The Appeal of Remaking Originals

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Switching styles is about music that’s original but unoriginal in a way. It’s music that has its basis in something else. In a way, the artists that we showcase that use songs as building blocks for creating their own work.

This is not an uncommon theme.

Many musicians will follow in the footsteps of others that came before them. They see bands like Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Elvis, The Rolling Stones and want to be like them on the stage with lights on them. They take their inspiration from them for their sound and style. Though for a lot of artists, it goes beyond mere inspiration. It’s a common thing to reference other musicians or past musicians that are relevant to the time in a song’s lyrics. Bon Jovi referenced Frank Sinatra in the song “It’s my Life”. The lyrics read Like Frankie said, “I did it my way”. The Chainsmokers referenced Blink 182 in the song “Closer” with the lyrics, Stay and play that Blink-182 song/ That we beat to death in Tuscon, okay. Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” used soundbites from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back. “Ice, Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice uses music from Queen’s song “Under Pressure”. Essentially, the music industry is used to using songs as inspiration and as more than inspiration by adding other artists into their music.

First let’s define what we’re actually looking at because there are a lot of different styles of remaking a song including covers, parodies, mashups, medleys, and remixes. Each of them is slightly different from one another. The basic parody is that they use another person’s music to make their own work.

Covers

Also known as cover versions, cover songs, or revivals, covers are simply a song that’s performed or recorded by an artist that wasn’t the original artist. For example, Marilyn Manson performed the song “Genie in a Bottle”, which is a song that was originally sung by Christina Aguilera. Pentatonix is a well-known acapella group that cover several popular songs such as “Hallelujah”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Havana”, and “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. This is their cover of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” with Lindsey Stirling. 

These songs can be similar to the original. They don’t change much of the song besides the people that are making the music itself. There is usually a new band and/or a new vocalist different than those of the original song. Many covers follow this style by having a simple style. Here’s an example of this from Chase Eagleson. This is an acoustic cover that keeps the same style of the Coldplay song.

Though artists can take a completely different turn and change from one thing to everything about the song save for the lyrics and the score. Some artist performs cover songs that will change one or more things about the song such as the style, genre, tempo, key, or vocalist. This is a very common style of covers as many are the songs are remade to be something that’s truer to the new artists. Jonathan Young is a YouTube cover artist that covers a range of popular songs, as well as soundtracks from films, television, anime, and video games. This is a cover of “Misty Mountains”, a song from the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

As with every genre of music, lyrics are meant to portray an idea, or a value or a political statement or social commentary. Covers are no different. Covers are also a vehicle for showing off one’s passion. Midnight Shine is a rock band with an indigenous background. Their cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” contains a powerful drum beat, pow wow singing and a verse translated to Mushkegowuk Cree. It’s a fantastic cover with the intention of revitalizing the Cree language.

These songs allow an artist to use a song as a building block in a way that creates something new. Cover artists create fantastic new renditions of previous songs.

Parodies

These are songs that take the song as a base and change the lyrics but keep the rhythm and rhyming style.

Weird Al Yankovich is the most well-known parody artist out there. That’s his schtick. He parodies songs with a rather odd twist. Weird Al parodied Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” into “Like a Surgeon”, a song about a surgeon and his plights. His songs are all extremely funny songs, as is this example which is “Word Crimes”, a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”

A lot of these are meant to be comedic that are simply humorous. But the topic can range depending on the artist and what the artist wants to present to their audience. These topics can be about politics, activism, awareness, or education. CollegeHumor parodied Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” to create a song that teaches listeners about anacondas.

These songs are built upon an original to create something with a message whether it’s about the right word to use or about really long snakes.

Mashups

Mashups are songs that are created from more than one song. It’s described as a kind of collage of songs or even a potpourri for the ears.

DJ Earworm provides a song that’s a mashup of the year’s top songs to capture the sound of that particular year. He produced, “United State of Pop 2009 (Blame It on the Pop)”. The song contained the top 25 Billboard songs of the year.

On the other hand of mashups, there are artists that only use a few songs (at least two songs). It doesn’t give a great range but it does allow the listener to focus on a few songs and provides a highlight to a longer length of the song. Adamusic mashes up the songs “Bad Liar” by Imagine Dragons and “Happier” by Marshmello, and Bastille into a mashup called “Happy Liar”.

Mashups allow such a range of creation for the artist. There is an endless amount of possibilities for the arrangement and additions to the final mashup song. It’s a great way to use original songs to remake them into a fantastic mashup.

Medleys

Medleys are similar to mashups in a way because they have a combination of different songs put in together. The difference is that a medley has the songs more or less intact and merely shortened following one after another. These song medleys usually have a connection between all of the songs being used. It could be an era of time, a genre, a soundtrack, a mood, a video game. The possibilities are endless. Martin Miller lists off several of Queen’s most famous songs placed into “The Ultimate Queen Medley”.

These medleys are typically used to pay tribute to the entire soundtrack with one song. One such example is VoicePlay‘s medley for Moana. They combine all the movie’s soundtrack into a single medley.

Medleys are a way to get all of one’s favourite songs into a single song for people to enjoy.

Remixes

Remixes are songs that take a base such as a song or a beat and add sound bytes or sound manipulations to it. For remixes, though they aren’t just limited to musical originals. Chetreo is one of the artists showcased on here before. He does pop culture remixes that combine content, sound bytes, and lyrics from specific entertainment. Chetreo has created remixes from Rick and Morty, South Park, Regular Show, How to Train Your Dragon, and Lord of the Rings. Here’s an example of a Chetreo remix using sounds from the movie Home Alone.

Dj’s and electronica music has quite a lot of remixes as a part of their music because remixes are typically made electronically. One example of electronic remixes is the Dma Illan Trap Remix of “Spooky Scary Skeletons”. It’s a childhood Halloween song with an electronica twist.

Remixes allow there to be building blocks beyond just a song. It creates a different kind of song.

Covers, parodies, mashups, medleys, and remixes are a way to take something and make something else. These are the overarching types of songs that take original music and make it into something more, something different. Each of these is similar in the way that they take something from another artist and makes it something new while still keeping the flavour of the first song.

These have a kind of appeal in the same way that Andy Warhol’s paintings do and artists like Warhol. Warhol’s work includes prints of things that we’ve seen several times before but in a different way. Pieces such as the 1962 “Campbell’s Soup Cans” portray something that is mundane and put it into another context. It’s just a soup can, but it’s art. It’s just a Beatles song, but it’s art.

campbell soup, dylanna fisher, andy warhol, switching styles
Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Cans 1962

Leigh from Leigh and Liam, a cover duet band, explained that there’s an appeal to cover songs because of their versatility. She explains, “My favourite thing about covers is being able to expand on a feeling. When you write a song, it comes from a place full of a certain, fairly specific emotion, and I love that. But a cover song is kind of like a painting, in that, since it’s fixed it can be interpreted in many different ways, to mean something different to every person.”

That new context makes it revitalized and interesting. It’s the same thing with covers, parodies, mashups, medleys, and remixes. It may not be something completely new but in the context, it’s something interesting. It isn’t the original and is thus something new. It’s been argued that at this point in the music industry, nothing is completely original anymore. That sentiment couldn’t be more relevant to these styles of music for several reasons. To start, there is a flooding of music into platforms like Youtube. This makes it difficult if not impossible to stand out from the crowd. If you search “Attention Charlie Puth Cover” on YouTube, there are pages and pages of these covers. Then originality can take a more legal (or illegal) route. Copyright, Intellectual property, freedom of speech, and fair use all combine to create a somewhat confusing atmosphere about what is allowed and what isn’t. This industry requires knowledge about what’s allowed to be manipulated and how it can be released. For the most part, songs are able to be used as building blocks under copyright legal defences as long as they aren’t making money off it, and they attribute the original artist. From there, there are ways to manipulate the song and make money off of it, and simply takes additional steps.

But that’s not to dissuade artists. Those that have talent, and ambition and more than a little luck will make art in a way that people will listen. And people do listen.

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