Warning: If you’re over 30, please proceed with caution. I mean it. This may upset you. I just caught wind of a 28-year-old musician who goes by the name of ‘Girl Talk’ who is ‘sampling’ The Band, The ‘Stones, R.E.M, AC/DC, and Aretha Franklin, and mixing their iconic sounds with the likes of 50 Cent, T-Payne, Gwen Stefani, and Bubba Sparxx (who!?)
Because he (Girl Talk is a he) started his own ‘independent label’ he thinks he can basically do whatever he wants! No royalties, no fees. And his album is basically free! His website says, “Pay whatever you want.” And he encourages YOU, the listener, to use and sample his music. This internet-driven model threatens to bury the whole record industry!
Here’s another way to look at Girl Talk: as an artist and as an MC, but not in the traditional sense of the word. He has no records, no turn-tables, and no CDs. He has a laptop. That’s it. Girl Talk is commonly described as a mash-up artist: someone who takes the vocals from one song and the instrumentals from another and mixes them together into a new, unique sound. Think The Beatles’ The White Album meets Jay Z’s The Black Album to create Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album. But Girl Talk takes the style to a whole new level. 50+ samples in one four-minute song are not uncommon, and he mixes his massive database of music at live shows in real time on a plastic wrapped computer. Because his samples are so short, nothing he does is illegal according to “fair use” copyright law in the U.S.
I believe Girl Talk’s music is a metaphor for my generation. His songs, which sample from Roy Orbison, Queen, Nirvana, and T.I., to name a few, require a very broad musical knowledge to be fully appreciated. N-Geners today listen to a lot of music and can give a wink and a nod to the clever way older songs are used. Even if they don’t know those songs, odds are many kids will go online and discover them afterward. OK, kids listening to and/or learning the greatest rock/pop songs of all time. That’s a good thing.
On the other hand, his music can be construed as the ultimate symbol of our short attention spans and our obsession with short, easy-to-digest sights and sounds (think Sneezing Panda on YouTube). One could argue that digital technology has left us incapable of focusing on a good song for more than a few minutes (so let’s jam 50 samples into one track instead!), and Girl Talk is my generation’s answer. OK, that’s a Bad thing.
Girl Talk understands his target audience. He knows his music will be widely disseminated online, for free, before he has the opportunity to release a CD. So he embraces an open, online platform for his music where payment is optional:
“I think what we went for seems like an obvious game plan now, just because as soon as it hits the internet, anyone…can get it for free if they want to. So why not tap in and let them actually take a step back and think about it, and maybe offer some money?”
Get the whole interview with Pitchfork Media Here.
In this open and collaborative model, more money goes directly to the artist (and not a major label), he fosters good will with his fan base, more people get to hear his sound, and as a result he attracts a wider audience to live shows. I think this is a good thing.
This last question depends on your perspective. Some of his mash-ups take important songs out of context and use them only as a means to an end. How would you feel if he mixed Sam Cooke’s powerful and spiritual ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ with the vacuous and asinine ‘My Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas just to get a ‘cool’ sound? In this regard, his music can be construed as not respecting the wholeness and message of his songs. I’m not a music critic, so I’ll stop there before I start sounding foolish, but I encourage you to share your thoughts.