Balancing creativity with originality

Photo by Brenda Lin

Unintentional plagiarism is one of the hardest actions to avoid in the music industry. Writers are very protective of their music and are understandably perturbed when they hear a similar song on the radio, but they may need to take a step back. Where did they get their idea? Does their melody or guitar riff sound similar to another song?

I  believe people need to realize that there is a difference between being creative and being original. Not all creative entities are necessarily original. Creativity can be an extension of what already exists.

Over Spring Break, my friend and I attempted to write a song. This adventure proved as difficult as we anticipated, though we were surprisingly able to finish despite the many bug bites we attained sitting out on the docks of Jacksonville, Florida.

Thinking it would be the most difficult part, we started out with the melody and guitar accompaniment. My friend plays guitar and has been working on this song for years now. So in truth, it took much longer than anything else we did.

But listening to the introduction, I heard the remnants of a song I had not listened to in years. It bothered me until we realized that he had accidently used an old Green Day song. We then changed the notes and strum pattern until it no longer resembled the other song, but is that enough?

I would like to know how much one has to change a preexisting idea to be able to dub it original. I fully believe that everyone is inspired by someone. No matter what a person is doing, if it involves creativity, then they were once inspired by someone or something else. This includes not only music, but books, movies, plays and art as well. So following our trouble with the accompaniment, we took a shot at writing some lyrics. Being slightly more lyrically inclined than my friend, I was in charge of writing most of the song. We threw around some ideas for a night and came up with absolutely nothing.

The following day, we took an idea and finished our first song. It seemed original to us, but I admit that I do not want to look on the internet to see if I can find the lyrics I wrote. As long as I do not know there are similar lyrics out there, then I can still believe that what I wrote is original.

Through my experiment, I learned that people should respect what songwriters have to go through every single day. They constantly battle originality and its varying degrees, all the while knowing that their subconscious may accidently duplicate another piece of work that might lead them to
a lawsuit.

I honestly do not know what is true. Is there an infinite amount of original ideas? If so, does that mean only the extremely talented can truly create in this day and age? Or has originality run its course, and creativity is solely about enhancing a once original idea?