Copyright violation: bad news for comedy parody?

The Newport video I mentioned in my previous blog reached around 2.5 million hits on YouTube before being removed by EMI for copyright violation. because the song was clearly based on an EMI recording, even thought it was a whole new recording with parody lyrics, the law states that permission from the writers must be sought. It wasn’t.

These seems obvious and fair – but it could mean the end to parody using music if it’s able to be fully enforced. Many songwriters who are ripe for being parodies are serious ‘artists’ who may not be likely to want to have their song parodied, even if it doesn’t poke fun directly at them (as in the case of Newport).

I’ve had a parody version of Sinead O’Conner’s hit ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ removed from YouTube for the same reason. The recording was from a single performance in a comedy club 2002. You’re not likely to be able to see it ever again.

Millions of people enjoyed the Newport parody. But we should really never have had the chance to see it. I don’t know if the people involved in it made any money from it directly, it’s unlikely since their version was not for sale anywhere. So if they didn’t profit financially or take sales away from the Jay Z original, was it wrong to do the parody? It certainly has raised the profile of the original to an audience it may not have ordinarily reached as people wanted to see and hear it for the comparison.

So is it right that copyright enforcement should ban comedians and humorists from creating parody versions of other people’s material – provided they don’t offer their version directly for sale?

Is it right and proper that a parody song, piggy-backing on someone else’s creativity should not be allowed?

Does the use of copyright enforcement in this way reduce creativity as we won’t be able to create such parody songs, or does it enhance it as we will have to be cleverer at writing new songs to poke fun at other songs? (Neil Innes’ ‘The Rutles’ flew very close to the wind in creating a new batch of Beatle parody songs that sound like but were not direct copies of Beatle songs).

I would love someone to create a parody of one of my serious songs if it raise my profile or helped me sell more copies of my version. Are some people and some companies just being killjoys and taking themselves far too seriously? Or should any form of copyright, however well intentioned or funny the parody of it may be, be protected at all costs to maintain the integrity of original work and secure the income for its creators?

What do you think?

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My Psychic Octopus song on the Radio

My fun video and song posted on YouTube two weeks ago has now passed 1500 views. Not an monster viral hit, but interesting non-the-less. A lot more people have seen it than I could hope to reach live or using pre-internet methods in the same timeframe.

I was also invited to appear live on BBC Oxford Radio. I was at Kings Cross station on my way to do some gigs in Bradford so we did the interview live on the phone. They played a few clips from the song and I even featured as the last item on the 9 o’clock news!

I talked about creativity in business and how we should all find a way of bringing our talents and interests into what we do as work. You can hear the full interview here:

Ayd Instone on BBC Radio Oxford

You can watch the video here:

and even download the song as an mp3 for free here.

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For the Record: Paul the Psychic Octopus

Click here to watch the video: Paul the Psychic Octopus song

Every now and then I manage to think of an idea good enough to turn into a slightly funny song and see if people on the internet want to run with it. The last one was about the MPs expenses scandal. My new song about the World Cup oracle, Paul the Psychic Octopus has eclipsed that. At time of writing the hits on YouTube have passed the 1200 mark.

For the record, here’s what I did.

I was bashing around some chords on the guitar on Sunday night and had the idea, but no real lyrics. The next gap in my schedule when I could work on it was Wednesday 14th. That morning I got all my recording equipment set up: guitars, amps, mic and stand, cables etc. This was the intent: I was going to write, record and film a song today. Nothing else. So I sat down with the guitar and wrote the first two verses and chorus. When you tune in your creativity, set the intent, it can flow. I called my good friend and football expert Jeremy Nicholas to make sure I didn’t cause a faux pas by using the incorrect pronunciation of vuvuzella (which nicely rhymes with paella). After a coffee I finished off the last verse, typed it up and printed off the lyrics. I then had a think through about what video footage I might be able to shoot that day to illustrate the lyric. I jotted down a few ideas; the egg, the boxes with lids and the saucepan.

Then the recording began. I fired up Logic Pro on my MacPro and recorded the acoustic guitar (my Rainsong WS1000) in one take, leaving a gap for the did-did-did-did break I planned to play later on bass and electric, inspired by the Vanilla Fudge rendition of ‘You keep Me Hanging On’ which I felt suited the song.

Then I recorded the main vocal, again in one take with an SM58 mic and pop screen. I decided that I should only apply harmonies to certain lines in the verse and the chorus so rehearsed a few variations and recorded in two takes for the first backing and four takes for the second harmony.

Then it was time for the bass. Spent 30 minutes devising a suitable bass line and then recorded it in two takes. Then it was the turn of my Epiphone Casino. I miced up the amp set to a mild overdrive and worked out and recorded a lead line in four takes based in the twidle I’d played one on the acoustic at the start of the song. Again, I didn’t want to make the recording sickly by covering it in a wall of sound so I played the riff every other bar.

The hardest part was the drums. The first time I’d every played drums was at Christmas so I knew I’d have to do something really simple. I worked out a rhythm first for the verse and chorus and then started playing along, trying to keep in time and get the changes right. But I couldn’t get the MIDI to work properly. It wasn’t registering the closed hi-hat, no matter which sound bank I used, there was also some ‘latency’ – an annoying delay due to the digital to analogue conversion. So I gave up on that and took a stereo line out from my Roland TD4 and that worked fine.

So the song was finished. I left it for an hour before mixing it, then started on the video. The first shoot was me miming to the song in front of the camera. But since the song was so new I hardly knew the words so actually only gained a small bit of footage. I made up for it by shooting the previous ideas I’d had with the toy octopus and Ferrero Roche boxes after printing out flags for the containers, plus a few extra ones with a football. I didn’t have any mussles so used gurkins for the octopus food. The only part of the whole process where I needed help was with throwing the ball at my head which my wife gladly did.

Then I converted the footage to Quicktime and used Final Cut Pro to put it all together. By the end of the day it was ready and was uploaded to YouTube first thing Thursday morning.

You can hear the finished song, read the lyrics and download the mp3 here.

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Goodbye to Woolworths

In my previous post I said about my plan to write and record a new folk song in a day. Here’s what happened.

I wrote the song in about an hour and a half, then set up my camera and filmed it (with the lyrics written up on large pieces of card either side of the camera – no time to learn them!) I put a capo on the 3rd fret so that the song is in G but I’m playing the chords of E and A7. This allowed me to get a better sound with the sustained 4th notes with my little finger. Two takes and I had it recorded. I then went to Cowley Centre in Oxford, my nearest Woolies and got some establishing footage. If only I’d thought of this idea sooner I would have got some sale footage as this this chap.

I stripped the audio track from my video using Quicktime Pro and used Logic audio software to multitrack other instruments: electric bass, 12 string Rickenbacker, electric guitar (my Epiphone Casino through a Laney value amp) and a shaker. Because I hadn’t thought to record my vocal and acoustic guitar on separate tracks (they were just picked up my the camera’s mic) I re-recorded the vocal on top so you could have a chance of hearing the words. Then I added a harmony. No song is complete without a harmony in my opinion.

Then I mixed that all down and imported it into Final Cut video software and tried to match the audio to the video. If you’ve ever seen a film clapper-board then you can work out how that’s done in cinema. You have the sound of the ‘clap’ and the sight of the board closing so you an sync them up. I had a sharp downstroke on the guitar (edited out of the final video) to do the same job and it worked better than I thought. Then I edited in the Woolworths footage and uploaded the finished film to YouTube.

In one day it achieved 183 hits – my quickest growth rate yet with a video (thanks to those of you who helped with telling people about it).

With more time I may have done a better mix. Same day recording and mixing is always tricky. And I’d have got the original vocal on a separate track from the start. But it proved to myself that it can be done.

I’m now thinking of my next topic to write a song about. If you have any ideas let me know!

Here are the lyrics:

Well it’s goodbye to Woolworths. The credit crunch has taken its due
The sales are no more and you’ve closed down the door
And the town won’t be the same without you

It’s goodbye to Woolie. We had a feeling it couldn’t last
You hung on for years and you were run by old dears
And now you’re consigned to the past

I suppose I never really shopped there and I don’t know anyone who did
I remember rummaging for LPs and singles
In bargain bins when I was a kid

So there’s a lesson here for us all that businesses often ignore
If you don’t want customers to walk out the door
You better have what they’re looking for

Because we all tend to do everything, be all things to all man
But the jack of all trades is master of none
And your business will go down the pan

So it’s goodbye to Woolworths. The credit crunch knocked you for six
But when you’ve said your last goodnight and turned out the light
Where are we going to get our pick ‘n’ mix?

The song goes out to all those affected by job losses in these changing times. Keep thinking positively and you’ll find a new path.

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A new kind of folk song

Maybe it’s the current climate of social and economic change that made me feel like it but I’ve suddenly got back into my ‘folk’. By that I mean simple songwriting about contemporary issues, done quickly, not too ‘produced’, aimed at telling a story or giving a message.

So I bought a banjo (I’ll tell you about that later) and picked up my guitar to see what song would come out. I had a whole Saturday to think of something, write it, film it, overdub it and upload it to YouTube. I wanted that immediacy of creativity and due to family and work commitments I had the window of opportunity of a day so had to get on with it.

I started writing a ‘credit crunch’ song which needed a focal point – which quickly became the sad but inevitable closure of Woolworths. The fall of Woolworths into administration and then closure forms a great parable. It also is not a direct ‘victim’ of the credit crunch as such, and yet the factors of the economic slowdown meant that it could no longer hide its inadequacies to do business in today’s competitive highly focused and brand aware way.

So here is my new ‘folk song’, written and filmed in a day. See what you think. In my next post I’ll let you know how I did it, the problems I faced and what I learned.

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