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The drummer who wrote 'amen break' dies homeless and broke
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Author The drummer who wrote 'amen break' dies homeless and broke
MrTurboparrot
Hi all,

Just curious about this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_C._Coleman

What do we think that Gary Coleman died homeless and broke (2006!), given his drum break basically fed a musical revolution. Odd no?
MrTurboparrot
Woops - just found this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-34785551
noahlerch
That's messed up you'd think he'd get some kind of royalties for all the times that got sampled
Koekepan
You're right; it is messed up.

However, it's messed up on much deeper levels. For starters, there's the whole artist exploitation by labels thing that has been going on for around the last century (check out Courtney Love's famous rant) but then there's also the rather broken way that so-called intellectual property (which really is neither intellectual, nor property) is defined, preserved and enforced. Technically, if you go home from a concert whistling a tune you heard in the show, you're providing a public performance of a (presumably) copyrighted work and owe performance royalties for it. The fact that the copy resides in your brain, because you're a human being with a functional memory, cuts no ice with the law.

This same structure has been tweaked over the years, largely at the behest of large industry players (check out the Mickey Mouse copyright term) in their interests and against the interests of the public at large as well as individual artists. It's far from unusual to have artists who did iconic work, but have little, if any claim, to any return on that work beyond their initial hire. It's also perfectly normal for them, even if they do have valid claims, to be unable to turn those claims into any sort of realised return. Just look at the debacle around the writing of the Rolling Stones hit "Time is on my Side".

In the end, the big companies love to herald the great success of people like Katy Perry and Drake precisely because it keeps the pipeline stocked with young hopefuls that will break themselves (emotionally and financially) in the search of a dream that's being dangled before them like the proverbial carrot. One in a thousand becomes the next Top 40 golden talent, and the rest vanish into obscurity and (as often as not) penury.

Music these days is generally a really bad career, but a pretty decent hobby. If you want a career, you need to be your own brand, your own business. And that means that you need to handle (or pay for) your own marketing, publicity, organisation, legal matters and so on. Do you have a lawyer? An accountant? An agent? No? ... maybe you should be a hobbyist.
Joe.
noahlerch wrote:
That's messed up you'd think he'd get some kind of royalties for all the times that got sampled


He didn't get any, the band his band was covering didn't get anything. I don't think anyone was ever sued over it.

It's not really a 'music IP' thing anyway (Musicians are already protected with Laws). The issue is it's a sample that's manipulated and used in a new way. If you stopped people from using manipulated samples (especially ones chopped to a few dozen milliseconds) it would kill dozens of music genres seriously, i just don't get it

I don't want to poo-poo the Amen break, but really it's super over-rated ('over-publicized' is a better term perhaps). I don't believe it fed any 'musical revolutions' or 'spawned several entire subcultures' either. Below is a video of the most common breaks in Jungle/DnB, It's alphabetical so the Amen break is right at the beginning. A video showing Breakbeat or HipHop common breaks sample would be too long to view hihi



You can hear how short the sample really is (and manipulated), You then can hear the variety of dozens of different breaks. This wasn't a 'musical revolution' where a new genre formed using existing tools but a different approach inspired a new thinker. These are the results of new hardware opening up possibilities in sound creation, a rush that exploited any and every Break it could find.

Another interesting thing to note about breaks is that you usually have 2 playing at the same time, being chopped and mixed. It it's done right it doesn't really matter if one of the breaks was the Amen or not, everything's so pitch shifted and chopped you wouldn't know where the samples are from.
cretaceousear
Interesting cultural/political analysis of the Amen break. (It goes on a bit long)

spinach_pizza
First, the guy was a very good drummer, and there's no denying that his story is sad (and probably not that uncommon amongst musicians of his generation, whether they were sampled or not).

Second, the pattern in his break is/was an extremely common way to play the drums. Something virtually identical (or at the very least, extremely close) can be found in lots of music contemporary to this recording, and well into the 70s. This beat is one of the basic patterns I learned when I learned to play the drums (which was before there was such a thing as a sampler).

I agree that it is really unfortunate and perhaps unfair that so many have capitalized on something he played and recorded, but to say that he "wrote" this break is kind of like someone saying they "wrote" the I-IV-V progression. These are basic patterns which are assembled by musicians into unique (or not so unique) songs. Once in a while a truly new and unique progression or beat emerges. This is not one of them. If there was to be any type of copyright argument on his behalf, it would have to be protection of his recorded performance (which he probably never had--I bet the record company owned it), not the actual notes themselves. This beat was in widespread-enough use that I don't think anyone can lay intellectual claim to it.
JohnLRice
spinach_pizza wrote:
First, the guy was a very good drummer, and there's no denying that his story is sad (and probably not that uncommon amongst musicians of his generation, whether they were sampled or not).

Second, the pattern in his break is/was an extremely common way to play the drums. Something virtually identical (or at the very least, extremely close) can be found in lots of music contemporary to this recording, and well into the 70s. This beat is one of the basic patterns I learned when I learned to play the drums (which was before there was such a thing as a sampler).

I agree that it is really unfortunate and perhaps unfair that so many have capitalized on something he played and recorded, but to say that he "wrote" this break is kind of like someone saying they "wrote" the I-IV-V progression. These are basic patterns which are assembled by musicians into unique (or not so unique) songs. Once in a while a truly new and unique progression or beat emerges. This is not one of them. If there was to be any type of copyright argument on his behalf, it would have to be protection of his recorded performance (which he probably never had--I bet the record company owned it), not the actual notes themselves. This beat was in widespread-enough use that I don't think anyone can lay intellectual claim to it.
thumbs up
hsosdrum
The first time I heard what was to become the 'Amen Break' was on The Turtles "You Baby" in 1966, played by drummer Johnny Barbata at a slower tempo. And just as it didn't originate with the guy who died broke, I'm quite sure it didn't originate with Barbata, either. Back in the 60s drum patterns like this were a dime a dozen.

As a hired-gun drummer (sideman) you get paid for the session. Your work isn't copyrightable because it's not part of the song (only melody and lyrics qualify as copyrightable elements of a song), it's part of the arrangement, and arrangements aren't copyrightable.

Bottom line: Sidemen don't own the music they play, they own the time during which they play. It is this time that they are paid for. Successful session musicians succeed only if they play on lots and lots of sessions. And thanks to bedroom studios, those sessions have gotten harder and harder to come by.
spinach_pizza
hsosdrum wrote:
The first time I heard what was to become the 'Amen Break' was on The turtles "You Baby" in 1966, played by drummer Johnny Barbata at a slower tempo. And just as it didn't originate with the guy who died broke, I'm quite sure it didn't originate with Barbata, either. Back in the 60s drum patterns like this were a dime a dozen.

As a hired-gun drummer (sideman) you get paid for the session. Your work isn't copyrightable because it's not part of the song (only melody and lyrics qualify as copyrightable elements of a song), it's part of the arrangement, and arrangements aren't copyrightable.

Bottom line: Sidemen don't own the music they play, they own the time during which they play. It is this time that they are paid for. Successful session musicians succeed only if they play on lots and lots of sessions. And thanks to bedroom studios, those sessions have gotten harder and harder to come by.


I agree, but I'd add, to reiterate, that it's also possible to copyright a sound recording separate from the song itself. This copyright is what allows artists ownership of recordings they make of works they don't own (such as something in the public domain). But as you noted, a session musician is paid by the hour and that compensation wouldn't include any copyright interests. In the case of the amen break I would bet anything that the sound recording copyright was/is owned by the entity financing the project (i.e., the record company).
CRD
i agree with spinach pizza , a basic drum sample can't be compared to melodies or lyrics.. thought dozen of artists have stolen and have been robbed since the stone age hihi
ZLAL
A sad story, but, as others have said, the idea that he should have been compensated more adequately is a bit of a red herring.

If a painter mixes a particular color it does not become his - musical melodies and rhythmic content have been coded into (perhaps) our species since our species developed means of communicating with one another.

The real problem is the relations between value and the ability to capitalize on a product. The product-ness of a song, or part of a song, is nebulous. But in our culture, one must sell labor to stay fed and sheltered - "earning a living".

All attempts to commodify music are flawed, hence clumsy categories like "intellectual property". According to the contemporary rubric, facility playing the drums is valueless - produce (in the simple sense) something or starve. And he starved.
Reese P. Dubin
ZLAL wrote:


If a painter mixes a particular color it does not become his


tell that to Yves Klein
ZLAL
Reese P. Dubin wrote:
tell that to Yves Klein


Touché - I suppose I should have posed it as a question; should it become his?
pricklyrobot
The color wars rage on:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.dezeen.com/2016/12/30/anish-kapoor-us es-stuart-semple-worlds-pinkest-pink-despite-ban/amp/
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