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Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?

peterfrovik 04 Jun 16 - 06:36 PM
RTim 04 Jun 16 - 06:45 PM
Leadfingers 04 Jun 16 - 08:16 PM
Lighter 04 Jun 16 - 08:40 PM
Jack Campin 04 Jun 16 - 09:11 PM
RTim 04 Jun 16 - 09:51 PM
Janie 05 Jun 16 - 08:48 AM
Lighter 05 Jun 16 - 09:00 AM
Steve Gardham 05 Jun 16 - 09:57 AM
Jim Carroll 05 Jun 16 - 12:49 PM
Richie 05 Jun 16 - 01:32 PM
Steve Gardham 05 Jun 16 - 02:16 PM
Joe Offer 06 Jun 16 - 01:37 AM
Jim Carroll 06 Jun 16 - 03:46 AM
Mr Red 06 Jun 16 - 04:05 AM
Johnny J 06 Jun 16 - 04:50 AM
Stringsinger 06 Jun 16 - 12:19 PM
Jim Carroll 06 Jun 16 - 01:42 PM
GUEST,Joe Offer at the Women's Center 06 Jun 16 - 05:43 PM
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Subject: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: peterfrovik
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 06:36 PM

I'd like to know if there is an online index or some better way than to google for hours.
I know that, for example, Bill Monroe claimed to have written dozens of old time trad tunes, but that doesn't make it so. I would like to know if there's a way to get to what's consensus in the old time community.
I'd like to know in general, but I do have a specific reason for asking.
I'm in a Swedish band mainly performing American old time mountain music. On this fourth record of ours we have recorded some tunes that I'm uncertain of if they are traditional or not. I'd like to get it right so that if there is a living person who wrote, or adapted it in an extent that it is to be considered a new tune, get credit.

Here's the plan for the Rockridge brothers 2016 album btw:
1.        HOLD THE WOODPILE DOWN - I believe i trad
2.        ALL GONE NOW - I believe it is written by GEORGIA YELLOW HAMMERS first recorded on "Johnson's Old Grey Mule" 1929. Which means that it is free for us to record. Or? We would still like to give the right persons credit. How do I find out who he, she, or they are? http://country-music-archive.com/country-cds/georgia-yellow-hammers-johnsons-old-grey-mule/
3.        HANDSOME MOLLY - I believe i trad
4.        I'LL NEVER LIVE AGAIN - mine
5.        JACK OF DIAMONDS - I believe i trad
6.        LOST JOHN - I believe i trad
7.        EAST VIRGINIA BLUES - I believe i trad
8.        POORE MAN - We heard it of the Louisiana Honeydrippers LP Bayou bluegrass (1972?). Credited Dave Rankin. Did he write it, originally? Not "just" adapted and gave put new lyrics to a trad? (Btw: Hard to say if it inspired Dylans Ballad of Hollis Brown, but seems lightly. Or?)
9.        I'VE GOT A BULLDOG - I believe i trad
10.        PRETTY FAIR MAIDEN - Trad. Or would you say that Tim O'Brian wrote it?
11.        JESSE JAMES - Plank road stringband?
12.        INDIAN ATE A WOODCHUCK - I believe i trad
13.        ELKHORN RIDGE - I believe i trad
14.        STEAM POWERED AIRPLANE - That would be Mr John Hartford, right? No funny business there?
15.        BLACK EYED SUZIE - Trad?


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: RTim
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 06:45 PM

There is no shortcut for proper research - you just have to use every available resource and put in the time! Sorry

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 08:16 PM

A lot of collectors 'Copyrighted' material they collected , while others did serious re arrangements !


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Lighter
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 08:40 PM

Sometimes it depends on the text and tune.

"Jesse James," for example, is probably trad, but there may be more than one song with that title. Years ago I learned a version that had the unusual chorus, "Oh, I don't know where my poor old Jesse's gone," etc., etc. Turns out it was revised and copyrighted.

"Elkhorn Ridge" has a trad sound, but I believe it's been considerably adapted.

"Blackeyed Susie" is certainly trad - unless somebody's created a red-hot bluegrass arrangement of it. In that case....

And so on,


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 09:11 PM

The problem is that if you learned it off an in-copyright recording, you will have picked up identifiable quirks the performers added to the piece which will constitute an "arrangement" in the eyes of the law. So you'll have to pay up for the arranger's copyright, which will not be much cheaper than the composer's.

Your only way round that is to find an out-of copyright source and base your version entirely on that, erasing from your mind everything you've heard or read in more recent versions. Not easy, and it will have the side effect that most of your audience will think you're doing it wrong.


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: RTim
Date: 04 Jun 16 - 09:51 PM

When I first find a song I am interested in - I spend a huge amount of time finding out as much as I can about the song and it's origin, who has recorded and how, etc.. - Before I even try to learn the song - it is an important part of the entire process.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Janie
Date: 05 Jun 16 - 08:48 AM

Seems to me 'traditional' just means the song is documented to have been around awhile, and the best efforts by the best researchers have been unable to document who wrote the original, much less all the variants.

Sometimes 'traditional' seems to mean 'not copyrighted.'

As someone upthread noted, copyrighted doesn't mean the song is not 'traditional.' By the same token, some songs get mislabeled 'traditional', when more research does reveal who the composer or lyrist was. Though, I guess knowing that doesn't necessarily render a song 'nontraditional.'


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Lighter
Date: 05 Jun 16 - 09:00 AM

From one perspective, "Jesse James" (..."had a wife to mourn for his life") in the abstract is "traditional," whether somebody makes a few changes or not. (Isn't that what traditional singers do?)

But legally, a specific copyrighted version is *not* traditional by virtue of being protected by copyright.

Example: When Steeleye Span creates elaborate folk-rock arrangements of traditional songs, those songs remain "traditional" in the abstract, but none of the new, copyrighted arrangements, as a specific piece of music, is "traditional" in any sense.


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 05 Jun 16 - 09:57 AM

Just as a matter of interest, are there any occasions in recent years where a performer has been taken to court over recording a traditional song? I know lots of people who do this regularly without any problem, even acknowledgeing the source as another recent recording. This is in the UK by the way.

The obvious answer is to find an early version that's definitely public domain and put together your own version. Really not that difficult with all the resources on the internet today.

I can't think why in the folk world you would want to reproduce somebody else's version exactly anyway. The main criterion for a folk song is that it has multiple different versions.


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 05 Jun 16 - 12:49 PM

I'm sure you know of the case where the McPeake's attempted and failed to sue Rod Stewart over Wild Mountain Thyme (aka Braes of Ballquidder) - some time ago now but they were still pretty bitter about if a few years ago when they spoke at the Willie Clancy Summer School.
'Bout time somebody stamped on the idea of copyrighting 'arrangements' - all folksongs are 'arrangements' by their very nature.
On the other hand, maybe it's time some of the superstars (Rod Stewart springs to mind) were asked to donate to the upkeep of folk music.
Not a folk song of course, but Ewan and Peggy once gave me a list of artists who had never paid royalties for recording 'First Time Ever' (pre- Roberta Flack) - Ewan said rather wryly, "I wouldn't mind if they'd made a half-decent job of it"
We have a copy of their 'Chamber of Horrors' versions - great listening.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Richie
Date: 05 Jun 16 - 01:32 PM

Hi,

In the US the song has to have been documented before 1923. If you use someone's arrangement it is probably copyrighted. When I submitted a list of songs to my publisher they checked on them and red flagged several and a couple others that were questionable they admitted. In truth- they did not really know- in fact they call me when they want research on a song. This is a major publisher.

Looks like you're good on everything but "Steam-Powered Airplane" which you need to check a see where Hartford got his version.

Almost every folk song has been copyrighted many times (original copyright plus subsequent arrangements)- so checking copyrights doesn't prove whether a song is OK.

Richie


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 05 Jun 16 - 02:16 PM

To be honest I have copyrighted songs before now, but only to stop others copyrighting those versions. I always add a statement that as long as the source is acknowledged they are still free to be used by anyone as they should be if traditional. Most modern folk song writers in the UK are only too flattered other folks want to record their songs and freely give permission. With my own songs all I ask is acknowledgement and being allowed to record the song first. Once it's out there it can be used by anyone.

Richie, that's great that a major publishing company are taking such a responsibility. In the UK a few years ago a friend was approached by our PRS people for someone to identify traditional songs in a similar way to you. I was recommended and would have then been willing but the idea just disappeared. I've been told all the money PRS get from traditional song performances goes into fat cats' pockets. It would be a great travesty but not a surprise if that was the case.


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 01:37 AM

To answer the original question: Mudcat is a very good place for finding whether a song is trad or not, but it's best to research one song at a time. Use the Filter box above the list of threads to see if there has been a thread discussing your song. If the existing threads don't answer your question, post your question in the most pertinent thread, or start a new thread is there's nothing discussing the song.

Mudcat thrives on collaborative discussion, and it's fun.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 03:46 AM

"To be honest I have copyrighted songs before now, but only to stop others copyrighting those versions. "
Seems like one way to do it Steve and while I appreciate your motives, I'm not sure that's not the thin end of the wedge.
I honestly believe that the question of copyright, ownership and publication of folk-song has to be met head on rather than pussyfooting around it.
There is a, in opinion, very disturbing article in the current edition of the Irish Folklore Journal, Béaloideas, entitled Digital Pathways: Questions of Digital Curation for Archives of Everyday Experience', a somewhat daunting title for a layman such a myself, but worth reading.
While it addresses recorded interviews of oral history, I believe it also applies to folk-song, music tales and lore.
Basically, it raises questions of who should be approached for permission to make available field recordings and who should have the final say.
As collectors of song, music, lore and oral history for over four decades, Pat Mackenzie and I have always adopted the attitude that the material collected belongs to the source singer... etc. and our responsibility has been to reach an agreement with them as to how it should be used and honour whatever wishes and restrictions made.
The nature of the material collected puts it legally in the public domain, but, as I understand it, only the actual recording belongs to us.
The deal we did with all our informants (horrible word which conjures up visions of knee-capping, but have never come up with a better one) is that if they didn't sing it and we didn't record it, it would die when they did and what they had was far too important to allow that to happen - simple as that.
We've always adopted the attitude that the material belongs to everybody interested who we judge to be trusted to handle it responsibly, so we have always responded to any requests to pass it on, which fulfilled our commitment to the donor - songs are just as likely to die when confined to our shelves as they would have if they were buried with the singer.
The deal, as far as we are concerned, was with the singer.... and nobody else, though surviving relatives should be informed of any use made of it and allowed to offer arguments against its use.
If money is involved (it seldom is, thanks to our failure to promote folk-song as we should) we have agreed that it either should go directly to the singer or be donated to appropriate organisations - ours goes automatically to the Irish Traditional Music Archive.
Our reason for doing what we do is primarily because we enjoy it, but also because we regard it as an important part of our history and culture (which is why I tend to make myself such a pain-in-the-arse on "what is a folk song?" threads).
As Walter Pardon once told us, "they're not my songs, they're everybody's".
As far as I am concerned, copyright should play no part whatever in folk-song - if singers are to be paid for what they do, fine, they are selling their creative outpourings, not the songs.
If 'arrangements' of folk songs are to be copyrighted then those who do so should be asked to reciprocate in kind for the use they make of our folk songs by donating to an appropriate organisation otherwise we'll all end up suffering from the 'Well Below the Valley' syndrome - fair's fair, and all that!
I'm referring to folk songs as researched, documented and defined - singer/songwriters need to draw up their own rule book, should they feel it necessary (hope that's not too controversial).
Sorry to take up so much space - I thought the question of copyright needed to be responded to.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Mr Red
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 04:05 AM

Really not that difficult with all the resources on the internet today.
Hmmm. It is so easy to post somewhere and claim, for kudos or for profit, then there are the opinionated copiers who re-publish on websites, forums etc. With care, the internet is a wondrous place, but pick your sources wisely.
UK PRS - I heard that at one point that Paul McCartney had bought songs en block and copyrighted them. The point was if he (and he was reported as reaching this goal) reached 50% he could claim all PRS monies not attributed to specific compositions (ie trad). Can anyone confirm that?
I do remember an un-named source, at that time, collecting songs that never saw the true light of day, much to the disgust of the composers who wanted them to be heard.
Every hairdresser and department store that used a radio station's output (which also already paid PRS & PPS BTW) all pay PRS that goes into the pot. I heard Led Zepplin's manager on the radio pointing out they collected their own copyright at large venues because of dissatisfaction with PRS who held onto the money for 18 months.


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Johnny J
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 04:50 AM

For someone like me, it's often fairly obvious what is or could be "trad" and a song or tune can be researched. More generally, I might also describe a tune as "traditional" if it was written by a known composer in what seems to be that idiom. That's a personal thing, of course, and not technically or legally correct.

However, as this discussion shows, the main issue here seems to be that of "arrangements" and "adapted" versions as opposed to the original songs or tunes which have been handed down over many years.

When we pick up a song or tune in a session somewhere or just absorb it "omosis style", we are not necessarily aware if one or more notes/words are part of "So and So's" copyright arrangement. I don't necessarily play it the same way anyway and, not infrequently, if I continually play a tune(same applies to singers and songs)it can often change through time consciously or otherwise. Sometimes, what I play might be a hybrid of different styles including my own but I wouldn't dream of claiming such as my own arrangement for copyright purposes. However, many so called "arrangements" in books are little different from what is universally played with the exception of the odd note here and there.
To me, this seems just as naughty as performing or recording a tune without crediting the copyright holder.

Luckily, I enjoy this music as a hobby and don't have to worry so much about recording or live performance(At least in terms of public concerts) issues. I have been involved in both to a very limited extent but matters of copyright etc have always been someone else's worry.


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 12:19 PM

1. Does it come from a traditional community?
2. Does it have variants (variations of the same song?)
3. Does it contain folk stylistic elements (melisma, certain scales or modes, manner of presentation?)
4. Has it been around for a while?
5. Is it taught aurally and passed down through generations?

Some songs written are in a folk style without being trad. You could argue that
these songs sound as "folk" as trad ones such as "The Shoals of Herring" by Ewan McColl. Or "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie.

Trad songs are just as valid as written or contemporary ones as they are still part of a bardic tradition.


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 01:42 PM

Sounds good to me Stringsinger
You might add, whether the communities regarded it as their own rather than ones they learned from print or from a record or at a music hall, say.
We must have recorded singers describing songs that we are almost certainly (you never can be fully certain) originated elsewhere as Clare, or Traveller, or Irish or Norfolk songs.
We know of a singer who described 'Mary on the Banks of the Lee' as a "song about a Traveller from a family he knew whose wife died in a workhouse fire while he was working in London" - not only a claim of ownership, but a sub-plot.   
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Origins: How do I determine if a song is trad?
From: GUEST,Joe Offer at the Women's Center
Date: 06 Jun 16 - 05:43 PM

Steve Gardham says: The obvious answer is to find an early version that's definitely public domain and put together your own version. Really not that difficult with all the resources on the internet today.

Information on the Internet is only as good as its sources.

Whenever you post songs or information about songs, it's important that you document your sources.

-Joe-


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