The Sonoma music writer weighs in on Ed Sheeran lawsuit

The jury decided no, and I agree.|

English singer songwriter Ed Sheeran has been just a tad bit successful since he started his music career as an indie artist in 2005. He signed a contract with a major label in 2011, and has since posted some dazzling numbers to measure that success.

His 2018 tour is the highest-grossing music tour in a single year after generating a staggering $429,491,502 (£336,669,000) from 99 shows with a total attendance of 4,800,441 rabid fans.

This past February, Sheeran’s 2017 album “Divide” was named the most streamed album on Spotify with 12.835 billion plays. Ba, ba, ba, billion.

His song, “Thinking Out Loud” from his 2014 album “X” spent the most consecutive weeks in UK Top 40 (one single), holding the record with 54 weeks.

“Thinking Out Loud” brought him a pile of gold, and a ton of money. It also turned at least three sets of ears. Those ears belonged to the descendants of songwriter Ed Townsend. Marvin Gaye and Townsend are the credited songwriters for Gaye’s monster hit from 1973, “Let’s Get It On.” Sheeran was accused of copyright infringement, aka plagiarism, and was sued for $100 million USD in damages.

The jury reached a unanimous verdict let Sheeran off the hook, deliberating less than three hours, barely time to enjoy the court purchased lunch spread.

Songwriters around the world released a huge sigh of relief with that verdict. Popular songs in western music are largely tied to the musical scale, which really consists of only seven notes. Chords comprised of those notes are equally mathematically limited. The magic of songwriting lies in the order of those notes, the arrangement of those chords, and the tempo and rhythm of the song.

During his testimony, Sheeran said he has talked ad nauseum about the two songs with “dramatically” different lyrics and melodies consisting of “four chords which are also different and used by songwriters everyday all over the world.”

I have written songs myself. While an elementary school teacher, I penned numerous wildly popular songs about the life of a school kid. Songs like “Staphylococcus Nightmare” and “Right Here on Riverside” are forever, for better or worse, etched into the hearts and minds of several hundred otherwise innocent children.

Also, I have written many, well into the single digits in number, serious “adult songs.” I know the pain Sheeran goes through when writing a song. Boy, do I feel sorry for him.

But sue the guy? How many times have you, you music lover, been to a concert when the band begins to play, say, “Twist and Shout,” then segues into “La Bamba”? Then maybe “Guantanamera”? How about “Louie, Louie” to “Hang on Sloopy?”

They are all so very similar. There are only so many variations songwriter can use, and even fewer of those combinations are pleasant, catchy, and memorable.

Why don’t the songwriters of those songs sue? There could have been agreements, out of court settlements, or the songs could be public domain. Plus, you can’t get blood from a turnip. But Sheeran ain’t no turnip.

The band Venice, who played a fabulous show in Sonoma last summer, covered Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” on their album “Brunch Buffett.” It was there that I really listened to the song. It is a very good song, and Venice did an excellent job with it. Did it remind me of Gaye’s song? No, it did not. Did Sheeran purposely rip off “Let’s Get It On?”

The jury decided no, and I agree.

Give the two songs a listen and see what you think. Then learn how to play an instrument and try to write a song yourself. And make it original!

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