Rip-Off or Homage or Nothing-At-All?

Musicians steal from each other. It’s a fact. It’s one we ignore for the sake of enjoyment, but one we all know is true. Gaga’s “Born This Way” is Madonna’s “Express Yourself” modernized; The Beatles’ “Yesterday” hook is reportedly a famous classical piece backwards; and now sampling and mash-ups are common practice, so much so that Childish Gambino parodied the trend by over-sampling in one of his songs.

So what constitutes original material in an age of easy access to all kinds of music? What is a rip-off, and what’s an homage? What’s the line an artist crosses to reach either distinction?

Being a screenwriter-in-training, I understand these questions well. The best approach is a safe approach in that respect. In music, however, the line is much more ambiguous, and much more vague.

I’ll present you with two songs. Each has the same chord structure, an R&B-inspired hook and beat, a similar tempo and similar sounding vocalists (a mashup-maker’s dream). The first, I heard on the Grey’s Anatomy Season 4 finale, where it was used to great dramatic effect; UK native Bryn Christopher’s “The Quest” was released in 2007:

The second hails from Miley Cyrus’ producer Rock Mafia, attempting a solo record (don’t be put off by the collaborators, the music’s good); the music video is quite impressive and well-edited, and stars Cyrus and Kevin Zegers. “The Big Bang” was a free iTunes music video when I first saw it:

Left-Click to Download: “The Big Bang” – Rock Mafia

So now that you’ve seen both, what are your thoughts? I’m unsure myself. I like both songs for different reasons, and in some cases, the same reasons.

Hit the comments.

About Dylan Visvikis

Dylan Visvikis is a working screenwriter and director in Los Angeles. View all posts by Dylan Visvikis

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