I’m sure that the Seattle folk band Fleet Foxes are all about sharing and what-not. I am also sure that they don’t play their music for free. Or at least the record company executives who distribute their records don’t want them parroted without proper accreditation and payment. Whatever your feeling about artistic license and the creative spirit, one can’t deny the striking similarity in a recent television ad in Spanish language TV (1) and the Fleet Foxes song (2) in question.
Sounding alike is nothing really all that new; some people (Lady Gaga) make a huge splash without giving the proper accreditation. NYU students who want to be Madonna notwithstanding, it’s a simple fact of life that everything has been done more than once. Chord progressions, verses, musical structure , and theme are all fair game. However with the recent popularity of Fleet Foxes around the college radio/Starbucks crowd, one can fairly easily understand why a company would want to use the formula the band has proved has already worked.
“What Winter Hymnal” was Fleet Foxes first single off their eponymous debut record in 2008. This record was also released by a European record label so there’s also that Spanish-proximity connection. But when the advertising agency that “created” this sound-alike of their song did so without proper clearances and without paying the band (and its record label) the underground media got stirring.
Apparently the advertisement is for this recent “Spanish language commercial for the sports equipment company Kipsta,” according to Pitchfork.com (3). If you listen to both the Fleet Foxes song and the commercial, there is little doubt where their inspiration came from. The layout of the song, the progression of the melody, and the rising action in the opening chorus really point to the only obvious fact that this song was ripped off.
This commercial from Kipsta and their advertising agency is a rip off and it’s wrong. While I believe that as soon as you put something out into the world, it is the property of the world, there do need to be lines drawn. Apparently Tom Waits felt that when in 1988 “a Doritos commercial used a song that sounded remarkably like Tom Waits “Step Right Up.” He sued Frito-Lay and successfully. He also went after Audi. I’m sure the car maker thought he couldn’t pick up a second win for a sound-alike suit (or that he wouldn’t be listening for it). Not only did he succeed but he had precedent which is what Fleet Foxes need to be banking on for their pursuit of recognition.
It’s all about the eternal coin, unfortunately. Still, Fleet Foxes deserve their due.