I’d like to see a system whereby artists have a chance to own their sound recording copyrights. I also welcome the idea that more musicians are being included in songwriting shares. Morey and McIntyre’s investigations into sampling practices highlight the fact that what is valued most in ‘songs’ is not always lyrics, melody or harmony. And yet there’s something within their work that makes me pause for thought.
There is a danger in using this research to underpin a claim for musicians’ compositional rights. In their interviews with artists who use samples, Morey and McIntyre try to locate just what it is that attracts these artists towards particular recorded works. They summarise, ‘The overall sound, texture or rhythmic feel of a sample were repeatedly identified by our interviewees as the main characteristics that lead them to use [samples]’, adding that the respondents placed an ‘emphasis on timbre over melody’. A focus on timbre, it has often been claimed, is one of the factors that distinguishes popular music from classical and folk forms. This timbral focus has also raised doubts about the usefulness of existing copyright laws for popular music, as copyright law is centred on more traditional musical concepts, such as melody and harmony. Nevertheless, we need to examine just what it is that produces timbre. The interviewees mention several different things:
“Sometimes we might sample a drum loop that’s amazing, you know it’s got a fantastic sound. For us it’s the atmosphere that it gives [to] something . . . so [we look] more for the sound and the feel that a sample would give you rather than the playing.”
“So we sort of chanced upon all this stuff that we weren’t really aware of because it wasn’t part of our generation really … We really liked the kind of woody warmth to that stuff, which was all obviously produced in lovely studios, and the sound you were getting off the vinyl . . . And hearing that in the context of the cleanliness of the analogue synths and drum machines and stuff like that, we just enjoyed that whole kind of warmth really, and just the way it added this kind of organic dirt.”
“You know certain things prick up my ears. The sonics, the groove … it is essential the sonics.”
“the circumstances that they recorded in were atmospherically different than the way modern records are recorded, and that’s part of the whole thing”
“A lot of the time, it is the sound”
There’s plenty going on here. These sounds and these sonics have many authors. There are the lyricists and composers (let’s not forget them); there are also the musicians, the producers, the architects and builders of recording studios, the manufacturers of polyvinyl chloride and the people who purchased and used the records. Should they each receive a compositional credit?