When drawing from preexisting works, how do you balance legal and moral obligations with the potential to create new art? Jason Forrest (a.k.a. Donna Summer)

When drawing from preexisting works, how do you balance legal and moral obligations with the potential to create new art? Jason Forrest (a.k.a. Donna Summer)

JF/DS live in Budapest
Photo by Markus Fiedler

Appropriation just is.

But let’s not forget a few things about these new laws:

  1. They are established by corporations for infighting between corporations, and this ruling comes from within a political time where corporations have more civil liberties than individuals do.
  2. These rulings are rarely really “won” for individuals. Why? Because the sums the lawyers want aren’t relative to the real world, so it makes way more sense to sue Universal than it does a kid in his bedroom.
  3. This is just one more knee-jerk reaction by an industry that is dieing (and deserves to die).
  4. It won’t matter at all for the music.

Ok, so what do I mean by all those? Well, I think if you look at the music industry it becomes obvious that in the ’70s, record labels turned into massive corporations. This is (in some way) due to the massive popularity of Led Zeppelin and “stadium rock”. In the early ’70s you began to have these massive quantities of albums sold in the world, but before that record labels were smallish businesses catering to their niche markets. Now that the CD market is deflating, these companies—now lumbering dinosaurs—are lashing out at whomever they think has a buck or two.

These bucks rarely come from a 5 million dollar lawsuit aimed at an artist like V/Vm—who was recently threatened with a lawsuit for a large sum by the corporation that owns the rights to an ’80s novelty act. When the lawyers started snooping around, they quickly realized that here was a young guy living with his parents on a pig farm outside of Manchester, England. Zero real money to be made. It would cost the label way more in lawyers’ costs than they would ever get paid.

But I said it: this new law doesn’t matter. Why? Because there are so many kids with software making such great music and sampling from everything that there is no way to stop it. The P2P networks are literally jammed with songs made and swapped between all sorts of people doing their own thing. If a label releases something like this—as I have done—the quantities are so massively low that a corporation wouldn’t even dream of making a big deal over it. Also, my own personal sales might actually be hit harder by the P2P sites than a big corporation, considering that most of my presumed fan base is younger people online. But this is not—or shouldn’t be—the aim of a musician. The goal is supposed to be that you have people like your music, and that this adds some sense of purpose in their lives. I can tell you that I think 1/3 of my fan base actually buys anything from me. This is the way it is.

See, appropriation isn’t an art form—it’s a practice. This is an important thing to take note of. At this point appropriation is more like using the color “blue”. It’s everywhere, and culturally speaking there is probably no artist that exists in enough of a vacuum that they could claim not to use appropriation in some form or another. There’s no going back after you invent the nuclear bomb.

People often ask me about my music under my own name and the appropriated name of “Donna Summer“. They often ask me what the line of moral decency is. I think that all appropriation is good if that person handles the original material in a new way, even if this is contextually. (Do I like it when P-Diddy rips off The Police? No—but then again, he paid to do it, so it says more about the bands that want to sell their own works. ) I think it’s easy to spot a rip-off, and this is usually just bad art. So big deal. Good is good, bad is bad. Hopefully the good stuff is praised, and the bad forgotten.

Another argument that people often use is that by sampling you are robbing the artist that you sample from. So I ask the question, is it my responsibility to be a form of musician’s welfare? With the rise of corporate music in the ’70s we saw musicians living off of album sales. But I can tell you honestly—this is exactly the opposite for every other type of musician in all of history. Musicians have always made their money from going out there and performing. So this argument that I am robbing a musician doesn’t work, because I make nothing from their sample either, because I am out here performing as often as possible to make my living. I think these artists feel victimized more by their own corporations than by the actual sampling.

If anything, I see sampling as a purely cultural issue. I see no other discipline in our culture that holds such a monetary value on shared cultural memory. If I sample from Steely Dan then it is because I adore Steely Dan, and want something in their sound (artistically, musically, historically, or even politically) to use in my music. If I sample from Van Halen, it is because I want to fucking rock man, and they can give me the inspiration to turn it up! I see nothing wrong in this; this music is mine. I bought the records (and still do) and I love it. I danced to it then as I do now, I kissed my girl friends to their music just as I want kids to kiss to mine. This is a part of me, and it’s mine to use.

**To check out Jason Forrest’s radio show, vist here.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.