Sticking Together

Before I get started on this week’s subject and head in three directions at once, I’d like to clear a couple of things regarding copyrights. Two people have written me with virtually the same question: “Can I copyright an unfinished song or a segment of a song?”. Obviously if you ask yourself this question you’re thinking about a particular pattern that will usually be several notes long. If you simplify, the answer will become obvious.

Suppose I start a song with the chords Am-G. I find it really good, but I’m not finished. I copyright that part. That would mean that no one else in the world, for the next hundred years, could ever use an Am followed by a G. (Why 100 years? Because your copyright is valid only for 50 years and can be renewed once either by yourself or your succession. After that, it becomes public domain. More on that in a later column.) Copyright laws are basically the same everywhere, they differ mostly in their applications. Copyright laws state that you CAN NOT copyright:

  • a title: You could write a song called Stairway to Heaven. Why you would want to do so is beyond me, but you could. The Verve, on their album Urban Hymns (excellent, by the way) have a song called Lucky Man. Everyone associates that title with the classic Emerson, Lake & Palmer tune.
  • an idea: When you start thinking of all the “Boy Meets Girl” songs out there…
  • an unfinished artwork: Because it could still, pretty much, head in any direction. This does not, however, mean that you cannot do a re-write after it’s copyrighted.
  • something you did not create: I hope I don’t have to explain this one…
  • a name: That falls under Trademarks.

I’d also like to clarify ownership. It’s not because you wrote something that it’s yours… Any song you have been paid to write does not belong to you, but to the person who paid you. Your name still goes in as author/composer, but it’s not your song.

On with the show…

I was about halfway through writing this week’s column when I received a few similar emails in reference to my column on attitude (Inflating The Ego).

As artists, we tend to have backgrounds that are similar. Sometimes we read about another artist’s background and see the resemblances with out own. Feels good to find out there are others like us out there.

What makes an artist?

No one is born an artist. These abilities appear because of our backgrounds. If you chose an artist at random (by artist I do not mean someone from the general field of arts, but one who actually creates) and go back in time to study this person as a child, this is pretty much what you will find. A bright, curious child. Most likely with an IQ above average. But one who’s environment does not recognize his genius. The people around will tend to find the child’s questions annoying. Lack of answers push the child to “make-up” answers, thus developing his imagination. Once in school, things don’t tend to get any better. We all know what happens to the brightest kids in school… Of course, the child-artist will not be inclined toward sports as sports totally lack imagination: Throw the ball, hit it with the stick, catch it, throw it to someone else. The borders are too clearly defined for this child’s imagination.

And schools are not very creative environments either. The following is from the liner notes to Steve Hackett‘s fabulous album Darktown: “This fondly remembers the abuse of power masquerading as education. Congratulations to all who have observed and survived this phenomenon in our Great British schools – “The best years of your life” – which is why half of you are in therapy right now and the other half are probably too drunk to feel the pain anymore.” I don’t know about the Great British schools, but this seems to describe pretty well any school.

So the child continues to grow up in a relative isolation, breaking the boredom, getting over the abuse, through his imagination. But at some point there is just not enough imagination and the child needs to expand even more. Hence an affinity for the arts. The scenario, of course, can be slightly different in the details. Beethoven’s creativity came from the beatings he constantly received from his father. It’s because of these beatings that he went deaf. The 9th symphony, Ode to Joy, was about those moments when he was able to escape from his father’s grasp. Now listen to that symphony with that in mind. Tchaikovsky was gay in a time where this was not accepted. He had to spend most of life keeping his personal life hidden.

As an adult, the artist tends to be a misfit. The mold was broken and there’s no way of getting back into it, even if you try very hard. Ironically, society pushes a person to become an artist by rejecting him, then society rejects him for being an artist. We are not well seen by ordinary people. I remember several years ago, I was in a meeting with this woman, a professional meeting. At one point, she started asking me personal questions, questions about my past that had absolutely no bearing on the meeting. When I asked her why she was asking these questions, she asked me to just play along. I did out of curiosity and because I had a good ideas of what was coming up. Of course I was right, she admitted to being a therapist. Just before giving me her “analysis”. Seems I’m socially mis-adapted (like I needed a professional to tell me that…). All this based on the fact that I wasn’t interested in a 9 to 5 job, a house filled with kids and a minivan. She then recommended I go into therapy so that I could become “normal” and want these things. Overall, it gave me a good laugh. It also made me pity her clients…

This is, however, the way society views the artist. Until the artist becomes very famous that is. But even then. Celine Dion can have 10,000 screaming fans anytime. Still doesn’t make her an artist. Artists pave the way, then businessmen come in and make the dough and become famous. Except, a hundred years from now, nobody will be playing Celine Dion albums. But they will be playing the Moody Blues.

So you’re pretty much going to spend the rest of your life apart from the rest of the world. Don’t despair! Take this positively. Those who reject you are too stupid to ever realize that you’re so much better than they are! But don’t stay away from those who don’t reject you. Some people who are not artists will look at you and envy you, or admire you, not be jealous though, and will be supportive and helpful.

Surround yourself with the right people

As an artist, you’ll be the first to find single-minded people annoying. You need the diversity of other broad-minded people. Then surround yourself with these people. They will have a more positive outlook on what your doing. They’ll help make you more positive. There’s a reason why so many artists die young. Too much pressure in living with your creations. Of reliving your old emotions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to talk to people who are like-minded. Like someone wrote me in an email last week, “we need to stick together”. Good idea. I’m no therapist, nor am I interested in being one, nor am I interested in prying into other people’s personal lives, but my door’s always open. If you think we need a community to talk, let’s get one together and help each other out.