Note from the editorSongwriting

Why we “steal” from other artists

Dear Songbird,

today I would like to adress a topic that concerns us all in one way or another. 

We all have read about copyright infringements and costly lawsuits that can come with those. Whether the copyright infringement happens deliberately or unconsciously, it seems that even the big industry players like Ed Sheeran or Ariana Grande fall victim to such accusations.

It is obviously difficult to draw the line between actual plagiarism and coincidental similarities. We are all inspired by music that is already out there. Whether it is certain genres we were exposed to growing up or current tracks in our playlists….what we listen to unquestionalbly informs our personal taste and style as creators. As humans we imitate and adapt to our surroundings. It is a natural instinct and somewhat the biggest challenge for artmakers. Breaking free from the safety and exploring new territories is what the biggest task for an artist to master. 

The burden of being “original”

In recent years or say decades the pressure to be original has been at the center of our definition of artistry. This might have not always been the case. It might have been a side product of our growing need to self express and the praising of individuality as a common good. 

A lot of times artists base their work process more around finding novelty and innovation than around authenticity. In order to guard a bit of authenticity, a piece of self, we cannot fully deny where we come from however. In other words, even when looking for novelty we are never completely independent from our roots. We will always include familiarity and in that sense we always steal from what has existed before us. And that is okay. 

The question is how much we allow ourselves to actually steal from the people that inspire us. How much can we take on, calling it our own, without giving credit where credit is due. I think we steal the things we wish we were a lot more than the things we truly are. We steal what we admire more often than what feels ordinary in the sense that it is an inate part of ourselves.  We fear that our own identity is no more than mediocre. I think this fear of mediocricy drives us to steal in the first place. But what´s also important to understand is that you can only steal the craft, never the art. It´s a bit like stealing someone´s result, but not the journey that brought them there. I will come back to that in a minute.

Just let me make clear that these processes of “stealing” often happen subconsciously and in addition to that we are never as unique as we think we are with regard to our emotional make up. Thus expressing similar ideas or coming to similar sonic conclusions isn´t always plagiarism per se. That´s why I am not too fussed about the idea of being original, but rather about being “authentic”. The question we should truly ask ourselves is basically whether our songs deserve our name underneath them. If not, we might want to rework what we have created so far. 

What is it that we can “steal”?

Now, I have alluded to stealing being a matter of craft not art. Here´s the idea:

If we all steal a petal from the rose to mix it into our bouquet of flowers that is fine. It´s a mere tool. However if we steal half a bouquet and just dress it with few additional flowers, we are not really artists or creators but mere crafters that copy a formula. It is fine to be that! We need good crafters just like we need good artists. Songwriting is always a mix of craft and art. It´s a matter of using your craft to find something you can call your art. In my opinion, the goal should be to create something that is not necessarily 100% original, but definitely unique in the sense that it is fundamentally yours! It is a matter of diverging from the obvious mostly, but it shouldn´t be only about the act of diverging from something, but more about coming to something that´s “truly” yours. It´s not about diverging for the sake of diverging, but about diverging so you can explore new territory (mostly within you) and share your unique experiences. Not every song will meet these demands though! 

I have written songs I am proud of as a “songwriter that has improved her craft” and I have songs in my catalogie that I am proud of as an artist. Those are the songs of my soul. The ones that feel like I didn´t borrow from others to sound a certain way. Instead the song found me.  In a way the inspiration happened inward out, not vice versa and the songs stem from my soul.  A lot of times audiences end up loving certain songs the most, that we songwriters do not relate to as much. We in turn love songs dearly, that our audiences skip over.  It is the relation we have with them songs and the insights into where they stem from that will make our songs special.

Wherever you are in your journey, whether you are in the process of learning the craft or in the process of exploring your soul without limits, keep writing songs you love! Just learn to be aware and honest with yourself in terms of where you are operating from a place of craft vs art! Craft is based in following rules and therefor copying what´s intended for you, art on the other hand is rooted in your DNA and cannot be stolen (unless of course, some of your songs leak online and  another artists claims they´ve written them). Now that´s where the nasty lawsuits come into play again;)

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