“You Stole My Music!” Issues of Chords and Copyright Across Genres

In previous centuries, what was called “quotation” of musical material (or using excerpts of another composer’s works within one’s own works) was not something to be ashamed of. The idea of musical quotation actually demonstrated musical prowess of the person who created his or her artwork to be referenced by later composers. For example, scholars argue that they can hear Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” theme in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, which was composed about 40 years later. Yet, in the twenty-first century, attitudes toward musical ownership have radically changed. A recent example  is a court case that was ruled on in March of this year involving Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. against the estate of Marvin Gaye. Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines” is allegedly a take-off of Marvin Gaye’s song, “Got to Give It Up,” which was released in 1977. The “Blurred Lines” team lost the case, ultimately owing over $7 million to the Gaye estate.

There are, predictably, two sides to this issue: the musical side and the legal side. Read More »

Sight and Sound: The Effects of Media and Shock Value on Music

The 1980s produced more than just the first Mac computer, which clearly made a lot of people happy, if its successors, such as the iPhone may be spotted at least once while walking down any street today. With the advent of modern technology in this decade, reforms were made in all categories, including that of popular music. The equivalent to the computer in music was MTV, a network which acted to integrate the sounds one hears while listening to a song with the images one sees while watching a movie, as implied by the name behind the acronym, “Music Television.”

While it is true that music videos existed prior to the 1980s, the motives that producers and artists had in creating these videos differed in earlier decades. In the 1960s, for example, videos were simply used for promotional purposes to get audiences to listen to the particular song being advertised, as was the case with the “Twist and Shout” video made for The Beatles. Yet, in the 1980s, the visual element of the video served more of a storytelling purpose, setting the precedence for almost all music videos produced today, with the exception of those that are recorded live in concert settings. How did artists and producers choose to tell the stories behind their music? Two simple words: shock value. Read More »

Love and Chivalry in Music: Analyzing the Meaning Behind Lyrics Over Time

Love. It’s talked about everywhere: in the hallways, in novels, on TV, on Facebook, and on Instagram. But, little do people realize that love, especially that which is unrequited, has a deeply rooted history in all genres and time periods of music.

It began in France in the Middle Ages. Individuals who composed music (orally and aurally, of course, as people of this time period did not yet have the means to write music down graphically) commonly came up with the lyrics for the pieces they wrote. These poet-musicians were known as troubadours (in the case of Southern France) and trouvères (in the case of Northern France). Troubadours and trouvères infused the concept of fine amour, or courtly love, into the poetry of their compositions. Courtly love, as we think of it today, usually involves chivalry, or the idea of a knight in shining armor sweeping a princess off of her feet and lifting her up onto his horse only to ride off with her into the sunset. Yet, courtly love in this era had more to it than just manners and respect for women. Read More »

1970s Push and 1980s Pull: Examining Social and Political Trends in Music

Branching off of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” topic is a closer look at pop and rock music of the 1970s and 1980s. Although the songs of these decades may appear to fall into a mutual “Oldies” category due to the differences in instruments and technology implemented, vocal tone qualities, and fashion choices made by the artists when compared to pop artists of the 2000s, there are several factors which distinguish 1970s music from 1980s music. But, what possibly could have contributed to so much change within ten short years of music history? Pop music, and even rock music in the form of New Wave in the 1970s, heavily emphasized lyrics of love. It focused more on the singer than on instrumental solos, and mostly stuck to the basic short form (or structure) of verse and chorus, rather than trying to get creative with each section of a musical piece, which could cause the piece to be lengthier. Read More »

Are Rock and Opera More Similar Than We Think? An Exploration of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Its Operatic Tendencies

Most people would not even begin to put opera and rock in the same category, one with its bonnets, petticoats, and adherence to musical technique and conventions, and the other with its painted faces, outrageous hairdos, and free performance style. Yet, music scholars have argued otherwise. Both genres focus on the spectacle, or the idea of putting on a big show, topped with elaborate costumes and lighting effects. The singers of both genres of music generally tend to exhibit virtuosity, or vocal flexibility through their uses of runs, sustained (or held) notes, and leaps from one register in their voice to another. Additionally, both genres are known for their emphasis on the “high voice.” Read More »