Singer - Songwriter

Afraid That Your New Song Might Sound Like Someone Else’s Song?

You can spend a lot of time worrying about the song you’ve just written, wondering if it accidentally sounds like someone else’s song. Unintentional plagiarism does happen. But what’s the best way to deal with it?

I’m talking about those times that the song you’ve written is striking you as sounding uncomfortably familiar, whether it’s the chords you’ve chosen, something in the melodic shape you’ve created, or even something about the instrumentation. You can’t put your finger on it, but you’re feeling like you may have heard it somewhere else. And obviously, that’s not good.

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If you really want to be sure that you haven’t unintentionally taken someone else’s song, you can always play your new song for friends or family and see if they recognize it. If everyone is saying that they’ve never heard it before, you’re probably in the clear.

But my feeling is that you can spend a lot of time worrying about it, when perhaps the best solution is to change something about your song now, and avoid all the time you’re likely going to put into identifying the elements that may or may not have been “borrowed.”

What can you easily change about a song that might make it sound different, and avoid the plagiarism problem right away? Try these ideas:

  1. Change the key. Moving the song up or down changes where your voice is placed, and that has a dramatic effect on the musical energy one picks up from your song.
  2. Try some chord substitutes. You can change a lot of chords while still leaving your melody intact, and it can change the sound of your melody. So even though you’re still using most of your original melody, you’ve changed its backdrop in a way that makes the song sound quite different.
  3. Radically change the tempo. You’d be surprised how much a change in tempo will change almost everything else about a song. The mood, the singing/playing style, even the subtext implied by the lyric.
  4. Leave the song alone and play it again for yourself in a few days. This, of course, doesn’t require you to change anything about your song, but leaving it alone allows you to come back at it with fresh ears. If there has been accidental plagiarism, it may jump out at you once you’ve been away from your song for a while.
  5. Change the time signature. Most songs use the 4/4 (also called “common time”) time signature. By adjusting the bar lengths so that each bar is shorter — or even longer — you give your song a fresh new sound. If you’re not sure how to do this, I wrote an article a number of years ago on how to do it: “Creating Unique Moments in Songs by Changing Time Signatures“.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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