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Old 21st December 2002
Gear Head

I've never met Erik, and have no preference myself regarding BF vs anything else, but the issues here inspired me to a quasi-philosophical ramble:

Seven years ago, myself and eight colleagues debuted a cover band on the small but then-vivacious Santa Barbara music scene. Our style was Motown through 70's funk, and in a gaggle of bands that all played "Mustang Sally" and "Brick House," we were the first in recent memory to take on more difficult tunes such as a lot of Tower of Power, Earth Wind & Fire, etc. It was a lot of fun, and made us really popular.

Within a year other bands were performing many of the same tunes we became known for doing. On the one hand, I do think there was a causal relationship: One monrh, I'm regularly getting stopped in the street to be told "Man, your cover of 'What is Hip?' smokes. I've never heard anybody around here do that." The next month, three other bands are doing it. (One with a keyboard in place of a horn section... ugh.)

On the other hand, I can't see that much righteous indignation is justified by this. Certainly, it's OK to feel a little vexed, but to have gone public with a beef that other bands were copying "our" act... ? It's not our act, it was the act of all the people who wrote and performed those tunes and made them famous. It even got to the point where one especially shameless bunch was emulating our set list order, arrangements, stage footprint, etc, and telling clients that they're just like us but more affordable. (Sound familliar from the hardware side of M.I., anyone?) We cried foul amongst ourselves, but our overall response was to pick up new material, get better still at our existing stuff, improve our lighting, choreography, basically trying to stay a step ahead of the competition. This was really the only thing to do, because by year three, there was a large crop of listeners who had no idea who was first, and the proportion of them in our fan base would only increase. To attempt to give them some kind of history lesson would have been alienating: Why should they have to care about that crap, when all they want is to have a good time for their money?

Bottom line: Erik's sentiment is valid. Being the first to hip people to something great by (1) emulating a classic product very well and (2) making it accessible and affordable has both moral and market worth. (To what extent the idea to copy something can itself be an original idea I'll leave for intellectual property lawyers.) Get successful at it, though, and people are gonna pull a Me-Too. But belligerence about the issue always makes you look like the bad guy, even if you're right. That's unfair, but it's part of the burden of being first.