Everything is a Remix: Appropriation in Music

Just as one of my favorite video series says Everything is a Remix. The process of creativity depends upon prior works to build upon. The book “Creative License” notes how elements of music are constantly borrowed, remixed, and built upon.

Musicians do not reinvent the twelve-tone scale used in Western music but rather borrow it from previous generations. Instrumentalists often use major-seventh chords, play in 4/ 4 meter, and perform on instruments with unique timbre like the violin and the piano. No musician living today invented those things. Someone (or some group of people) did once invent chords, meter, and musical instruments, but that was long ago. In the time since, millions of people have used those musical ideas, instruments, and traditions to make their own musical contribution. Music is not unique in this regard; all creativity occurs in this way. Writers, composers, artists, and inventors all make use of ideas— and particular applications of those ideas— that others created before them.

In regards to hip hop, the book also notes how sampling is but one of many ways that musicians borrow from existing music to create new works.

Sampling stands alongside allusion, quotation, and reinterpretation as part of the modern musician’s toolkit for responding to and building upon previous musicians’ work. As a technique, sampling reflects the ingenious innovations of musicians across geography (especially the Black Atlantic) and genres (especially classical, jazz, hip-hop, electronic, and dance).


*Attribution: McLeod, Kembrew; DiCola, Peter (2011-02-21). Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.

Leave a comment