Suzanne Vega On Getting Remixed Illegally

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. 


2 thoughts on “Suzanne Vega On Getting Remixed Illegally

  1. While this is a happy-ending story, it needs to be realized that there will always be illegal remixes. Anyone, including famous musicians and producers, can easily do this, hell a kid with pirated software can even do it, and throw it out on the net, let alone getting a whitelabel produced (not that this is important nowadays). How about a comparison article where a remixer gets pwned by the group he remixed, just for journalistic-sake? What about all the mashups going on nowadays, where does this fall in?

    Not trying to start a war but realistically things will happen regardless of if its right, correct, morally good, etc. for the one reason that someone can; better or for worse.

  2. BlueBrat – you’re right – but most illegal remixes probably go nowhere. They don’t blow up they don’t get anybody sued, they just fizzle because they don’t get exposure.

    I liked Vega’s story because they worked out something that was good for everybody involved. Vega got more exposure than ever before, DNA got recognized, the label got their cut. How often does that happen?

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