As I was prepping for my trip to music mecca tomorrow (SXSW in Austin), I was checking out various music blogs to catch up on some of the 1,300 acts playing. Needless to say, I didn't expect to run into a meaty tech policy nugget from the all-important Pitchfork while trying to figure out how I could possibly see Sondre Leche, The Bird and the Bee, and Fugiya & Miyagi all in the same night.
It seems that we have a closest electronic music lover in the house. And, by the house, I mean The House.
At last week's "Future of Radio" House Telecom and Internet sub-committee hearing that focused on the horrible ruling that could shut down Internet radio stations and the XM/Sirius proposed merger, Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Pittsburgh, PA) brought his fellow members into the current century with a story about one his constituents -- who happens to be one of the hottest DJs of the moment... (after the jump is my user-generated transcription)...
Congressman Doyle: Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you a story of a local guy done good. His name is Greg Gillis and by day he is a biomedical engineer in Pittsburgh. At night, he DJs under the name Girl Talk. His latest mash-up record made the top 2006 albums list from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin Magazine amongst others. His shtick as the Chicago Tribune wrote about him is "based on the notion that some sampling of copyrighted material, especially when manipulated and recontextualized into a new art form is legit and deserves to be heard."
In one example, Mr. Chairman, he blended Elton John, Notorious B-I-G, and Destiny's Child all in the span of 30 seconds. And, while the legal indie-music download site eMusic.com took his stuff down due to possible copyright violation, he's now flying all over the world to open concerts and remix for artists like Beck.
The same cannot be said for Atlanta-based, hop-hop, mix-tape king DJ Drama. Mix-tapes, actually made on CDs, are sold at Best Buys and local record shops across the country and they are seen as crucial in making or breaking new acts in hip-hop. But even though artists on major labels are paying DJ Drama to get their next mixed-tape, the major record labels are leading raids and sending people like him to jail.
I hope that everyone involved will take a step back and ask themselves if mash-ups and mixtapes are really different or if it's the same as Paul McCartney admitting that he nicked the Chuck Berry bass-riff and used it on the Beatle's hit "I Saw Her Standing There."
Maybe it is. And, maybe Drama violated some clear bright lines. Or, maybe mixtapes are a powerful tool. And, maybe mash-ups are transformative new art that expands the consumers experience and doesn't compete with what an artist has made available on iTunes or at the CD store. And, I don't think Sir Paul asked for permission to borrow that bass line, but every time I listen to that song, I'm a little better off for him having done so.
Until our questions about the future of music get answered, we first have to look at the future of radio... (and then he wraps up his talk with a few words about the Webcast issues of the day)...
Hard to believe? You can see the video here, yourself.
BTW, not that we are giving ourself any credit for educating Congressman Doyle (or his staff), but as far as we can tell, we're the only site out there that has made a connection to what Drama got arrested for and what Girl Talk is (still) celebrated for. See what we wrote back in January when we covered the Drama arrest. We also quoted Girl Talk on copyright...
"The statement I’ve been issuing is that I think the music industry is starting to realize that this type of music isn’t really hurting anyone. No one’s really picking up my album instead of someone I sample. If anything, it’s just getting people excited about music in general, so I think that’s the reason the record labels haven’t really had a problem because they realize, if anything it’s a promotional tool for their artists.
"...the interesting thing is a lot of major labels, pretty much all of the four majors or some subsidiary of them, have been contacting me non-stop to say that they liked the album and are interested in working on something in the future. "
Since we want to live to see another scene like the Girl Talk DJ performance below, we also wrote:
...we hope that the silver lining here is that folks turn their attention to the fact that the mixtapes may not have only had promotional value but could be considered valued creative outputs on their own that don't subtract from the opportunity of the artists being mixed. Given this, there should be a copyright system that makes it a heck of a lot easier for DJs and other recombinant artists to license samples that can be used to create new creative tracks that bear little resemblance to the originals.
And, while it was simply a short statement from a Congressman from Pittsburgh, you have to start somewhere. And, if you are going to start somewhere, make it spot on and name check Girl Talk and DJ Drama.
But, do we have any illusions that Congress is suddenly going to "get" how new digital mediums can make new art on top of old, the next Congressman who spoke after Doyle said: "Hey, Mr. Chairman, I was just trying to figure out half of the words that Mike Doyle just mentioned. I am clueless...."
But, this small step matters because half the battle here is education and demystifying technological advances. If there are folks like Doyle who teach other members about digital media without making them feel stupid or showing them up, than it will go a long way. The reality is that given all that they have on their plate, policymakers are clueless about plenty other things until they absolutely need to learn the subject matter.
Fortunately, there are also folks like the legendary artist Gilberto Gil have leadership positions in Brazil. As the New York Times reported today, Gil would be a brother-in-arms with Mr. Doyle and will help show how next generation copyright policy can create new creativity and even new opportunities for commerce....
Brazil’s official stance on digital content and intellectual property rights is in large part derived from Mr. Gil’s own experience. In the late ’60s he and his close friend Caetano Veloso, along with a handful of others here and in São Paulo, started the movement known as Tropicalismo, which blended avant-garde poetry, pop influences from abroad and home-grown musical styles then scorned as corny and déclassé.
In a way, the Tropicalistas engaged in sampling before digital sampling existed, using cut-and-paste, mix-and-match collage techniques that are common now but were considered bizarre at the time. In recent years their music and approach has been embraced by pop performers as diverse as David Byrne, Nirvana, Beck, Nelly Furtado and Devendra Banhart.
When “world music” first appeared in the United States and Europe and Mr. Byrne, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and others began incorporating Brazilian rhythms into their work, Mr. Gil was initially skeptical of the phenomenon, complaining of “cultural safaris” by adventurers in Land Rovers “looking for all the rare specimens.” But thanks in large part to technological advances, he said, that practice has “changed completely,” and pop stars are now “more respectful” of other cultures.
“Today the hegemony of the North has, in a certain form, been broken,” he said. “Local tendencies are allowed to manifest themselves and adopt their own languages and forms of packaging. It’s no longer that vision of transforming some regional raw material into a single, standardized product. Today you have all kinds of local scenes that utilize universal elements,” like Brazilian, South African and Arab rap.
As we offered back in January, download a Girl Talk remix of "The Knife" by Grizzly Bear (that has dond a lot to bring attention to Grizzly Bear).