Content creation, inspiration and the art of remix

All articles | Content
Published Mar 01, 2013 | Written by Jeremy Knight

A couple of weeks back, I read a blog post which succinctly and emphatically brought into focus the debate around whether creativity based chiefly on another source of material was still creativity; it did this by sharing a story.  The post entitled “Charlotte Sometimes and The Cure” by Mark Coker describes how a great song written in the 1980s by The Cure, purloined its title from a book by a children’s author of the 60s.  The song, we learn, tells “the story of a young girl who at night mysteriously travels back in time 40 years to switch places with another girl”, as indeed does the book of the same name by author, Penelope Farmer, and the lyrics at times are lifted directly from the page. 

Sounds like a murky case of, at best, plagiarism or at worst, theft, where The Cure get away with passing off what has gone before as theirs... But wait, as readers we are then directed to read the story (which I urge you to do), in her own [blog] words, from the “victim” Penelope Farmer and discover the perhaps surprising truth about the experience from the author’s point of view:

Post 1 - The Cure(d):
Post 2 -The Cure(d): Robert Smith for ever... :

So, 30 years on from The Cure, it got me thinking about content creation (whether that means written online content, video, music, art) in a digital age, where sharing ideas, blog posts, comments, quotes, is as simple as hitting "share' or “retweet”.  And, how difficult it can be in this real-time, noisy world to satisfy the endless compulsion to appear original when lots of people are talking about the same kind of things as you.

And guess what?  There are others thinking and talking about the same thing as me (so not the first then, darn it!), and, naturally, using inspiration from others to illustrate their points.

SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin asked a while back “Where does creativity come from?”, and was inspired in his post by Kirby Ferguson’s fantastic TED talk entitled “Embrace the Remix”.  Both post and talk highlight how, in essence, everything produced and created today is derived in some way by material, knowledge, experience, content, that has gone before, and that that is something to be recognised and cherished as the journey of creativity.  In his series of excellent short videos, “everything is a remix”, Ferguson goes on to explore and illustrate this point, citing examples from Led Zeppelin to Star Wars, from design to technology, and describes how in all of these spheres “creativity is about collecting material, combining and transforming it”.  And it is difficult not to get carried away with examples from your own experience:  think sampling and remixes from 80s Hip Hop through to Drum & Bass and “Big Beats”; think what Pride and Prejudice is to Brigitte Jones Diary; how racing car design evolves amongst F1 teams; think about the exponential development and rise of smart phones, apps, etc, etc.

It could be argued that we use this same creative process in content marketing - we’re “remixers” par excellence:

  • we seek to enlighten our audience with a blog post or two on a particular subject or issue, and then re-utilise some of the content for a subsequent eBook (or vice versa);

  • we offer a personal comment/opinion in response to someone else’s blog post and then build on that content thinking “actually there’s more useful stuff I can write on this”;

  • we produce original research and then create infographics from the key findings;

  • we blog, referencing the work of others that have inspired us, that we have read, watched, listened to, seen, and we make it original by adding our own perspective, expanding themes with our own thoughts and sharing our own knowledge and experience;

and for the most part, I believe and I hope, this process of “content remix” is done with regard to fairness and attribution through direct links to blog posts that have inspired, with links to the social pages of thinkers admired, with credits for images, video, text reused under Creative Commons licence. 

As Stephen Downes of the National Research Council of Canada, long-time advocate for the use of online media in education, commented on a blog post regarding collaborative learning and the use of Creative Commons licensed materials:  “In fact, 90 percent of anything we create is borrowed. It is extraordinarily difficult to show any flash of originality. And such flashes of originality [make] sense only when embedded in a surround of other people's work." 

Inspiration, for many of us who try to write on a regular basis, comes from the content and materials around us - from social media feeds, news items, conversations with families, peers and colleagues, radio programmes, meetings, articles, books, and the list goes on. Where that inspiration leads, how it is acknowledged, and what it moves you to create, is the exciting part of that creative journey.

I leave the last word to Penelope Farmer, author of "Charlotte Sometimes":

" for me, I'm glad to have a book in print and read still unlike many of my contemporaries - a book I'm still proud of what's more and that I know does and always has spoken to many. It's a murky issue morally speaking this 'inspiration' stuff. We all of us take from our predecessors in one way or another; in some cases it's more obvious that's all."

Image by: maven

NB. I have tried to credit and reference everyone that has enabled me to create this post, through appropriate links. Thanks for the inspiration.


Published by Jeremy Knight March 1, 2013
Jeremy Knight