Song Choice

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Song Choice is a vidding term and usually refers to the pairing of the song and the fandom to create a transformative fan work called a songvid. Song choice can refer to either the music or lyrics or both. Most vidders spend considerable time searching for a song that expresses the narrative they are hoping to tell. However, some songs are chosen to evoke a mood or feeling. (see vid)

Fannish Discussion of the Concept

In 1994, Sandy Herrold said:

Never underestimate the power of a songvid. That song [1] has been forever ruined for me by a Beauty and the Beast songvid. It's all I can think about when I hear or even think about that song. I occasionally have nightmares where, when I'm dying, instead of my life flashing before my eyes, that songvid flashes on continuous loop forever, throughout eternity. [2]

In 2003 Vividcon hosted a panel about Song Choice. The panel description read:

You hear a song and instantly see a show or a character in your head -- but do they really fit together? Matching song tone and feel to fandom and vidstory, or finding the right fandom to go with that song you've been holding onto for three years, can take some doing. And will the rest of us, the viewers, agree with the vidder's decisions? What makes this song work for that fandom, or not?

The panel was repeated in 2004:

What makes a song choice unexpected? What makes the unexpected choice work? and again in 2011: "Song Choice is considered by many to be the most important part of a vid. Of hugely popular music, why do some songs attract so many vids--in some cases over decades--where others rarely see a vidlet? Are all vids to the same song effectively the same vid or is there really an "ultimate vidsong" that can be made new with each new work? Join in as we explore these questions and more as we boldly go where many a vidder has gone before.

Perhaps the first panel on song choice took place in 1997 at Escapade 7. Sandy Herrold had this to say about the panel:

"I just heard from Megan Kent that Escapade is planning a panel on song choice for videos. Great idea! And got me thinking about songs for vids in general.

My problem is more: I have time to vid, I have a show (or more) that I feel passionate about, I'm listening to my CD's and the radio non-stop, and yet, I can't find a song that works for my pairing.

In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and say, I think the harder it is to find a song for a specific pairing, the closer to unique (i.e., further from classic/stereotypical) their relationship is. (That doesn't mean that Classic 'paired heroes' is a bad thing for a show to have, of course.)

I have, for example, been having a hell of a time finding good Benny/Ray songs. In the more than a year since I fell *hard* for these guys, I've only done two songs, and I didn't really like either of them-I just couldn't think of anything better.

And the corollary is, the closer a character or pairing is to classic, the easier it should be to find songs for them. According to this theory, the character of Roger of Wiseguy must be a pretty darn classic fallen hero, considering the fact that though he's only in 10 or 11 episodes, 3 of the best 6 or 7 WG songvids (imo, of course) were done for him alone. [3]

Who 'Owns' A Song?

Historically, song choice was a proprietary and unique part of a vid, with vidders claiming a song which then could not be reused without permission or without putting a new and creative spin on the song. This worked while vidding remained a small and tightly knit community, but was abandoned when new technology and the Internet exponentially expanded the vidding world into infinity and beyond.

However, in a 1996 post to the Virgule-L mailing list titled "Unwritten rules, and the evolution of a consensus", Sandy Herrold explains how pre-Internet vidders approached song choice:

"Many years back in the age of songvids (after Kendra invented them, but before most fans had good equipment), a friend made a Pros vid. Another, better known vidder saw it, liked virtually all of it but thought the original vidder had "done some things wrong". So she made her own version of it. She used better equipment, but with the exception of 5-6 clips, made the *same* version. Consensus was just beginning to develop about such things as re-using other vidders songs (even in different fandoms), and there was certainly no 'rule' about such remaking. But in the uproar after that, most people decided that if you were going to reuse someone's song in the same fandom, you should put your own spin on it (use a different character's POV, something...), rather than just remake someone's work *while changing it to make it closer to your liking."

Song Re-Use

Song re-use has been an extremely contentious discussion during the VCR vidding era, as common wisdom was that the first vid a viewer sees for a particular song is often the one that sticks in their mind, no matter how powerful a second vid to that song is. A corollary to this was that to remake a song--to produce a new vid using the same song as someone else--was to imply that there was something wrong with the original vid, and it had to be remade 'right'. For these and other reasons, songs were jealously guarded, and it was considered 'bad form' to remake a song that someone had already done.

In 1996, while discussing the topic of unauthorized sequels to fan stories on Virgule-L, Sandy Herrold related the following history of fannish attitudes towards:

"Many years back in the age of songvids (after Kendra invented them, but before most fans had good equipment), a friend made a Pros vid. Another, better known vidder saw it, liked virtually all of it but thought the original vidder had "done some things wrong". So she made her own version of it. She used better equipment, but with the exception of 5-6 clips, made the *same* version. Consensus was just beginning to develop about such things as re-using other vidders songs (even in different fandoms), and there was certainly no 'rule' about such remaking. But in the uproar after that, most people decided that if you were going to reuse someone's song in the same fandom, you should put your own spin on it (use a different character's POV, something...), rather than just remake someone's work *while changing it to make it closer to your liking.*" (quoted with permission)

In 1993, vidder Gayle F approached a vidder who had used a song twice in different fandoms to ask permission to use the vid. Ironically, the vdder's husband also had just completed his own vid using the son to a third fandom, Gayle opted not to use the vid for a fourth time:

"In the continuing saga revolving about the question of whether fen should use songs previously used by other fen, I opted for the permission theory and asked Mary Van Duesen if she would mind if Tashery and I used The Arbiter, which she had previous used interestingly for both Blake's 7 & Sherlock Holmes. She said it was fine, that she enjoyed seeing different versions of the same song. We wanted to use the song for The Sandbaggers, as we were having difficulty finding any song we thought would work for that show. Mary mentioned that her husband, Paul, had just done a version for The Prisoner, and that she would include with some other tapes she was sending me. Well, after seeing Paul's flashy new Arbiter, we both lost interest in using the song for The Sandbaggers, which is visually a fairly dull show, although a rich one emotionally..."[4]

Not all VCR era vidders objected per se to song re-use. In 1995, vidders on the Virgule-L mailing list were debating song re-use when Sandy Herrold offered the following.

"And it reminds me. I would never say "you *must* use the 'standard' or 'hit' version of a song for a song vid," but I think vidders should realize that a lot of people resist remakes of fav songs, especially the first time they hear them. So, if the version you want to use has some real advantage (sung by a man instead of a woman; slower or faster, and you really wanted the speed change; much more comprehensible lyrics, etc), go ahead and use it, but realize that some % of your audience will be so distracted by the new version that they aren't paying as much attention to the vid, at least the first viewing.

[snip excerpts where vidders wonder why you would make another version of a vid of a song that's already been done, even if it's in a different fandom?]

Um...I know that DJ and some other vidders very strongly agree...on this one. I go back and forth. Yes, the impact of the song is lessened, because the viewer's brain is distracted comparing one version to the other when it should just be watching. But, some vidders use songs for incomprehensible fandoms, and you no sooner see a vid than you think, 'why did they use this wonderful dark song for Trek,' say, 'when it should have been for some depressing dark show....' and you want to use it for something more appropriate.

And, there have been some great vids made from the same song. I love the MVD version of 'Hotel California' for B7, and I love JChung version of the same song for The Prisoner, for example.[5]

I will happily admit that some songs have been done to death, like Holding out for a Hero, (but I was completely amused to see a new version of that a couple of months ago to "A Funny thing happened on the way to the Forum" where the 'hero' of the title is the character _Hero_ in the movie, and a bigger bumbler you'll never meet...). And I will agree that a song probably shouldn't be done more than once per TV show. (Though even then, it is painful to see a terrible job of a great song--I would probably never do it, but I have wanted to redo some vids so badly: great song, perfect fandom, terribly thought out, or terribly put together...)

And, it is sometimes fascinating to see the same song done from two radically different perspectives. In fact, I know a pros vid that the vidder intentionally did twice, once from Bodie's pov, once from Doyle's pov, and both of them are hilarious (This Boy--The Beatles).

But I just sigh in a vid showing when the opening notes of the song start, and I think, 'same old, same old...'. [6]

However with popular songs, that sort of guarding behavior wasn't really possible. These frequently top 40 type songs played on a lot of different radio stations, and received a lot of airplay; many vidders could come in contact with the song independent of the vidding community, and thus not know that other vids had already been made, or simply didn't care. These songs also tended to be fairly generic, and were easily adapted to many fandoms, being 'just perfect' for each fandom they were used in; this led to many variations on a theme, with the same song reused by many different vidders, becoming a vidding trope. As access to vidding equipment became cheaper and more easily accessible, and as the centralized vidding community splintered apart with the sheer volume of new members and new communities being formed--many of them with a monofannish as opposed to a multifannish focus--there was no real way to maintain the old 'one song/one vid' adage.

Occasionally, two or more vidders will choose the same song for a premiere vid at the same vid show, which leads to a lot of anxiety on everyone's part. At Escapade in 2001, Lynn C. and Killa both created vids for "In Your Eyes" by Oyster Band, with Lynn choosing Stargate SG-1 Jack/Daniel as her focus, which meant that the stars were literal and the idea of forever was metaphorical in her vid, while Killa chose Highlander's Duncan/Methos, which gave a literal quality to forever and a metaphorical one for stars, though both vids had at their core the same theme. Both vids were made on computers, but as extra bonus tension, Lynn was a longstanding member of the VCR vidding community, and Killa was one of the vidders of the WOAD society, which promoted computer vidding. This perfect storm of culture clash over fandom, lyric interpretation, and vidding community base, led to one of the more contentious vid review panels in Escapade's history. That same year, Killa also reused another song that had appeared in the 1999 Escapade vid show to create her now well-known Dante's Prayer.

In a 2000 discussion on the Vidder list Killa and Morgan Dawn talked about song choice in the context of the re-use of Dante's Prayer

Killa: I do agree that it's more fun to use an original song that no one's used before and claim it for your own show, generally speaking. However, I feel compelled to point out that I was not the first person to vid to Dante's Prayer. In my own defense, I completely forgot there was a Titanic vid to that song when I decided to try it. Dante's Prayer was a song I had written a K/S story to years before, and to me it was intrinsically tied up in that fandom, so while I remembered the Titanic vid as being really beautiful, I'd completely forgotten it was *that* Loreena McKennitt song. (Selective memory?)"

Morgan Dawn: Killa is correct -- 2 years ago, Justine Bennett & I did use the Dante's Prayer song to illustrate the movie Titanic. I feel that it is best to use your own song -- simply because music is such a powerful element of songfvids that your vid can be diluted if the song is used over and over again.

But there are factors that reduce the impact of "over-used" music -- for example, "Holding Out For A heroe" has been used in almost every fandom. And I still like to watch every one of them, simply for comparison.

last year we used "Don't You Need' by M Ethridge for a SH vid -- the song had been used (to better effect I thought) in Gayle and Tashery's "Blake's 7" vid many years ago. But since several years had past and it was a different fandom, Gayle & I both decided the music would not be "over-used". So time and distance can also reduce your risk of over-exposing a song.

Which leads me to ponder the synchronicity of the universe -- I almost decided to re-show the Titanic version of "Dante"s Prayer" again in the Friday Escapade show [the very same year Killa premiered her Star Trek version].... what an interesting experience that would have been, eh?

At VividCon 2008, deejay and Seah & Margie both chose the same song for their premiere vids, Handlebars by Flobots, with deejay using Iron Man footage and Seah & Margie using Doctor Who, but without the technology and culture clash issues, it didn't result in the same sort of controversy as In Your Eyes had.

That said, some songs/artists find themselves being used over and over in a single fandom, resulting in a vidding trope for that fandom, such as the extensive usage of Sarah McLachlan in Due South.

Examples of this type of vidding trope


late '80s -'90s

post 2000

Examples of Usage

I have to say that I was outta whack with the comedy show, and a lot of things the crowd thought funny just didn't work for me. I think it was song choice, in general, that was the main culprit... [9]

Certain elements of the vidmaking process have been elucidated more than others. Inspiration, for example, has been much discussed, as has song choice.[10]

I thought this was a great song choice for telling that particular story, and seemed really appropriate for the spiritual elements of the show and the isolation of the main characters. [11]

Song Choice: Beyond the obvious parity between the song's title and the show's time-twisty plot, it's an angry, intense song, with deeply meaningful, emotional lyrics that punch you right in the face. That... sounds exactly like the character of Derek Reese, to me. [12]

Przed and I chatted about this vid before we got to Escapade. To quote Melina, when I think of LOTR I think epic music. And modern music has to work hard to create that epic feeling in me. So that made it almost impossible for me to overcome the song choice. But I found myself moved at the second half of the vid, when the focus narrows to the Faramir and Boromir relationship - always looking at the other brother, wondering why you feel inadequate. This made the POV shift at the very end very poignant. [13]


  1. ^ Possibly "Hurts So Good" by John Cougar Mellancamp.
  2. ^ posted to Virgule-L, quoted with permission (January 6, 1994)
  3. ^ posted to the Virgule-L mailing list in Jan 1997, quoted with permission.
  4. ^ Gayle F's review in Rainbow Noise #2 (1993).
  5. ^ The latter is by Judy Chien.
  6. ^ October 1995 post to [the Virgule-L mailing list, reposted with permission.
  7. ^ Email from Melina to vidder Yahoo!Groups list dated Sep 24, 2003. Accessed November 18, 2008.
  8. ^ vidder email list, somewhere
  9. ^ Vividcon 2002 Comedy Show (Rache review).
  10. ^ ~tishaturk, Vids and composing processes, February 5, 2009.
  11. ^ Killabeez's review of God Says Nothing Back.
  12. ^ Killabeez's review of History of My Future.
  13. ^ Morgan Dawn's Escapade 2004 vid show review posted to the Vidder mailing list in 2004.