Today’s Monday smile is a bit different. It’s all about music, which I think makes most of us smile. It’s also a guest post – by Liam Curley (@smokecroakliam) who, together with two friends, runs Smoke & Croak, a boutique multilingual digital marketing service bursting with innovative ideas. So, over to you Liam…
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Translating Music – Legal Barriers & Melodic Hurdles
For those of you who studied translation at university, cast your mind back to your class on the translation of music or poetry. Most of us had them. Whilst music tends to be one of the most challenging categories of translation, I found it the most interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much call for professional music translators!
I recently set up a multilingual digital marketing company with two good friends and part of our early discussions on marketing were regarding online content. We wanted to build awareness of our brand online. We agreed that a blog should form a part of that content strategy, however we didn’t feel that a blog alone was sufficient. There are so many great translation blogs around that it was hard to see how ours would stand out from the crowd. What about music? Why had nobody set up a really cool online hub with videos of famous songs that have been translated and recorded? One of our team, Marco, is a great musician and linguist, and after initial research confirmed that there wasn’t a website out there with this kind of content, we decided to give it a go.
We soon realised why the project had never been tried. It’s a legal minefield! We went into the project naively believing that if we had no intention of making any money from the music, either directly or indirectly via advertising, why should there be any issues with the project? We were well underway with the first song before reconsidering that outlook and seeking some professional advice on the legal side of things. Luckily, Marco has connections in the music industry and got in touch with an agent he’d worked with from a large publishing business in Milan.
We quickly learned that we did indeed require permission to record translated covers. First, we needed to register the cover version, then make a formal request to the editor of the company that owns the rights to the song for permission to publish. Then you wait for a response, maybe months, maybe years. In the meantime, we decided to publish the videos. We’re prepared to take the risk that they may refuse permission in the future, but along with our agent, we believe that we’re effectively providing free promotion for the owners of the records.
Now onto the fun stuff! So far we’ve translated two songs and we’re currently holding a vote with Pablo Muñoz’s audience over at Algo más que traducir to select our third song. So far we’ve worked on the Killers’ Mr Brightside in Spanish and Foo Fighters’ Everlong in French. It’s a massively challenging project, but a lot of fun. Before we start on the translation, we try to understand the core sentiment behind the song. Why was it written, who for, what was the singer feeling, etc. I must have listened to Mr Brightside hundreds of times, but never realised that ‘Coming out of my cave and I’ve been doing just fine’ is a reference to depression. The reason it helps to understand everything behind the lyrics is that, when you’re confronted with a section in the song that really can’t be translated accurately within the melody, you have to truly understand the lyric, dig deep into the meaning and think creatively on what could work in the target language and fit with the melody.
Marco then gets to work on perfecting the music, which in reality is quite easy for him (he seems to play about a dozen instruments!). For Everlong, we also put together a band. From start to finish, translating the song and recording the music takes around 4-6 weeks. Then we move to filming. Everything has been done in Sorrento so far as this is where Marco is based. Luckily for us there are plenty of beautiful locations to choose from. We want the videos to look as professional as possible, so we work with a professional team consisting of a videographer, photographer and director.
From start to finish, each project takes about 8 weeks to complete, hundreds of collective hours of unpaid work and a lot of TLC from many people. We’re really proud of the material we’ve produced so far and hope to produce one music video every 2-3 months. Our dream is that they spread far and wide so that everyone gets an opportunity to hear these great songs in a new language.
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