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Thinking about Covers (Essay Sample)

“Covering” a song or record is not something that began with white artists making cover records of black recordings in the 1950s. There have always been different versions of popular songs made and released by different artists to appeal to different audiences. It was not unusual for a song like “You Are My Sunshine” (originally a country tune adapted from a Ukrainian folk tune) to generate not only dozens of competing country versions, but additional mainstream and even R&B versions designed to reach those audiences. Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, The Mills Brothers, and Les Brown and his Orchestra made recordings of “You Are My Sunshine” in 1940 after Governor Jimmie Davis' version became popular and all scored hits by appealing to different audiences. Since 1940, artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Bill Haley and His Comets, Ricky Nelson, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Oscar Peterson, and Ike and Tina Turner have recorded “You Are My Sunshine.” Songwriters – or whoever held the publishing rights to a song – benefited mightily from different versions of a song selling to different audiences…the more versions, the more record sales, and the greater the royalty payments. The idea that a song or even an arrangement could be seen as belonging to an individual artist is relatively new. Songwriters, who were seldom performers themselves, wrote most of the songs recorded before the 1940s and it was an expectation that many different artists would make recordings of the songs that they wrote. However, things changed in the 1940s and early 1950s, especially in regards to white artists covering records made by black artists. It started with boogie-woogie and gained momentum when R&B and doo-wop caught the attention of the mainstream audience. Put simply, major record companies created white “cover” versions of almost any recording by black artists that either became successful or showed the potential to attract the attention of the mainstream popular audience. On one level, it was about what it had always been about: profit and gaining a larger share of the market than the competition. There is a clear truth in the observation that major labels covered records made by black artists to simply exploit “good songs that would sell.” There were also cost savings in the process because it wasn't necessary to spend the time and money to develop those songs; it was more cost effective to copy the song – and often the arrangement – and simply replace the black voice with a white voice. The “white-voiced” copy was easier to market on radio and the major labels had the resources and connections to move their versions more effectively in the broader mainstream marketplace. But, of course, there was more at work in white artists covering recordings made by black artists and something more insidious. The simple fact that black artists were black and not white played an enormous role in the degree to which black records were covered in the 1950s. And the process of “covering” was far more aggressive than merely making a “white-voiced” version. One of the typical ploys in covering was to flood the market with the “white-voiced” copy. Often twenty-five percent of the copies of the “cover” song were simply given away as “promotional copies.” This meant that with more cover versions in circulation, especially if a large number were given away at no cost, fewer copies of the originals would be purchased. Since copyright royalties were based on records sold and not on the total number of records manufactured or in distribution, the practice of “flooding the market” with cover versions could be devastating to the copyright owner as well as the black artists who recorded the original. As a consequence, Syd Nathan of King Records refused to license songs to other companies unless they filed a “Notice of User” application with the copyright office. This legally obligated them to pay royalties on the number of records manufactured rather than the number sold and also forced them to pay royalties every 30 days rather than quarterly, which was the normal industry practice. Of course, Syd Nathan took this step not to protect the black artists at King Records, but to guard the publishing royalties that he owned. Randy Wood's Dot Records is a prime example of the dynamics of covering in the 1950s. Randy Wood owned Randy's Record Shop in Gallatin, Tennessee and was the sponsor of Gene Nobles' R&B show on WLAC radio in Nashville. As a result of the popularity of Nobles' show, Randy's Record Shop became “the world's largest mail order record shop” selling thousands of R&B hits through the mail. This made Randy Wood wealthy and he started his own record company. In 1955, when R&B was starting to break into the mainstream, Wood was shrewd and smart enough to see the market value in producing cover records. His first major cover artist was Pat Boone, who came to symbolize the white “cover artist” of the 1950s. Wood had Boone cover The Charms, Fats Domino, Little Richard, The Five Keys, Ivory Joe Hunter, and the El Dorados. All of Boone's cover records charted and most outperformed the originals by a substantial margin. (In deference to Pat Boone, he only covered other artists for a year. Of his more than 60 hits at Dot only eight were actually covers.) Pat Boone was not the only cover artist at Dot. The Fontane Sisters covered The Charms' “Hearts of Stone,” which was itself a cover of The Jewels' “Hearts of Stone” (covers were not only white artists covering black). The Fontane Sisters also covered The Drifters, The Marigolds, and Fats Domino at Dot. Gale Storm, a television star, recorded cover versions of Smiley Lewis' “I Hear You Knockin'” and Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers' “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” for Randy Wood. However after 1957, the practice of covering black records with white artists lost its market advantage as black artists became firmly established in the popular mainstream. More often than not, white covers failed to best the original black versions of songs and the industry-wide practice of covering black artists died out. But covering never really disappeared, although it is now seldom about white artists covering black…at least not in the same way that covers worked in the 1950s. In 1981, Vanilla Ice's “Ice Ice Baby” used the repetitive bass line from Queen and David Bowie's “Under Pressure” for the musical backing to his rap. Initially, Mr. Ice (Robert Van Winkle) claimed that he owed no royalties to Queen and David Bowie citing a minor alteration between the original and that employed on his record (give a listen to both and see if you can hear any difference). However, Van Winkle eventually admitted to having sampled the original recording and had not made an alteration as he initially claimed. Although no lawsuit was filed, a settlement was reached out of court and songwriting credit was later given to both Bowie and members of Queen on later releases of “Ice Ice Baby” and royalties were paid to the original artists. In a sense, sampling, a central aspect of hip-hop, is covering elevated to the level of actually reproducing part of an original work and using it to create a new recording. Needless to say, lawsuits over samples taken from recordings were filed and there are now rather clear legal precedents that make it nearly impossible to sample a work without giving credit and negotiating a financial agreement to cover royalties prior to making and releasing a record. Similarly, tribute and cover bands have become a significant force in popular music, often producing exact replicas of songs made by earlier artists. There are literally thousands of “tribute bands” (and Elvis Presley impersonators for that matter) whose livelihood is based on playing the music of a well-known musical act or artist. Unlike a “cover band” that merely plays the songs by another artist, tribute bands attempt to imitate every aspect of an artist's sound, look, and performance. The question, of course, is whether there is an ethical line that separates homage from exploitation. ----Your assignment = In the paper, you should discuss the ethical, legal, financial, and creative implications of the examples you choose and explain why you reach your conclusions. You should, obviously, include several different examples of cover songs in support of your argument. source..

Professor Name:
(June 22, 2012)
Thinking about covers
According to the modern technology, the concept concerning items containing money value and even the concept that producers hold the privilege to attribution are relatively modernized. People`s civilization stated with oral data distributed through story telling. As a result, some body rarely acquired credit for establishing a story. This can be properly based on the story of Cinderella, where name, as well as, little information could be changed, but the tale was a fable shared between several cultures. As a matter of facts, the Brothers Grimm-who were known for their collection of fairly tales, did not author the famous tales, but instead, they merely assembled the tale from peasant in the German town of Hesse.
Additionally, when the attribution became more widespread, there was very little direct financial reward. The entire sense of the data for the sake of information was highly distributed around the world. In the other hand, the term view of a single person was changing even as Gutenberg introduced the printing press. As a result, data was becoming highly distributed and becoming available to the common man, as men were starting to think of them as containing value. On the other hand, the notion of privilege, as well as, loyalty was changing and as a result, the system of patronage with authors developing jobs to be rewarded by a person of substances and royalty began. In addition, the concept concerning intellectual of items began to be recognized by several government as a cultivating, as well as, a valuable resource. Furthermore, the laws gradually began to protect works for creators.
Basing on the age of digital technology and the greater ease of reproduction increased the cry for modification in intellectual property practices. In this occasion, views concerning intellectual commodities ranged from the concept that ideas were completely not protected, as well as not restricted, to the belief that intellectual property was to be highly protected. Just as instinctively as we tend to want authors compensated for work performed, we scorn a corporation earning enrich of someone else`s performed duties.
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