Using Another Performer’s Song

I heard this song in a burlesque show a long time ago and I have been dying to use it in a number. However I feel a little weird about it…Do you think it might be OK for me to use the same song since the other performer did it a long time ago?
Maddie, NYC

Dear Maddie,
This is a good question! No one performer can claim the rights to any song legally. Songs belong to the artist that originally performed the song or even the record company who produced it. From a legal standpoint, using songs used by other performers is not illegal and you won’t get sued. From a social standpoint, however, its a good idea to avoid song crossovers with other performers.

This is incredibly difficult however, since most performers don’t publish their song lists, and it’s nearly impossible to show up at every burlesque show know a performer’s entire repertoire. Try, if at all possible, to avoid songs used by other performers, at least within a 50 mile radius or within the same performing circles. If you know the song is used by another burlesque performer and you feel using the song may cause an awkward situation, simply ask the dancer if he/she would mind if you used the song as well. Many times, the performer will not mind at all , so long as you are not using their concept as well. Don’t be offended if the performer does mind you using the particular song. You have avoided an impending conflict by asking, and there could be circumstances you are unaware of giving rise to the performer turning down your request. The song may be part of a performer’s signature act, or they have won prestige and recognition with the use of that song, which would be a very valid reason to turn down another performers request to use the same song.

Performing a song that another performer uses knowingly is insulting to the other peformer, insinuating that you could take their inspiration and do it better. None of us want to insult eachother, do we? Some crossovers are just unavoidable. The problem lies when two performers, who want to use the same song, end up on the same stage together in one evening. It happens a lot more than performers imagine it possibly could, especially in a festival situation.

The best advice I can give is this: if you are just set on performing the song, look into other versions performed by other artists. Sometimes you can find very interesting covers of songs that are even better than the original recording! Another sure fire way to have an original piece of music to perform to is to either have a musician compose an original piece for you or to remix the music you want to use. The finest music are pieces that sample other songs or combine two songs into a longer number. This route ensures that no one can possibly end up performing the same number as you without blatantly stealing your music mix! Originality is the key to a unique performance.

Love and Tassels,
Black Mariah

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