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There’s a lot of isolation involved in being an artist. But there’s a lot of collaboration, too. Collaboration is pretty obvious when we work with others. It’s not quite so obvious when we appropriate material from others without their knowledge. Yes, I mean stealing.


Stealing is collaboration. You use somebody else’s stuff to make something new. They take what you’ve made from their stuff and do the same.  Stealing becomes a way to generate ideas collaboratively without ever meeting your collaborator.


Information gathering

Using other people’s stuff is somethingwe all do, whether consciously or unconsciously. When we do it, we’re just gathering information. It doesn’t matter that we take it. It matters how we use it.


To use it well, it’s helpful to think of genius as the mastery of information and the ability to communicate it, rather than as a solitary figure struggling for originality.  When we take this attitude, the information we gather becomes something we can use to make something new.


(A relevant aside: “Books are made from other books.” – Cormac McArthy.

 To paraphrase, music is made from other music.)



Mastery of information means knowing where and how to find it. Communicating information refers to how we put it together to express ourselves. The method of “putting-together” that we use says as much as the information itself.

This is most easily seen our use of language. Two people with the same vocabulary will use it differently. In the same way, two people with the same drum track will use it differently. We make these decisions based on personal style.



Check out this site for examples of musical collage.


The work found there is a collage of other people’s work, and it creates something new.  This is one aspect of collaboration. Ideas from one person (or from several persons) filter through another person to become a different thing altogether.



Another good example of stealing is Tori Amos’s album of covers, Strange Little Girls. Listen to the originals, then listen to Amos’s versions.



And then there’s Jonathon Lethem’s article on plagiarism. A great read.


Make something

Now go download Audacity (or use whatever recording platform you might have). Make some empty tracks, and put a different song on each track.


Listen closely to each song. Try to hear how one is similar to another. It might be instrumentation, tempo, style. Maybe the guitar sound is the same between songs. Maybe you want to alternate a male singer with a female singer.


Cut out parts of songs that you want to fit together. Don’t be a censor. If you think it might work, do it. You can always throw it away later.


Even if nothing works, the exercise of listening and editing will make you more aware of common musical relationships between songs. And the process is fun.










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