Original but Traditional Flamenco?

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    Hi Folks,

    I would appreciate any thoughts.

    One genre that I perform, teach and write in is Flamenco. I am primarily a guitarist. Flamenco’s origins are mostly traditional, it has a range of different ‘forms’ (‘palos’ in Spanish) each of which corresponds to a specific rhythm. musical framework, guitar chord structures/voicings Mood and feel.

    With melodic variations (falsetas) and characteristic techniques essential for a genuine flamenco sound.
    It is a huge, deep and complex subject with a long opaque history going back hundreds of years meaning that scholars called ‘flamencologists’ debate history, origins and authorship of the many expressions of these palos.

    As with other traditional musical forms this can create difficulties in the world of music licensing/copyright and ownership of works. This is made worse by the fact that in this genre, ‘songs ‘ don’t exist!! Performances/recordings are named by the form (Palo), not a song title or lyric.

    I’ve just been offered an exclusive deal by a USA library on one Flamenco track I’ve recorded.
    In order for it to be defined as Traditional Flamenco (which was stipulated in the listing request and reference tracks) it must adhere to and express recognisable Flamenco motifs with the above characteristics which are traditional in origin, while including my own original variations to avoid copyright issues

    In my recording I’ve been as diligent as possible to ensure none of my guitar variations (falsetas or solos) are by iconic well know guitarists eg Paco de Lucia, Sabicas, Ramon Montoya, Niño Ricardo, (some of which could already be PD) and ensured that, while preserving the authentic vibe and typical cadence, they are my own.

    How to make it true to it’s roots and definition while not infringing any IP rights?

    Even if not specifically Flamenco, does anyone who writes in other traditional music (perhaps Blues, Ethnic, World) have a similar experience or could offer advice as to how to tread this tightrope!

    Much Appreciated. José




    Art Munson



    Hi again. I feel I need to simplify the main point of my question re. Traditional music and copyright (Flamenco in my case).
    How do other composers deal with the copyright issue in for example Blues?
    If a Blues composition has a typical 12 bar structure and is played on guitar using the familiar ‘chuggy’ riff known to most guitarists but has an original melody superimposed or added, can this be categorised as an original work? (Let’s forget lyrics for the moment as my Flamenco track is an instrumental).

    Similar to Flamenco, Blues has unclear, anonymous and arcane origins which form a fundamental and recognisable structure but whose authors are mostly unknown.
    For composers submitting Blues compositions to libraries, that express traditional motifs with unique elements added, what approach do you take re. authorship of your original work?
    Any response much appreciated. Thanks


    It is a tightrope for sure – there is no doubt about that. Personally, unless you have REALLY great E&O insurance (and then even if you do), I would err on the side or more originality and less authenticity. These days, many publishers of iconic pieces get a good portion of their income not from sync placements, but from cease and desist letters to libraries. And worse case – copyright infringement lawsuits.

    It can even get into the “intent” of copying something – though the notes and/or harmony may be different. La Grange is a good example. ZZT was originally sued for “the lick” which was an iconic standard blues lick – and they won. But down the road, that doesn’t stop their publisher from sending cease and desist letters and/or suing other music libraries for the same thing they got sued for and won.

    This is the one HUGE reason I no longer provide “sounds like” meta data to music libraries. It paints a huge target on your back. I am also very careful when I receive briefs requesting “songs that sound like….”. Publishers LOVE to request that, but will rarely indemnify you on paper from possible infringement lawsuits. Words are cheap and mean nothing.

    Rhythms, harmony, melody, structure, bass lines, production style, intent – they all come into play with copyright infringement. For me, there is nothing worse than getting that letter or call that you’re being sued. I’d rather not write the music to begin with. I run as fast as I can whenever I realize I’ve gotten “close” to something I don’t want to “copy” – even when completely accidental.

    Actually, there is one thing worse – waking up at night dreading the day that a letter may show up. No thanks.


    Thanks LAwriter for your reply.

    My track can be described as Traditional Flamenco, in the ‘sub-genre’ which all Flamenco guitarists learn called ‘Soleá ‘.
    It has a specific chord sequence, rhythm (12 beat cycle) and a set of motifs, melodic themes + chord voicings that define it.

    I don’t believe it can be copyrighted as there have been countless records, old and new, released by well known guitarists, playing Soleá,
    their renditions (as does mine) all express the above characteristics + are variations or arrangements of Soleá which is why it is normally just listed as ‘Soleá’on album covers with no author credit but just labelled ‘traditional’.
    If anyone is interested here’s my track + a few examples of well-known artists performing Soleá. the similarities between all can be heard.

    My track:

    Paco Peña


    LA writer I appreciate your comments as it highlights how badly wrong it can go. I definitely don’t want it ending up costing instead of making me money.

    I’m unsure whether to flag this up to the new (to me) library owner and risk blowing the whole deal or whether there would be no case to answer as the traditional elements are PD and my additions are mine. Am I overthinking it?
    The library owner is communicative and the whole operation seems top knotch with great distribution so I would be gutted to lose the opportunity but don’t want to lose sleep over it either.

    Any comments much appreciated


    JD – I would absolutely be communicative and get everything out in the open. You WILL have to sign a contract stating that the music is original. By definition, from what you have mentioned, it is not. Perhaps you can be covered under a traditional cover that is “arranged by”. I don’t know. A music attorney should probably be retained if you really want to protect yourself.

    The library might say “no problem, we will protect you against copyright infringement claims”. At which point – get it in writing in the contract. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told exactly that, and I have never had one of them put it down on paper. They want the composer to carry the weight, and indemnify the library. This is a tricky business, and there are sharks swimming in the waters….

    Good luck!


    LAwriter I can’t thank you enough, .I’ve been procrastinating for days on how to handle this. your reply’s a huge help.
    I’ve decided to bite the bullet and be 100% open with the library no matter what the consequences.

    They may have already dealt with similar copyright questions on other traditional music tracks so seeking their perspective/advice could help get clarity on how to move forward.

    I’ve got Latin tracks (not flamenco) with one NE Library, any use of the word ‘traditional‘ in my description sometimes requires clarification that I’m describing instrumentation.vibe + arrangement etc and NOT the actual composition.
    As you wisely suggest, keeping well away from recognisable ‘signatures’ motifs of traditional forms is an excellent focus.
    The fact that many library ownes/end users don’t know what ‘authentic’ Flamenco is themselves, means it’s more about avoiding problems by creating the feel of it, rather than making it 100% true to it’s heritage.

    I’ve lost enough sleep already thinking about it all, if I lose the deal .then I will have learned something, my hope is that, even if this track is rejected, they may be open to other submissions.
    Many thanks. JD


    Just letting you know how this situation progressed.
    I called the library owner with the approach of outlining how Flamenco originated + was created with a view to getting his perspective, experience and advice on how he views traditional music and copyright etc.
    His thoughts were that, in a genre which is defined by legacy themes that have been around and used by multiple artists over a period of many generations, he has no problem with signing my track.
    It was a huge relief.
    I didn’t broach the suggestion of HIM indemnifying ME against financial loss if there were ever a legal challenge, as suggested by LAwriter, it makes good sense but I felt like making an issue at this early stage of a hopefully profitable working relationship, could be a deal breaker or start off on the wrong foot
    Maybe foolish of me but I didn’t feel it worth creating another obstacle to get in the way of just getting it sorted and uploading the content which I completed today. It was a good feeling and has cleared the decks for me mentally to be able to get on and finish other tracks. Ive learned a lot through the experience and will approach future track creation with cautious awareness of all the issues that gave me so much concern
    Thanks all the best. JD

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