Mash-Ups 101, Lesson 1: Learn the Four Chords

A ‘mash-up’ is defined as “… a musical track comprising the vocals of one recording placed over the instrumental backing of another” (Apple Dictionary, 2014). In recent decades remix culture and the art of creating popular mash-ups has burst up through the ranks and evolved into its own popular art form. This “explosion of mashup-style practices [brought about] by modern computing technologies” (Bruns A, 2010) has resulted in many interesting and varyingly successful mash-ups. One of the most popular and widely recognisable (and one of my personal favourites) of these is the The Axis of Awesome’s ‘Four Chords’ (2009), which was first performed live at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2009 and in its five years on Youtube has racked up over 30 million views (random804, 2009).

However, whilst comical, entertaining and incredibly clever, mash-up works such as this raise very serious questions about copyright and intellectual property. Presently, the copyright principle of ‘Fair Use’ states that an artist is allowed to use small sections of copyrighted work without the permission of its original creators, who are still allowed the right to sue the creator of a mash-up if they interpret it as damaging or having too much of their copyrighted work in it (Stim, 2013: pp 1).

This copyright law then raises a rather interesting and complicated question: if the option to sue is there, why have none of the 67 artists whose works have been incorporated into various live and recorded versions of The Axis of Awesome’s ‘Four Chords’ (2009) ever attempted to sue this band for using lyrics and/or melodies from their songs? Is it the popularity of this mash-up, the small nature of the segments that are included, the possibility that they’re scared to label this comedy band as ‘musical thieves’ and themselves as ‘victims of copyright abuse’, something entirely different or maybe a combination of them all? I guess thats something that we’ll probably never fully know, but for the sake of The Axis of Awesome and the popular music industry as a whole lets just hope that no one ever smacks a copyright label over the E major, B major, C# minor, A major chord progression! (The Axis of Awesome, 2009)


Reference List:
* Apple Dictionary (2014), Mash-up
* The Axis of Awesome (2009), ‘Four Chords’, in Animal Vehicle, Axis of Awesome
* Bruns, A (2010), Distributed Creativity: Filesharing and Produsage, Springer, Wien, pp 1
* random804 (2009), Axis of Awesome: Four Chord Song,
* Stim, R (2013), Fair Use, Stanford University Press, pp 1

About Tom Fogarty

I'm 20 years old. I live on the South Coast. I'm currently studying a double degree in Media and Communications at UOW. I'm in a hardcore band called Pariah. Thats about it, as far as I know anyway. View all posts by Tom Fogarty

2 responses to “Mash-Ups 101, Lesson 1: Learn the Four Chords

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