October 31, 2010

Play it Again, Sam

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“Red One!” Sound familiar? If you listen to the radio or enjoy the frat scene, you’ve probably heard this chant at the beginning of some songs. Most of them probably are hits too. Songs like “Just Dance,” “Fire Burning” and “Run The Show,” all feature this name. Listening to “Just Dance” for the first time (and numerous times after that), I could’ve sworn she was saying Red Wine — which you have to admit makes a lot of sense — but I discovered it was actually the producer of the song.

Then, RedOne was not yet a famous production team. Now, their sound is ubiquitous on the radio. Heard “Hey!” repeated in the background of choruses? That’s also RedOne, and they have that chant in most of their tracks. They follow the trend of many producers, such as Ryan Tedder and Stargate, whose songs follow almost identical formulas in order to catch a hit, arguably at the expense of originality. Ryan Tedder’s “Halo,” “Already Gone” and “Battlefield” sound eerily similar, down to the drum beat. Yet, artists continue to rely on them for crafting their music and even their entire albums — Lady GaGa has rarely branched out to other producers for her hits, so maybe she is not as original in that respect. A distinguished set of core producers arguably has a monopoly on the radio, and it is difficult for those who do not have those connections to become popular. Katy Perry and Ke$ha specifically have relied on producers Max Martin and Dr. Luke — most closely associated with Britney Spears — in order to find success.

The dominance of producers who develop their sound by virtually repeating previous songs with different lyrics is evidence of the lack of originality in popular music today. A mash-up of “Tik Tok” and “California Girls” should not sound so perfect (check the youtube video — it’s an obvious offender). Current case in point: Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” bears similarities to the chorus of “Teenage Dream” down to the melody. It seems like a never-ending pattern as songs continue to be ripped-off and passed on as new. With the pressure of crafting hits for many top artists, it’s not surprising that producers resort to such methods. Recycling beats is a way for producers to guarantee successes without having to work so hard. Of course, using your own beats is not plagiarism, so producers are able to get away with it. Still, that does not make the act any less wrong. It’s frustrating that the music industry is making money off of repeated material. Essentially, the public is buying the same songs over and over again, rehashed.

I mentioned two columns ago that the overuse of samples in music is not so bad when looking at the recycling of songs by producers, as the latter is a matter of trickery. Producers are paid to guarantee artists hit songs, and what better way than to go by the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? They will never admit to recycling beats and making money off repeated formulas. Admittedly, it would ruin their integrity, but it’s so painfully obvious at times that they must believe the public to be mindless. Kelly Clarkson got into a feud with Ryan Tedder a few months ago claiming that he gave Beyonce the same song (“Already Gone” was actually recorded before “Halo”) and swore to never work with him again, while Ryan viciously denied the claims. Listening to the songs, who is he kidding? Despite this noble stand, she’s still working with Teddy on her next album. As much as artists may abhor selling out, success ultimately wins out in the end.

Without artists branching out to other producers or even unknown ones, producers will continue to churn out unoriginal hits inspired or copied from predecessors. Even worse, they will continue to gain accolades for producing hits that they barely had to work to create. Rihanna opened up her new record to over 100 producers — but it seems only the likely collaborators made it onto LOUD! (If you don’t know, her real comeback effort comes out in a month). There are rumors Lady GaGa has adopted a more rock sound for her new album, which would probably rule out a RedOne monopoly on the album, but the result has yet to be seen.

In the end, a hit is a hit, and even though I may trash these producers, I will still continue to listen to the music. It’s not something to get worked up about and decide you’re never going to listen to pop music again (like some people I know), especially if deep down you secretly like the song. I can laugh that “Tik Tok” and “California Gurls” are the same track melodically and beat-wise, although the idea is frustrating to a point. If Dr. Luke thinks he can trick me as if he actually as a Ph.D., that’s fine, but I know what he’s up to.

Original Author: Matt Samet