Before I begin, I would like to apologize for my absence. What began as a decline in personal health and an ongoing family emergency turned into starting up and losing a time-consuming job. On top of it all, I developed a bad case of writer’s block. But here I am. Back and rested. No longer a self-fulfilling prophetic joke. On with the show.

Welcome back, laaaaaaaaadies and gentlemen!

During my long absence, my neighbor bopped the summer away to every EDM, dubstep, and EDM-tinged song he could find. Or that his Pandora station could find. Or maybe it was five particular songs back to back to back to back to back to back enough times that they sounded like relatively unrelated material. I couldn’t tell. All I know is that one magical day, Etta James was everywhere I went. Whether she was on my old job’s speakers, in the form of Starbucks’ new “Greatest Of” compilation, available at select retail locations near you! or being echoed across the road over Swedish synths, she was alive and well that day.

I’ll save you half a Bing, depending on your age.

Ahh,  but there is more than one song out there with Etta James and synths. In the past two years alone, one version is Avicii’s “Levels,” which samples James’ 1962 gospel-tinged anthem “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” and supports Ms. James’ vocals against some smart, pithy synth riffs and pattern. The other, released within a few months of the former, is Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” which samples the entire Levels song and adds some rap verses and a catchy club-EDM breakdown. These versions are so similar that Flo Rida actually gave the Avicii boys songwriting credits on his version. It was the most blatantly uninspired move since Kanye West threw a drum beat on “Billie Jean” and called it a remix.

Pre-Taylor Swift genius

When they first came out, I remember discussing “Levels” and “Good Feeling” with a DJ, expressing my disgust with the latter, calling it a “sample of a sample.” At the time, I considered myself to be of an older school of thought: Music and larger art do not shamelessly copy-and-paste someone else’s 100% original work, tweak or add some elements, slap on a new name, and call it good. They toil in the fields and mines of Creativity: sweating, aching, straining, until pure creative gold veins are extracted, tapped like video girls on a Friday night, or junkies on a Saturday night.

A Kate Moss work week, circa 2003, if you will.

Ah! But my friend disagreed. His mind is of a newer school, one able to compose in EDM layers, free of academic pretense. “If the material is out there,” he said during a session, “and it’s in good enough condition to use, go for it!” He, like many others, consider sampling to be like scavenging the musical wilderness, fusing together bits and pieces from the most pedestrian and obscure sources into stunning hybrid creatures which embody the ethos of both times long gone and times shimmering milliseconds into the future.

Probably.

Soooooooooooo. I could go ahead and makes compelling arguments for either side, but this is my blog, not eleventh grade persuasive argument class. THEREFORE: in the comments section, tell me: is sampling-in-general plagiarism or innovative?

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