Thievery in the Music Business

Today a friend of mine posted a very disconcerting post on Facebook concerning a bigger artist ripping off a smaller, lesser known artist.  His post reads:

I’ll let you know be the judge of this….My crazy ass friend Kevin Jackwrote a song called “Vine & Instagram” and sent it to his “Industry Friends” (notice the parentheses). One of them works closely with Riff Raff. Next thing you know Riff Raff releases the same exact song, concept, tempo, even video idea, on the same day! Do you see the resemblance?”

This is a common occurrence in the writing/production game.  Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s an accident. When you’re writing 200+ songs a year and searching for melodies and concepts, it’s not impossible for your subconscious to get the best of you and channel an idea you’ve heard before.  This is normal and ok, and usually once discovered one should put that impostor song aside.  For example, I remember a case where writer/producer extraordinaire Ryan Tedder was publicly called out when a Kelly Clarkson song (he wrote) closely resembled a Beyonce song (he wrote).  I personally disagreed with the allegations, but nevertheless if true, I can say with confidence there’s no possible way that was intentional.

Accidents aside, idea thievery is a common occurrence in the music industry, and Kevin Jack’s case hits close to home for me because I experienced a very similar event a few years ago.  One day I made a beat that turned out not-so-bad, and a song was written to that which was also not-so-bad.  Our team shopped the record to a select few executives, and after a couple minor bites, it wasn’t placed.  This is very normal, so we shrugged and moved on.  Months later, Kevin Rudolph released a single featuring Lil Wayne and the track sounded remarkably close to mine.  Sure there’s a different chord at the end of their chord progression, but there’s an essence of similarity between the two beats.  Similar tempos, similar feels, similar drum patterns, KIND OF similar sounds.  After discovering this me and my co-writers laughed it off but tried to link the path of our song to Kevin Rudolph and whoever produced that track (I don’t know who offhand and don’t care to look).  It didn’t take long to find a potential culprit via a certain publishing company and 2 degrees of separation.  The thing is, there’s no lawsuit there.  You can’t copyright a chord progression, and even if I was interested pursuing it on some other grounds, it would cost way too much money and be a waste of time and energy on my part. Also, (and here’s the twist!) MY IDEA WAS INSPIRED BY SOMEONE ELSE!!!  Yea, I can honestly say that I am one of those people who (used to) look to others for inspiration in hopes of making radio friendly music and landing that big radio hit.  But I would never STEAL from someone.  In this case, I can confidently say that I transformed that idea into my own creation (the problem is that so many patterns, sounds, and “essences” are so similar on pop radio, so how original can something actually be while fitting into “the mold…” but that’s another conversation and I digress…).  So, I shook it off.  No matter though, I sold my little track a little later down the line, enabling you fine people to compare the two youtube videos.  See for yourselves:

Kevin Rudolph’s: “I Made It”

Dru Grange’s: “Let It Ride”

NOTE that I’m well aware Kevin’s song came out first, but the beat was completed well before the release (but not necessarily before the creation. I know this).

ALSO NOTE every accusation I’m making is speculation.  You can never tell what really happened and a lot of the potential facts are always anecdotal.

One other case that comes to mind with a much bigger status than my grievance is when DJ Frank E was accused of “jacking” a track idea from Calvin Harris.  Check out what this article has to say about it.

Back to Riff Raff and Kevin Jack – in my opinion there are many similarities to both of these songs, and I can very easily picture the scenario where Riff Raff is looking for an idea, and someone close to him plays him Kevin’s video and says, “YO – do something like this.”  I don’t know Riff Raff or any of those people, and I wasn’t there so obviously I don’t know what happened, but I can sure as shit picture the possibility.  IF that’s what happened, it’s really dirty and grimy, but I’ve seen worse, so I can embrace this possibility. See for yourselves and judge for yourselves:

Kevin Jack’s video

Riff Raff’s video

The funny thing is, this is music considered by many friends of mine to be “fast food shit music” – (no offense Riff Raff and Kevin).  My “many friends” declare this music to be simple and really easy to create, so the irony of this theft issue is not lost on me.  Point is, most creators have been in a spot where they’re looking for inspiration or technical/creative direction, and other peoples’ works are used as examples.  This goes for all types of art and beyond, so If you practice this, make your product your own.  Don’t steal other people’s ideas.  It’s one thing to learn and absorb and grow from other people’s examples to master your craft, and its another thing to REALLY cop a vibe and sell it as your own.  That’s what I did, and I didn’t sell many songs compared to the amount I was making!  Nonetheless, I’m a believer of the idea that you are a result of all your educations and influences, and eventually you have to find your own voice and uniqueness.  When you do, you can speak louder and touch more people than you could by fitting into any type of mold.  Which reminds me, I have work to do!