Be sure you have learned from others, but not stolen from others. All those who create intellectual property in its many forms would likely be very pleased to create a completely unique work that becomes immensely successful. In reality, most creators engage themselves in rearranging common forms into works that hopefully have enough unique elements to distinguish them from the works of others. But occasionally, we either confront ourselves or are confronted by others with the observation that a song might be a little too close in character to an already established creation. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “All the notes have been played already”. It is how we choose to arrange these notes and their values that will determine our ability to be successful on our own merits. We all have a responsibility to each other to audit our work and to respect the rights of others. Throughout the composition process, we owe it to ourselves and to the world to preserve these rights for our collective greater good. After all, you wouldn’t want someone else to enjoy the benefits of success through copying something you created, would you? “I didn’t mean to…” is not an appropriate excuse – we should all be aware of the world around us, and how its content influences our thoughts. If you were following another vehicle too closely while driving, and a collision occurred, whose fault was it?
An enduring song is not defined solely by a guitar riff, bangin’ beat or vocal trick. Sure, all of the above and more can and should be part of the mix in a supporting role… as enhancement to that which already stands up undeniably by itself. And I’m not going to slam the work of those who create sounds or beats – there is good and not-so-good in all art forms, and I’ve heard lots of beat or sound-dependent creations that are scary good. I’m talking about songs – songs that last like evergreens. That is why the copyright in a song is in the lyric and melody, not the arrangement. No one should have to use the arrangement as a priority selling tool over the lyric and melody… but… it happens. I can’t count how many times someone presenting a song to me pointed out one of the above features as something I should take note of – something that “made the song” – something they were obviously proud of as the notable feature. But I sure can count how many of them were hits – none. Want to find out how good the song actually is? Go to one of those songwriter / open mic nights – just you and a guitar or keyboard. Measure the crowd response against the other songs played that night. If there are one hundred people in the crowd, count how many come up to say what a great song that was. Given that many will not express their feelings directly to you, let’s err on the side of conservatism – if twenty percent are in your face raving, I’d bet you have a pretty strong contender.