PERFECT” SONG to pitch.  They don’t want to listen through a bunch of mediocre songs…which is why it is so hard to get that publishing deal in the first place.  Most song publishers listen to about the first :10 or :15 seconds of a song before they decide to turn it off or not.  But what did this company’s website say?  “No.  All songs start with a good idea and that’s all we need.”  Right away, this should tell you that they are taking anything that gets sent their way.  Why?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Second question:  “How long should my song be?”  Now, that’s a rather odd question to put in a FAQ, but nevertheless, they have an answer for that one too!  Their answer is:  “A commercial song…usually has about 24 lines, but may vary.”  This reminds me of an old scam artist/self-proclaimed “hit” writer that I came across a number of years ago on the web.  He actually had it calculated down to the number of syllables in a line!  If you have this many syllables, your song could be a hit!  But all you have to do is check out a bunch of hit songs from anywhere, anytime, to see that numbers of lines and syllables is NOT the most important aspect of being a “hit”, nor is a certain number of them a prerequisite.  Another red flag.

Third question:  “Do I need to copyright my songs before I send them to you?”  Their answer?  No.  That was the biggest red flag for me.  Now, practically speaking, a lot of pro writers do not copyright their songs until they get picked up by an artist.  But they know who they’re dealing with, and they already have a name for themselves.  They are not you, the first time songwriter trying to get your songs to a publisher.  Technically, a copyright ‘exists’ when you finish writing a song.  You always put the copyright symbol on anything you send out.  And if you are really hot on that song, you register a legal copyright first before sending it anywhere.  No question.

Okay, let’s get back to that Nashville company website.  Remember I told you that I’d explain why they would take anything that is sent to them?  Well, this will tell you. The next button says “Read what songwriters are saying about [us].”  I read all of the quotes and every one of them was about the recording of the songwriter’s song.  For example:   “Thank you for making a great recording of my song. You are special people who make a difference.”  None of the quotes had anything to do with getting a song placed, pitching it to artists or getting on the radio, or anything else.  All they want is for you to pay them money to record your song.

When the songwriter who contacted me sent me a copy of the contract, my suspicions were confirmed.  This was all about paying money to get a song recorded.  And not only that, but you get a bonus of $30,000 when you get a number 1 hit!  Wow, so now, let me see…somehow getting a recording of your song done by them, which you pay them for, could be a number 1 hit??  How might that happen?   That’s the other ‘service’ they provide…they’ll send your song to a bunch of radio stations on a compilation CD!  That’s how it will become a hit.  It’s just that you have to pay for being on the compilation CD too.  Oh well, chump change compared to that $30,000 you’re going to make, right?  They’re going to send it out to hundreds of radio stations!  But here’s the twist:  most radio stations pay absolutely no attention to these compilation CDs.  The only CDs they will listen to come from legitimate and big name record labels.  I know…I worked at a radio station.  The CD your song is on gets filed under “G” for garbage.

The ‘contract’ that was sent to this songwriter was, in fact, a glorified invoice.  Please pay us $500+ dollars.  Oh, and your song could be a hit.

Don’t feel stupid if this has happened to you or if it does in the future.  It has happened to many, many songwriters over the years.  Heck, I still get an annual post card from a “big time” producer, gushing about my song (and he always gets the title wrong) and how he can make it a big hit for me down in Nashville.  I’ve received a post card every year for about ten years, and that’s not exaggerating.   I probably sent the song out there to a few places years ago and that’s how he got my address.  I laugh, but then I wonder how many others he does this to every year, and how many of them fall for it just because they really believe in their songs and want it to be true.

These guys are nothing but scam artists pulling at your heartstrings.

If you have any questions about any publishers or song pluggers, send them to me.  I am not a lawyer so if you get a big, long contract with a bunch of legalize in it, I won’t be able to decipher it much more than you will.  However, if it’s anything like the contract this songwriter sent me to look at, I can tell you right away if it’s a scam or not!

In the meantime, be careful out there.


PS…I occasionally receive emails from so-called song pluggers or people who want to collaborate and who claim they have written hits for certain artists, etc.   I usually research them first to see if they are legitimate by simply searching for their names in the ASCAP and BMI databases (or check with the PRO from whatever country they reside in).  If I can’t find their names registered anywhere, I’ll simply reply to their email and ask them what name they register their songs under.  If they are legitimate, they’ll tell you, if they don’t answer back, you’ve learned that either they are scammers or that they are not willing to share their info, which makes them highly suspicious.  As I always say, arm yourself with knowledge! ~ IJ

Million Dollar Baby, or Not?

The video below will play automatically, so hit the pause button on the video if you’d like to read the article before hearing the song!

“Never Is Forever” is Floyd Murray’s lottery ticket to a happy retirement, if he has his way.  He is offering the copyright to this song for auction on eBay for a million bucks.

When I read the CNN iReport it said that a search of “hit song copyright”, including quotes, would bring up the auction, which was reportedly to begin on March 26, 2010.  However, when I went to eBay and did the search, it did not come up.  Did he perhaps have second thoughts?  Here is an excerpt of his response when asked why he is selling the rights to the song:

“My age and my life situation (and the current industry and economy) dictates that I won’t be going on tour any time soon to promote and perform my music, and I haven’t actively pursued any publishing or licensing deals. I’ve been sitting on this song, and every time someone hears it, they tell me how great it is and ask why it’s not on the radio. So I’m just offering it up to someone who sees it on its merits and can take it and run with it. I guess I’m selling my pension plan. I’m creating my own economic stimulus package.”

I listened to the song and you can too on the video posted below.  While I appreciate that Mr. Murray may really only be hoping to create a little nest egg for his retirement, the fact that he has been sitting on it and not pitching it to publishers himself first, was a mistake.  What most songwriters with any experience will tell you is that you need decent and honest feedback from people who are objective and know what they’re talking about.  Your friends, family and acquaintances don’t count!  Some smaller publishers will respond within a few weeks as to whether or not they are interested in the song, and sometimes they will give some feedback in their response.

Why am I saying all of this?  Because as far as I can hear, the song has some glaring flaws.  First of all, it has the same chord progression throughout, the same three chords, so there is no contrast between verses and chorus (if, indeed, there was a chorus).  That alone wouldn’t necessarily spell disaster, except for the fact that it’s a county song and most country publishers or labels won’t even let you in the door without a big, splashy chorus.

Secondly, the word “never” is used ad nauseum.  Now I know that the song has “never” in the title and this is obviously the theme, but using it in almost every line is enough to put anyone to sleep.

Which is why I only made it through the first half of the song.  So he may have actually switched the chords up at the end of it, or used the word “never” less as it went along, but I wouldn’t have heard it.  And neither would most industry-types if they threw it on in its present state.  Which is the sad reality:  most songs sent to publishers or industry people aren’t listened to past the first verse and chorus (if there is one).  It doesn’t take long for them to decide that “this ain’t it.”

It could very well be that Floyd Murray is just trying to get a little attention for himself, but actually I think he is probably sincere and really thinks he has a hit on his hands.  Which kind of reminds me of that guy I wrote about a couple of months back who wants to sell a million CDs.  I wonder how he’s doing? [Update Nov/12…his video and website disappeared and now he has only a website with himself doing mostly cover songs. So much for the million sales!]

I wish them both luck.  This is the day and age when it takes a lot of creative thinking to come up with ways to draw attention to yourself and your songs.  But first, the songs have to be good.