But that's my song!

Sometimes you can hear a cover and have no idea that it is not the original work. This is especially easy in the case of a song originally performed by a relatively obscure band and then reproduced by a big name. It happens more often than you may think. Remember Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn"? It seemed difficult to turn on VH1, MTV, or the radio and not hear the song back in the end of 1997 through 1998. But unbeknown to most listeners, this song was actually a cover of "Torn" by Ednaswap. "Torn" was Natalie Imbruglia's most famous song, as she was, in the music world, what many may refer to as a one hit wonder.

However, what many would consider the most popular song of a number of artists are covers. Aretha Franklin's "Respect", Whitney Houston's "I will always love you", Soft Cell's "Tainted Love", Quiet Riot's "Come on Feel the Noise", Joan Jett's "I love rock and roll", Cyndi Lauper's "Girls just want to have fun", UB40's "Red, red wine", and many other songs that often remain an artist's most famous work are covers.

Many have heard Johnny Cash's last song he recorded in studio, titled "Hurt". In case you haven't, here is the video:

This song, while not the most famous Johnny Cash song, was seen as his last legacy. It was his last song and somewhat of a musical goodbye to the world. However, it too, was a cover. The original version was written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. In an interview, Reznor described his reaction upon seeing the video:

"I was flattered...[but] it didn't sound right to me. You know, that was my song. And it didn't sound bad, it just sounded...alien...it really then wasn't my song anymore...[It is] an unbelievably powerful piece of work."
Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails

When covers become famous or seem to stand for something significant, sometimes the fact that the song is not an original work of that artist can be forgotten. It is an interesting phenomenon, and one that will likely continue.

Here is the original version of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails:


Boyce Avenue: A YouTube sensation

Multimedia sites like YouTube, Myspace, PureVolume, and many others allow amateur musicians to post audio or video clips for the general public. The websites are free to access and free to post on, providing a potentially wonderful marketing source at no cost. Both original works as well as covers are uploaded. However, in terms of the probability of an artist or band being discovered, utilizing cover songs make sense. The following is a story of a band who used a combination of YouTube and catchy cover songs to become famous.

Boyce Avenue is comprised of three brothers from Florida. Although they had pursued musical interests previously, the three brothers officially came together as a band in 2004. In 2007, the brothers started posting videos on YouTube. The content was mostly cover songs, but they did post some original works as well, although songs from other artists initially had many more views. Alejandro, the lead singer, has an incredible voice, and the band often utilizes alternate guitar tunings and a cajón for percussion, creating a soothing and melodic sound. In addition, all are talented musicians and many of their videos are quite well-edited compared to the average YouTube cover song. Apparently, this was a recipe for success.

By the end of 2008, the band had over 100,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel. This YouTube channel currently has over 480,000 subscribers and 250,000,000 views. They are the most viewed band on all of YouTube, which is pretty amazing considering they started in September 2007 with just a few acoustic covers of songs they enjoyed. Here is Boyce Avenue's most viewed online song to date, with more than 10.9 million views:

However, Boyce Avenue's success does not end online. In January 2009 the band had a stand-alone show in New York city. The show sold out. The band subsequently sold out many shows, not only in the United States, but also abroad. Shows in Germany and the United Kingdom were sold out, and the band tours as far away as the Philippines. Universal Republic Records approached the band and signed Boyce Avenue in 2009. This is the same Universal Republic Records that signed Colbie Caillat, 3 Doors Down, Enrique Iglesias, Jack Johnson, and many other big names.

But was this just a fluke?
Obviously just posting videos on YouTube will not necessarily lead to fame and success. There are countless amateur musicians who post on YouTube and never get more than a few hundred views. Certainly the incredible talent of Boyce Avenue helped them attain so much popularity. But they are most definitely not the only group to get their break because of their YouTube videos. Among others, Justin Bieber also was discovered because of his YouTube account. And guess what his first few videos were. That's right, covers:

Multimedia sites allow amateur musicians the chance to access an audience never before attainable. And covers are often a great way to reach out to the audience. Now every time someone searches for "Shadow of the Day" or for "I'll Be", the versions by Boyce Avenue and Justin Bieber come up. With the help of multimedia sites, many musicians will help jump start their career and possibly attain fame and fortune through the digital exchange of cover songs.


Paying for nothing

You have all heard frivolous lawsuits. Everyone has the same incredulous look on their face when friends describe the man suing Michael Jordan for $832 million dollars because he looked too much like him or the prisoner who tried to sue himself. Musical copyright infringement, too, has had its share of absurdity.

A song of silence
In 1952, American experimental composer John Cage composed a controversial piece called 4'33". The piece, created with live performances in mind, was four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence. No instruments, no vocals, nothing. Cage wanted listeners simply to absorb the ambient noise.

Mike Batt released an album in February 2002 called Classical Graffiti. One of the tracks was completely silent. The album was credited to Batt, as well as to John Cage, who had no role in the production of the album. Batt simply respected Cage as an artist and found 4'33" to be an interesting piece. Perhaps to his surprise, Batt was contacted following the release of Classical Graffiti by Cage's publishers. Why? They wanted to sue.

So what happened?
The case never made it to court. Mike Batt, instead, agreed to pay an undisclosed six-figure sum. To reiterate, in case you missed that, Batt payed over $100,000 for having silence on his album. Although Cage's publishers did admit that the case was "optimistic", Batt claimed the payment to the John Cage Trust was made out of personal respect for John Cage. Upon settling, Cage's publishers felt "honour had been settled" because "the concept of a silent piece...is a valuable artistic concept in which there is a copyright."

Perhaps the publishers have a point. Silence comprising the entirety of a musical piece does seem to be an artistic concept. The irony, however, is that Cage was not the pioneer in such a musical work. There are at least four composers who utilized silence as an artistic endeavor within their music for longer durations of time. Cage's publishers might have been at a loss had one asked about such compositions, and the "honour" of John Cage subsequently utilizing the same artistic technique.

Copyright law can clearly get a little ridiculous. Had the case made it to court, Batt likely would not have had to pay, or at least would have greatly reduced the fee. Regardless, covering songs can get dicey, and though individuals often purport the value of artistic expression, for those interested it can still all come down to money.

Here is a live cover of John Cage's 4'33". As a spoiler alert, this may take easy listening to an uncomfortable level: