When you’re working with music for commercials, style-alikes and sound-alikes of famous songs are often two of the first options considered. We’ve taken a closer look at the pros and cons of these two phenomenons.
Sound-alikes are best described as a compositions that resemble commonly known compositions or songs. These usually keep some of the elements of the original compositions such as instruments, style and tempo to make the song as recognizable as possible. The sound-alike walks on the fine line between breaching the copyright of the original composition and composing a brand new track.
And that’s exactly where things get complicated.
You have to be careful of two main elements to make sure that you don’t accidentally “steal” the original composition:
The melody is a given. Of course you can’t just copy the entire melody. However, you can get inspired by certain elements in it. You can utilize some of it and combine it with a new composition. The lyrics are handled differently. You should never reuse phrases and common words from another song. This means that you’ll have to write your own lyrics. That doesn’t mean that you can’t sing about something similar though.
Let’s say you want to produce a sound-alike of “Baby” by Justin Bieber. You could try to do it, but you can’t use the word “baby”, or similar words such as “honey”, in the chorus. You’d have to use a completely different word if you want to stick to the simplicity of the chorus.
However, making a sound-alike of an extremely popular song is generally a bad idea. Famous songs are generally easier spotted by the general public and the rights holders of the song. Remember: the goal is to make the composition sound like a specific song. Not to produce a cover.
A style-alike focuses on the style of the song and ignores the original melody. In a style-alike, the style of the song – which rather refers back to the instruments and mood – is alpha and omega. The composer’s main task is to capture the feeling you get when you listen to the original song. Therefore a style-alike is often more original than a sound-alike as it does not necessarily resemble the original melody of a specific song.
A style-alike focuses on:
The obvious drawback is that the style-alike quickly loses the element of recognition. Often times there’s little left from the original song to make the consumers recognize the new composition as something they’ve heard before. The consumer’s strong connection with the song is therefore severely weakened.
Sound-alikes & Style-alikes: Pros/Cons
There are, of course, pros and cons for both solutions.
You have to choose a style-alike if you’re looking for a completely original and unique song. A sound-alike can be quite unique too, but not nearly as much as a style-alike. However, a sound-alike possesses the power of recognition, but a recognized song is not always a positive thing. The power of a hit song in a commercial context is determined by the viewer’s point of reference. If the consumers know the song extremely well already, chances are that your brand won’t be the first thing they think about when they hear the song.
Composers will have more creative freedom when working on a style-alike as these projects aren’t defined by a specific melody. A style-alike seldom ventures into the copyright danger zone as genres are not protected by copyright. This means that the style-alike is a somewhat safer alternative.