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ange on 04/30/2013 at 03:53PM

Revitalize Music Contest: The Winning Song

For this month's Revitalize Music Contest, artists from Lisbon to Austin dug through public domain songs, got inspired, and submitted their creations to our contest repository. Our talented judges from the music, radio, and public domain worlds loved hearing the wide range of incredible entries, but eventually had to select a winning song.


Crown the Invisible created an incredible power pop rendition of the 1911 revenge anthem "The Spaniard That Blighted My Life" by Billy Merson. The song tells the story of a man whose girl is charmed away by a Spanish bullfighter.

'Twas at the bull fight where we met him
We'd been watching his daring display
And while I went out for some nuts and a programme
The dirty dog stole her away

The band's been around for about a year, and are a blend between a studio compositional project and a raucous psychedelic band. They are all grizzled rock dudes who live and work in East Williamsburg warehouses, where they've been cultivating their space/stoner rock sound. They describe their band as "if Rick Wakeman played with Ride, but the songs were written by The Pretty Things while they watched Planet of the Apes and listened to Hawkwind." That is to say, they all grew up on early '90s and '60s British stuff.


When the band began working on their arrangement they describe the process as "vibe hunting." There was a lot of stomping and clapping involved, which is how they ended up deciding to keep the waltzy 3/4 time signature without over-emphasizing it. This also how they found the song's distinctive sound, a swirling whistle made by playing a hammond organ sample on a keyboard through a guitar amp.

During this process, singer CG Foisy says he kept waking up in the middle of the night with the lyrics stuck in his head. He says it's a terrible song to have in your head because, "it's cheeky, evil and weird. It's a portal into male territoriality. How men are these vindictive monkeys."

Overall, the challenge was good practice for the band. This summer CG is traveling to Beijing, where he'll play a few shows, and then spend a week traveling the silk road looking for music along the way. What he finds will eventually be adapted into song challenges for the band. Whenever he travels, CG loves to pick up a new instrument. You can even hear (kinda) one of these instruments in the winning song. It's an Indian instrument he bought in Singapore called the gopichand. It sounds part sitar, part mouth harp.

Participating in the contest speaks to the bands' interests in being part of a community through their music. Some bands get really into making an album, then going on tour, then making another album, then going on another tour, and hoping to be signed by a label. CG says, "That works well for some bands, but other bands like to take on weekly assignments, making videos and vignettes, and to have different kinds of conversations with their fans."

Crown the Invisible includes Jared Barron, CG Foisy, Steve Schwadron, with a guest appearance in this recording by Gabriel Berezin on bass. Check out their summer series Fantastic Planet, which installs different bands in different warehouses, merging live noise rock with visuals. You can also see them play live on May 9th at Don Pedro (90 Manhattan Avenue), where they might be performing their winning song.

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ange on 04/23/2013 at 08:44AM

The Revitalize Music Contest

Carrier Belleuse Pierre La Maison De Musique (Public Domain)

Bring the public domain into the future! This April, WFMU and the Free Music Archive are challenging artists everywhere to create new recordings and contemporary arrangements of historic compositions available in the public domain. We’re calling this our Revitalize Music Contest.

Every song (except for perhaps "Happy Birthday") will someday fall out of copyright. Archives such as the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library, Musopen and the Public Domain Information Project chart the vast and ever-expanding troves of public domain music. Participants in our Revitalize Music Contest will help bring these works to life by creating new recordings, and feeding them back into the public domain.

To inspire entries, we’ve handpicked a selection of out-of-copyright songs with compelling lyrics, beautiful melodies, and unusual stories. Keep in mind that unless materials are listed in our contest repository, the recordings of performances we link to are still within the scope of copyright. After learning about the songs and contest rules here below, you can browse our pool of entries.

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ange on 03/05/2013 at 01:59PM

Happy Birthday Song Contest Winners

Artwork by Greg Harrison

The votes are all in from our incredible panel of judges, and these three winning songs took the cake!

At this party everybody gets a present now that we have this dynamic Free Birthday Song Repository available for your projects. If you explore for a while, you'll find birthday songs that are incredibly touching, starring adorable children, offered in multiple languages, full of every foul word imaginable, and fun to share with your friends. Plus, the special happy birthday song that America just isn't ready for.



After collaborating on the concept album Emergency SongsMonk Turner + Fascinoma weren't sure is they would ever work together again. "I almost killed him a few times," Fascinoma told us. Monk explains that when they collaborate she's the John Lennon and he's the Paul McCartney. She brings a certain kind of melancholy, and he brings a pop sensibility. You can hear how these different styles compliment each other in their winning song. "It's Your Birthday!" captures a feeling of heartfelt well-wishing with a sound so polished you'll want to run out and buy a tablet computer.

Though the winning song lacks the opportunity to shout out the birthday person's name, there is room to build in a call and response element. You can download the sheet music in the key of B (pdf, google doc) or the key of C (pdf, google doc). Also, check out the alternative versions of the song including two piano tracks and an instrumental version.

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ange on 01/11/2013 at 12:00PM

The New Happy Birthday Song Contest

Artwork by Greg Harrison

The Free Music Archive wants to wish Creative Commons a Happy Birthday with a song. But there's a problem. Although "Happy Birthday To You" is the most recognized song in the English language and its origins can be traced back to 1893, it remains under copyright protection in the United States until 2030. It can cost independent filmmakers $10,000 to clear the song for their films, and this is a major stumbling block hindering the creation of new works of art.

Intro by Ken Freedman | Judges | Official Rules | Prize 
Submit Your Song | View Entries | Video: Birthday Song Alternatives 

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ken on 01/01/2013 at 03:15AM

Six Notes to Oppress You: Shake “Happy Birthday” From Its Fortified Cultural Throne!

The song Happy Birthday to You (HBTY) has a story to tell, and it’s not wishing you to have a good one on this, the anniversary of your birth. The most recognizable song in the English language – a simple six notes and words - is owned by Time Warner, who will charge you ten grand to legally sing the four verses in a public place like a school or restaurant. But the history of how HBTY turned into a two million dollar a year corporate earner is the interesting part. It’s a case study in the copyright-by-fiat strategy that has recently proven so popular with corporate minions and robots. They allege intellectual ownership where none exists, and they often get away with it.

There are many ways to right this wrong. You could challenge HBTY’s dubious copyright in court, as long as you’re prepared for a foe like Time Warner. Or you could try to shame Time Warner by urging innocent birthday revelers to request permission for every innocent public “performance” of the song. Both are worthy endeavors, but neither one sounds like much fun.

No, for our purposes here, we’ll encourage you to unseat (or at least unsettle) “Happy Birthday to You” from it’s cultural throne by composing possible replacements. The Free Music Archive Happy Birthday contest seeks a few new Happy Birthday songs that are simple and catchy, with great earworm potential (remember: HBTY uses only six notes!) that can be sung in restaurants, bowling alleys, even in TV shows and movies – free of charge. Together, let us shake “Happy Birthday” from it’s fortified cultural throne, and replace it with a melody that the children can sing without fear of being served.

The three top entries will be all dressed up and distributed to the most powerful media companies on earth with colorful, Ross Perot-style financial incentive charts encouraging the recipients to better their bottom line by using one of these shiny new Happy Birthday replacement tracks.  WFMU will organize and pay for the digital and physical mailings of the three winning tracks to the luckiest people on earth-  any media or public organization who might have need for new birthday songs - movie studios; theater troupes, restaurant chains; sport leagues, scouting associations, youth groups; minor league baseball teams, major league Jai Alai squads, bowling alleys and we’ll also send the track to music journalists, bloggers and radio stations to help get the word out and cement the new songs into the cultural subconscious.

Ready to compose the next great Birthday song for the cake-eating masses? Here's where you can learn more about the judgesofficial rules and how to submit your work.

And here’s more background, if you hanker for more historical details on the very shaky copyright in question. The familiar melody for “Happy Birthday to You” was borrowed from other mid-19th century songs such as Horace Waters' "Happy Greetings to All" and "Good Night to You All," (published 1858) and also "A Happy New Year to All" and "A Happy Greeting to All" (published 1888). All four of these songs had that same six-note melody, and from the 1850’s to the 1880’s those six notes were reapplied to any number of greetings songs, some of which made it into published songbooks of the day.

Two esteemed Kentucky Kindergarten teachers named the Hill Sisters use this same melody with the lyrics “Good Morning to All” and used that version in their classes to greet their students, even publishing it in their own 1893 pamphlet. But over the years, somebody – who, we will never know – modified the lyrics to now public domain “Good Morning to All” with the present birthday lyrics. Were these 19th century wordsmiths The Hill Sisters themselves? Their students?  A class parent? The school janitor? We will never know. But the modified “Good Morning to All” caught on.

If fact, it caught on so much that Western Union used the song for their first singing telegram in 1933. But when the Irving Berlin musical “As Thousands Cheer” made use of the song later that same year, the forgotten Hill sister Jessica sprang into gear like a depression-era Gloria Allred.  Jessica got legal assistance from the Summy Company, who registered for copyright in 1935, crediting the song’s authors as Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman, whoever they were. Time Warner purchased the Summy Company in 1998, and Edgar Bronfman Jr and friends purchased Warner Music Group in 2004. The song has been scheduled to enter the public domain a few times, but copyright term extensions have now delayed that date to 2030 at the earliest. 

Which is how we got to where we are now – living in a world in which restaurant chains invent their own replacement birthday songs, rather than break the law or pay thousands of dollars in licensing. A world that’s more like a dystopian hellscape, frankly, in which countless movies and TV shows sing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” rather than fork over the estimated ten grand in licensing fees. Take a look at the video to see just how bad the problem really is. And then create your own Happy Birthday song, either with a melody of your own creation, or a reworked public domain melody with new lyrics. Keep it simple. And let’s put the Happy back into Birthdays, and take the Cease and Desist out of ‘em.

Contest rules |  How to Submit your Song | Entries

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