Lessons in Innovation From Songwriter Eric Carmen
Posted by Plish on May 4, 2014
I was listening to classical music the other day, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Opus 18 to be exact. One passage struck me as familiar….very familiar. That’s when I realized: All by Myself by Eric Carmen. It was a song I had heard in my youth. I don’t particularly like it, catchy as it is, though I’m in the minority. All by Myself reached number 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100. (In 2011 it even made it into an episode of Glee!)
Anyway, I thought that it was an amazing coincidence that this song had classical echoes, and then I read on how the song was written. All by Myself does indeed contain the passage from Rachmaninoff. It also contains parts of a song called Let’s Pretend that was also written by Carmen. Said Carmen, “I just took those notes and took it from there. I thought, ”Let’s Pretend’ was a nice melody.’ The song didn’t go quite as far as I thought it should have. I’ll go back and steal from myself for this.”
“Steal from myself.” I love it.
He wasn’t afraid to take a good thing and reuse it in another context – and in fact, the new creation was more successful. Keep journals and notebooks of your ideas and inspirations. Even if you use something, don’t be afraid to leverage it again – perhaps it can be used more effectively somewhere else.
Carmen didn’t stop with that inspiration. He also borrowed from the Rachmaninoff piece. Being that it was a classical piece, Carmen assumed the music was already in the Public Domain, meaning he could use the song for free.
He was wrong.
The Rachmaninoff Estate heard the tune, contacted Carmen and a deal was reached. Carmen would give up a hefty 12 percent of what the song made as royalties.
There are multiple takeaways here.
First, Carmen took something that was in the realm of Classical music and transformed it into a pop song. That’s a pretty radical stretch. This highlights how it’s important to look to other industries and technologies for inspiration. After all, if an innovation existed in your own industry then everyone would already be using it, right?
Second, as the world becomes more and more ‘open source’, don’t make assumptions about ownership. Lawsuits are very real. This story has a happy ending. All parties involved got something out of the deal.
But I still don’t like the tune…
Maybe you will. Give it a listen…