With Generation Y, Who Gets the Credit?

August 23rd, 2010

Okay, so if you know me at all you’ll know I’m pretty obsessive about music. In particular, I’m pretty into sampled-based music, i.e. music made using samples from other people’s music, film, et al. If you know me at all, you probably also know I’m obsessive about marketing. Those two obsessions don’t typically align beyond things like Bibio’s music ending up in the background of a commercial every once in a while. But I noticed something in my listening and in my work that I find startlingly similar, and I think it has to do with one commonality: Generation Y.

Bibio’s “Pewter In Grey” from his album Fi, 2005, soundtracking a commercial for L.L. Bean.

To back it up a second, let’s talk about where sampling came from. Sampling was born out of the DJ culture of hip-hop of the late 70s and 80s, where rappers would take an old disco or funk beat and rap over it. Rappers didn’t have the luxury of having full bands behind them, and a turntable and a sampler became much cheaper than a bunch of instruments. They might even re-use some of the vocals as hooks. Sampling by DJ’s helped hip-hop explode in the late 70s and 80s, and even revived many of the original tunes that were sampled. In many cases, sampling during this time celebrated the original source. It was a way to pay tribute to a song you loved.

Watch this video to hear how the genres of Jungle and Drum ‘n’ Bass were created from one 6 second sample.

A sociologist I can’t find the name of at the moment once said about Generation X that there most important question in life was no longer “why am I here?”, but “where is that from?”. It was important for Generation X to know and celebrate the source. Many times, the original artist wasn’t so fond of the tribute though, wanting royalties due to copyright infringement. This practice may have led to the change in sampling we see in generation Y.

Generation X grew up just as the internet was emerging, so everyone in that generation is used to finding books in the library to source for their term papers and newspaper articles. The concept of credit or tribute is very deeply ingrained in the mind whether it relates to music or a term paper or an article in a magazine or newspaper. The algorithm of the most popular search engine on the internet is based on academic sourcing, the concept that a link to another website is a list of it as a source. As members of Generation X became publishers, writers, musicians, businessmen, and artists, that concept remained in tact. But what about those who consumed the work of Generation X?

Generation Y has a totally different attitude. Generation Y grew up on the culture of Generation X, only with one difference, the immediate availability of anything they wanted with the internet. Many Gen Y music fans adore the the music of Generation X’s samples, without ever hearing the originals they’re based on. If a Gen Y person wants to read up on something, they don’t go the library and find sources. They read the Wikipedia and are all set. Now, as members of Generation Y become writers, musicians, and artists, sourcing seems to be lost. Generation Y DJ’s are more embarrassed than tickled if you ask them about the sources of their material, and they surely don’t go out of their way to make sure to give credit to their sources. I believe it was the musician and sampling magician Prefuse 73 who once said in an interview (for which I also can’t find the source and am paraphrasing) that kids these days don’t have access to what composers used to have access to. They don’t have a symphony behind them. So they use computers and samples to create a symphony of sounds they can use to compose with. They don’t consider their samples sources, just sounds. Prefuse himself is known as one of first artist of the “glitch hop” or “clip hop” in the early 2000s (terms I know he hates), in which samples are cut so short and so numerous that they are not easily referenced.

“Point To B” from Prefuse 73’s first album Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, 2001.

Publishers are as likely to be Generation Y bloggers than Generation X journalism school graduates these days. The former frequently take content from other sources without credit. Even on some of the most popular blogs on the internet, direct quotes are lifted from other websites without links/credit given to that original source. It happened to someone I know recently, on a very high profile blog. It doesn’t help that with the speed of the internet once a story is on one blog, in another ten minutes it will be on a hundred. After that ten minutes, try figuring out which is the original. It’s as if sources are so obscured to Generation Y that they have become irrelevant.

We’ve already seen the effects of this on copyright law. Lawsuits from big corporations are being filed onto in many cases teenagers. We’ve seen it with academics. Schools are banning Wikipedia or the internet in general as sources for term papers. We’ve also seen it with websites. Facebook has been accused of stealing features (and in some cases, code) from other social networks and gotten sued sued. Check-ins and group buying features are popping up everywhere from the original innovators of Foursquare, Gowalla, and Groupon, and the copiers are not even getting sued at all for it (and in Groupon’s case, many of them have been by bought by Groupon). But what about other effects? Will Google’s algorithm cease to be able to deliver relevant results without a tradition of academic sourcing guiding links on the internet? How will the behavior of publishers, musicians, artists, and businesses change now that they have no guarantee of receiving credit for their work?

How can companies innovate in a world where that innovation will be copy/pasted minutes later? How can publishers? How can search engines keep track? I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but companies seem to have the option to embrace not only public feedback on products, but also public work on products, either through API’s or open sourcing of code for website developers, to contests promoting improvements on products or brand new product ideas. An example of this is open source and collaborative work. People are working together on larger projects where there is no credit being given or no financial/artistic merit to be had. Just look at Wikipedia or Mozilla or content management systems like Joomla! or Drupal. Companies can embrace that (Netflix did with their recommendation system, though they did offer a reward. Guess what? A copier of someone else’s idea won.) For publishers and search engines, the proposition is a bit more of a conundrum. Spot.us is a new spin on the publishing model that may work in this environment, but the jury is still out. How will your job change in a world without credit? Are you or your company ready for that change?

Now, I’ll leave you with two examples of music sampling and rip-offs. First, a rip-off.

“Two Months Off” from Underworld’s album A Hundred Days Off, 2002.

“Days Of Our Lives” from Restless People’s self-titled album, 2010. Notice any similarity?

Now, an example of the complicated sample trail. Let’s source the sample(s) from the 1990s hit “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check” by Busta Rhymes to see how hard this is:

Busta Rhymes “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check” from the album The Coming, 1996.

Instrumental sample for “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check” is actually from Galt MacDermot’s “Space” from the album Woman Is Sweeter,1969.

Vocal reference for “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check” is actually from Sugar Hill Gang’s “8th Wonder” (2:21) from the album 8th Wonder, 1982.

Instrumental sample for “8th Wonder” is actually from 7th Wonder’s “Daisy Lady” from the album Climbing Higher, 1979 (notice the reference in Sugar Hill Gang’s song title as well).

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