Posts tagged ‘fame’

Covers vs Originals … ?

Many of us start life as creative, professional musicians with an absolute aversion to playing anyone else music ever at all. No way! We want to tell our own stories and have something original and unique to say that no-one else has. For others, it’s the opposite – not everyone is a natural at songwriting and composing and there is a fine career to be had just playing and interpreting what’s already been written.

 

I prioritise my own material 90%, confident to call myself in general terms a ‘jazz musician’ as the idiomatic jazz references in my work are unmistakable. Over the years I’ve found an increasingly interesting (and sometimes rocky) relationship between covers and original music and getting known for doing both.

 

Here’s my Top Ten (and somewhat random) Tips and crazy notions to navigate and have fun with the covers/originals balance.

 

  1. Never forget that what lies in your own brain, imagination and invention is your gift to the world. You have a duty to bring it forth. Original art is everything. You’ll know if you have something to say with your songs as they will write you – you won’t have a choice. Never block the flow, you will make yourself ill if you do. Trust that you have something to say and get out of the way of creation speaking through you!

  2. As a child, I was told off, (in a grudgingly admiring way) by my piano tutor for using our lessons to show her my own compositions. She wanted me to focus on the Purcell (yuk …) and Mozart (yawn …) that we had to study. In her head, this was clearly the concert pianist path. I was more interested in making up my own chord sequences, although I felt guilty for including a hooky progression from a current TV show…

  3.  It was at this point that she was more helpful and told me not to worry about little steals and derivations and that the famous composers quoted from each other all the time – both deliberately and unconsciously.

  4. One huge and obvious advantage of sticking to your own work is that the royalties and rights are yours. No need to negotiate or buy access or clear it with anyone before you record. If original work is your default process then you find yourself wanting to record a cover and then sell the resulting album, it can feel (and is) somewhat more complicated.

  5. An advantage of doing covers is that (for me) there is a blissful and much needed buffer zone of objectivity. What a relief to leave my own stories behind and put something less risky on the line! If the audience rejects it, (either the storyline or the melody) it’s so much less personal.

  6. Approaching and arranging  great popular standards can and will make you a better player and composer for your own stuff. Tackle John Coltranes ‘Giant Steps’ just for fun – it’s such a good theory lesson and can be treated and redone in endless ways. (A repertoire of classic covers also serves as ready teaching material.) Program your set so that you hit a new audience with 4 originals, then a really well known standard that shows off your skills but continues the theme. Like dominos, make sure they’re connected by something – subject matter/mood/tempo/key. If you can get your original songs mistaken for classics then this is a good thing and means you’re writing the standards of the future! I had a (not very pleasant but certainly interesting) post gig scenario once at the Isle of Wight jazz festival. A well known festival director accused me of plagiarising my own songs. He was drunk and out of order and quite aggressive. Horrible – but it was proof that my songs are strong!

  7. Unless the fee is really good, (weddings!) only choose covers that you genuinely love and will stand the test of time and endless repetition as part of your set. Be steadfast in refusing requests (to perform/arrange/prepare/record/deliver) popular songs that you honestly don’t like – it will erode your soul.

  8. Check out other musicians who’ve covered songs maybe more or less successfully than the original songwriter. What makes a great song? One that can be endlessly reinterpreted or one that is untouchable? I fell in love with Carmen McCraes version of ‘New York State of Mind’, then Oleta Adams version – long before I realised that Billy Joel wrote it. It’s a truly solid song, great melody, feel, structure and storytelling. Removed enough from the author that it can live an independent life. In my own set, I include a few K pop songs – which have been translated (into Japanese) for the (huge) Japanese market. One of these, ‘Juliette’ started off as ‘Deal With It’ released by ‘High School Musical’ singer, Corbin Bleu. Then K pop giants Seoul Media bought the rights and transformed it utterly for their top boy band ShinEE – but kept the melody and structure. (Geeks and enthusiasts, listen to the original HERE. The Korean cover/transformation HERE and the Japanese translation HERE.)

  9. Choose wisely – though if you fall on your face, that’s half the fun. I refuse to do Joni Mitchell covers, despite being asked. To ‘superfans’, she is an immortal (rightly so!) and only Joni can do Joni. Likewise Prince – if you attempt it, better do it right! When choosing a cover, have fun taking it as far away from its original incarnation as you can. Mess with the tempo and instrumentation. Strip everything back to the song. See if you can take an industrial metal number and redo it for acoustic jazz guitar. Check out Amy Winehouses version of The Beatles ‘All My Loving’ – which in my opinion is better than the original.

  10. In these days of social media and Youtube – well placed (and non copyright infringing) cover versions and treatments of other artists songs can really work in your favour by drawing fans into your world, your website, your mailing list. The next generation of music lovers is always growing up in waves, discovering the great artists for the first time – they may be led to your version first – or next – through search engines, key words and hash tags.

No one has covered my work to my knowledge. How would I feel … I think I would hate it! I want to be the unique legend that non-one else can do! (But one day I guess it might happen.)

 

Here’s a clip of me singing ‘Feeling Good’ (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newly) in Trafalgar Square, with my own pre-recorded piano arrangement. (I like this song so much, I later did a different version for guitar.)

Lastly, find out what you need to know to protect your work (copyright – there’s more than one way to do it) and tread respectfully and honestly around others. If your songs are out there, live, recorded or online – there are multiple royalty avenues that you can and should access. Be clear (onstage and everywhere else) about the intellectual ownership of your own work and seek advice before recording others.

 

Resources:

 

Musicians Union – Benefits, protection, legal advice, community.

 

BASCA – British Academy of Songwriters, composers and authors.

 

Performing Rights Society – Music copyright, royalties and licensing.

 


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What is a Lesbian Icon?

 

My recent feature in the GaydarGirls blog and my conversation with the folk there about future content, has made me think about the commodification and market appeal of gay lifestyle….

In a retrospective mood, here is a ‘celebrity cribs’ style feature in DIVA magazine, from 2008. (Photo by Emma Innocenti)

back to mine

 

Are we getting to the point where it’s not only ok to be a lesbian woman, but something marketable, loveable, motivational, aspirational…for the average citizen, male or female? Can lesbian arts, culture, lifestyle and social commentary ever become a major lifestyle export. Is there a uniquely lesbian perspective, i.e what do lesbians have that the non-lesbian doesn’t? Is it a special mixture of genders…a two-spirited approach that blurs the boundary of gender expectations, conventions or limitations? Is it a love and appreciation of women that champions, in a political sense, the achievements, dreams, stories and concerns of women? Is it a precious liberation from male approval? (many non-lesbian women have that – or do they?) Is it having the sensibility of a woman and the brass nuts of a man – or the other way round (do non-lesbians also have that?)

What is an ‘icon’, in the contemporary sense of the word? We all have our heroines and heroes, who may be sports personalities, musicians, spiritual leaders, authors, historical figures. Why do they symbolise so much for us? At what point do they just become an ‘icon’ through repeated exposure on the fabric of popular culture? You know something or someone has become a brand name once they are quoted or referenced as themselves (not as fiction) – in a fictional setting. How about lesbian icons that aren’t gay, (or even female) yet resonate, with their style or energy, for real life lesbians? How far does the media manipulate our tendency to consume and idolise such figures by just inserting someone in the public eye and telling us what they represent?

I always resisted the idea of fame for it’s own sake…but becoming more well known (at a pace that’s realistic) is a goal for anyone who has something to say or share. Especially in these days of direct artist/audience communication. Nowadays, the road to fame can be a gradual, self-governed curve, rather than an industrial process that catapults musicians into the spotlight, usually way too young, chews them to pieces and spits them out. I was brought up to believe that ‘fame’ was something that would ultimately limit, not enhance freedom. However much I may have envied the child stars of the 70’s and 80’s – Tatum O’Neal, Jodie Foster, ‘Kids from Fame’ and the Jackson family – I was sensible enough to know that I wouldn’t want that exposure or pressure. Yet.

These days, I’m very much enjoying the steady rise…I quite like the thought of being a lesbian Icon. I wouldn’t mind at all kids looking at me and thinking, ‘hey it’s obviously cool to be gay’. It is cool. Even on a bad day, it’s cool. And on a good day – well I’m not surprised it’s still illegal in so many places. It’s that good. It’s that powerful. One day, lesbian sexuality won’t be seen as something shameful, weird, laughable, unnatural, dangerous, threatening, unlawful, punishable by death or excommunication, or even remotely remarkable. And that too, will be cool with me.


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