If you know of any rap artists who plagiarize rhythms or lyrics, the musical director of the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra (BJSO), Rob Tomaro, might write a report about them. Although he is best known for his conductors in Rock County, Tomaro’s professional skills are in demand across the country for his work in forensic musicology.
“I perform the function of being an expert witness and providing reports on legal matters involving plagiarism in the music industry,” said Tomaro. “As a composer, and especially as a conductor, I have been trained for many years by great teachers to discern minute differences in sound and pitch. You should hear if the players are out of tune.
Tomaro’s skills are sought after when musicians claim that another artist has appropriated their musical product and that it is the subject of litigation. Musical plagiarism is most prevalent in pop, rock, rap and hip hop.
Tomaro can find minute differences in inflections, breaths, and tone that the bare ear cannot hear, and justifies his findings using a scientific method employing four to five methods of analysis. His skills are in great demand because there is not a large number of forensic musicologists.
“It seems to require two completely disparate skill sets that have to work together. You must have a thorough understanding of how to analyze and describe harmonic analysis in classical music. You also need to understand the latest trends in contemporary music, including what’s going on in a recording studio and the latest digital signal processing techniques, ”he said.
During Tomaro’s doctoral studies in the 1990s, he studied musicology in addition to his main focus of musical composition and conducting, but he did not begin to develop his career as a forensic musicologist until he About five years ago, when he got a phone call from a colleague. in Los Angeles affiliated with law firms specializing in music lawsuits.
Tomaro explained how musical plagiarism is quite common in the Los Angeles music scene. A well-known case, for example, is where musicians sued Led Zeppelin in 2014 when they claimed that “Stairway to Heaven” included material they originally wrote. Zeppelin went on to win the copyright battle.
“Such lawsuits are increasing a bit. There is a tremendous amount of fluidity in pop, hip hop and rap when songs are borrowed, not least due to the explosion of digital music technology. You can literally push a button and copy and paste something from someone else’s music, tweak it slightly and put it in your music claiming it as your own, ”Tomaro said.
Sometimes, Tomaro explained, there can be unconscious plagiarism, like when George Harrison used a melody from another track from his hit song “My Sweet Lord” without knowing what he was doing. He was sued for copyright infringement by the publisher of “He’s So Fine”, a 1963 hit. Harrison was convicted of “subconscious plagiarism” and had to pay over a million dollars.
“It was a pretty costly mistake,” said Tomaro.
However, Tomaro said plagiarism is generally a conscious choice that happens more often than you think.
“People think they can get by,” Tomaro said.
Tomaro said he’s currently working on a case in which an artist claims a world-famous singer stole a vocal track from her and lip-syncs it in a video that has 23 million views on YouTube.
“I cannot name the artist because I am in a nondisclosure agreement,” he noted.
Tomaro is involved in his eighth case now.
“I came out on the winning side, let’s just say 70% of the time,” he said.
By the time a case reaches Tomaro’s office, it has already been reviewed to determine that there are significant labor issues. Tomaro must then provide an expert report using various methodologies.
One of the more interesting techniques is to engage the services of a voice analysis expert, usually a former FBI, who will use digital imagery to create a spectrogram, a visual representation of the peaks of the sound valleys.
“You can identify where one sound is the same as the other or if they are different and why. It’s like a digital version of what fingerprints are in crime, ”he said.
Tomaro said he has never encountered a case where there is a strong similarity that shows the music has been appropriate. He usually needs five or six similarities to have a strong case.
Tomaro once recalled using an information technology expert to help him when a defendant said certain musical similarities came about by coincidence. The expert put the similarities into an algorithm and the odds of all five similarities occurring was 0.00000001.
“It was very impressive back then,” said Tomaro.
Tomaro can also use a time-series analysis. He remembers a case where he listened to the song of his client and the accused. Using a timeline, he learned that not only did the accused copy the song, but the arrangement as well.
Tomaro has a wide range of clients. He represented a sound engineer alleging that a record company had used a mix he had created and which the company had said it refused. Another time, Tomaro had to analyze two “whistles” when someone claimed that a large company had used their whistle in an advertising campaign.
“I did a spectrographic analysis of the whistle and analyzed the peaks and valleys on the spectrogram,” Tomaro said.
Tomaro said his work shouldn’t be slowing down. There are a lot of gray areas to go through when it comes to melodies, rhythm progression and similar lyrics. However, the music industry is not the only company with imitators. Reproductions are everywhere, he said, as are Fig Newtons and other fig cookie knockoffs that seek to be them.
“If someone gets a hit, a lot of people jump on the bandwagon and try to produce something as close as possible to make money out of it,” he said.