How would you feel if you'd finally finished a project you'd envisioned years, decades before and it turned out better than you'd dreamed. . .
. . . and you couldn't do a thing with it?
A Saturday night story and video for you all.
A quarter-century ago, a smartass studio engineer/producer had an idea that was so awesome he knew it could never work.
The idea involved combining the lyrics of one song with the melody of another in a process akin to today's mashups. The funny bit was how very different the songs were in meaning, while the rhythm of the lyric fit seamlessly with the other composition. Brilliant, really, and so drop dead obvious that the engineer/producer only told one person, his friend the studio intern, of the idea. For years.
He worked on various versions over the years, making and tossing, then recently decided to just do the bloody thing. Came up with a pretty killer cut, too.
And here his troubles began. Because there's not a thing he can do with it.
Few years back, he ran into the writer of one of the songs at an event and, on impulse, told him of the concept. At first the composer, a legendary writer and producer, just looked at him with the vague but polite "whatever" stare he'd often wear when dealing with the adoring public, but as the idea got through, a sly smile spread across his face. "Oh, that's good" was his reply.
The other piece's author and the engineer/producer don't really run in the same circles, so our hero's never gotten his take on it, though Writer Two seems the sort with a wry sense of humor. Probably have a similar response.
But in covering songs, particularly in making derivative works, the songwriters aren't necessarily the problem. The publishers are.
Publishers control how a song is used and, as they make up to 50% of the dough generated, they're quite protective of copyrights. If this had been a straight up cover of either song, the process would be simple: send a letter to the publisher or to the Harry Fox Agency requesting a compulsory mechanical license, pay the standard rate to the publisher and cut the damn song.
But this wasn't a straight cover, by any stretch. As a remix or mashup, it constitutes a "derivative work," which requires special permission from the publisher.
And while both authors might approve heartily of this adaptation of their work (particularly as the engineer/producer makes no claim of authorship and would be pleased as punch to make them even more filthy rich with the mechanicals), the publishing companies may not feel so sanguine.
This is especially true in the case of the second piece, itself one of the highest-earning compositions in history, the publishers of which are notoriously zealous in controlling the use of the writer's work.
(Readers will note the names of the songwriters and compositions do not appear in the diary, and I would request that commenters refrain from mentioning them as well. The longer this piece does not attract the notice of certain guys in suits, the more chance it has of actually being heard).
What's worse (for our hapless engineer/producer) is that, without such permission, he can't hope to make anything off this recording. To sell downloads would be infringement, to put up a video could easily get his YouTube channel shut down.
Thankfully, Jon Stewart found the Mitch McConnell b-roll footage and started the phenomenon known as McConnelling. This gave our hero the opportunity to release the song under a name not his own, on a YouTube channel unrelated to his.
Now the piece has been set free to run in the wild zones beyond copyrights and publishing administration. Hopefully, someday, there will come a time when it, and its creator, can stand tall in the recognition and (minimal) remuneration due them.
Until that day, feel free to enjoy, and share, "YesterNights."
For those with embed problems, here's a direct link to the video.
A few production notes: There are no royalty-bearing samples on the recording. All parts were performed by the cut's creator, except the acoustic drum loops (freeware from Beta Monkey) and the background vocal in the second bridge, which is the speech synthesizer program from the old Atari 1040 ST.
If, upon listening, you feel you've wasted two minutes you'll never get back, I feel ya. It was 25 years for some.
Finally. if you should happen to run in very different circles from our hero and actually know Author Two, pass this along. I think he'd get a kick out of it.