Some Thoughts on Innovation in Music

When it comes to musical innovation, are we getting too legalistic to rediscover older styles of music? De La Soul are currently in the studio recording new tunes with samples they made by themselves (as opposed to samples taken from other albums). Pharrell Williams was recently sued for having his tune ‘Happy’ too close to music from soul icon Marvin Gaye, and Bruno Mars has been linked to other funk styles from older artists. While we don’t approve of plagiarism, are we starting to be restricted when it comes to copying a style? Imagine every 12 bar blues player or Louisiana Blues player being sued by BB King or Bo Diddly every time they released a new song. You see the thing that makes the blues ‘the blues’ is a certain chord structure, a certain feel and content. As a style it’s very restrictive, yet the familiarity of it makes it so comforting and so enjoyable. No one can deny the blues are ‘the blues.’

We are now starting to see artists who are tipping their hats to creative icons such as Marvin Gaye, Hendrix and Bob Marley and playing in a style that was birthed from a place of appreciation. There is a famous proverb that says “There is nothing new under the sun” and it’s no truer than with music. While there are times when a new sound is created, they don’t happen often and all music is based from an appreciation from another style. A great example of this was bluegrass, which was essentially country music that was infused and influenced by the rise of jazz music.

So here’s the question; if we can’t discover old music how are we going to be inspired to create a new style? There are ways around the sampling side of things as De La Soul is showing us, however their tunes and sounds are still based on traditional music. Are we destined to be stuck in a world filled with singer song writers with pop folk sensitivity? Or Taylor Swift and Katy Perry sound-a-like’s with covers of old songs modernized to fit our pallets? Have we been legally been pushed into a music slump of creativity because people are in pursuit of money rather than allowing the new and upcoming artist who reflects that style take it to new heights by standing on the shoulder of giants… after all isn’t that the sort of truth that America was built upon?

Music has a circle of life too, it has to die fully to be reborn later on in a new and fresh way, let’s not get the lawyers involved in this important process.