Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Repeated Melody

Rhett Allain at Wired writes in the wake of a recent court decision on music plagiarism about how many songs the different notes can create.

Tom Petty successfully sued Sam Smith, claiming the latter's "Stay With Me" copied his "I Won't Back Down" to a substantial enough degree that Petty should earn a piece of the pie brought in by Smith. Such lawsuits are a regular feature of the popular music world, and sometimes the judgment goes one way and sometimes another. Of course, the real losers were all of the people in the courtroom who couldn't make the rational response to hearing "Stay With Me" begin over the speakers: Change the stinkin' radio station.

Allain does some math to determine how many different combinations of three notes there could be, since the claim that the three-note patterns of the refrains of "Stay" and "Down" were similar enough to find in Petty's favor. It turns out the number is just under 75,000, according to his calculations -- but then he decides to discard variations based on rhythm and comes up with 343. He does note that a music professor who sort of knows more about these things than he does comes up with a number north of 30 trillion when she runs her analysis.

He then gets clever, and writes a song that contains all of the 343 variations which he will now use as a basis to sue everyone who releases a pop song for copying his work.

At this point, if you are familiar with this blog and its author's middle-aged, curmudgeonly ways, you would expecting him to make some snarky aside about how even with all of those combinations, nothing on Top 40 radio today can be told apart like it could in his day. You may consider this remark made, and thank you for listening.

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