There’s a great article by Suzanne Vega today at the New York Times.
In it, Vega talks about her song Tom’s Diner getting remixed, illegally, by DNA:
We were backstage at the Arsenio Hall show when my manager told me that some boys calling themselves DNA, in England — Bath, to be specific — had taken “Tom’s Diner” and put a dance track to it. They had “re-mixed” it. (I don’t remember what we called that type of music back then — house? rap? hip-hop? It wasn’t “disco” or “thrash-metal.”) My manager, Ron Fierstein, told me that A&M and Polygram were considering taking legal action against them for copyright violation.
I thought, well, let me listen to it — and immediately liked it. It made me laugh. It wasn’t a parody, which is what I was afraid of. The song is the same, my voice is still my voice, the story still the story, even though they left out the very end (they told me later they thought it sounded weird, musically, to keep the ending).
Instead of sending the boys to jail, my manager worked out a deal with them for a flat fee. A&M Records paid the fee, and we retained all rights.
I made the decision to call the remix “Tom’s Diner, by DNA featuring Suzanne Vega” because I didn’t know if the audience would accept the new sound, and I wanted to make it clear that it wasn’t my production. To my surprise, I didn’t have to worry about that as it was accepted everywhere. DNA were surprised to find themselves suddenly classified as an “act,” since they did mostly production.
I had imagined that a few dance clubs would play it, and that would be the end of it. But it was played on radio right away, including the R&B stations, a new experience for me. I even received a plaque congratulating me for having one of the most played R&B songs of 1990. R&B! How cool.
Vega goes on to talk about all the other remixes of Tom’s Diner that this led to, and how Tom’s Diner was used by the creators of the MP3 format to test their compression algorithms.
It’s a great article, touching on digital media, copyright and the benefits of working with people that want to remix your work.