What You Need to Know When You Parody a Song

by Derek M. Kwait

"Weird Al" Yankovic is the first name in song parodies in America.

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It is sometimes harder to make a parody than an original song. While you can do anything with an original composition, a parody must fit within the pre-established contours of somebody else's work. Parody is challenging, but the rewards of successfully reimagining a popular song and making the world laugh at it can make all the hard work worthwhile. Before you just dive in and put your creativity to work, however, there are some things you should know first.

Lyrics and Music

The first things you must know when parodying a song are the correct words and music. Song lyrics and sheet music can be found from a variety of sources, but many are inaccurate. The best way to ensure that you are working with the correct information is to look at the artist's web site, check the album's liner notes, or buy the sheet music from a music store, if available. Besides ensuring that you are parodying the real song, by looking at the lyrics printed out, you may notice themes or quirks in the song you can exploit that you did not notice when listening to it.

Artist Background

Researching the artist or band who performs the song -- listening to their other music, watching their music videos, learning their personal background -- can give you ideas for small details or themes to include in your parody. Small lyrical or musical allusions can win you the respect of the band's fans and gives you more material to work with. Even if your parody has nothing to do with the band, because you are mimicking their style to make your song, you should still try to make it sound as much like them as possible.

Other Parodies

In the age of YouTube, there is a good chance that someone else has already had your idea and capitalized on it. Before investing too much time and energy into making your parody, search for your intended title on Google and YouTube. Even if this turns up no results, perform searches for some of your lyrics and themes just to be sure no one did your idea under a different title. If you are parodying Green Day's "American Idiot" as "Armenian Idiot," Google "Armenian Idiot," "Green Day parody" " 'American Idiot' parody" and some of your lyrics.

Legal

If you are intending to make any profit from your song, you must familiarize yourself with the United States copyright laws of "fair use" to avoid a costly lawsuit for copyright infringement. Parody is generally protected under fair use laws if it is intended to mock or ridicule the original work, but there is a lot of gray area in the definition of what does and does not constitute mocking or ridiculing. The safest options are to make sure you will make no profit of any kind from your work or asking the artist's permission first.

About the Author

Derek M. Kwait has a Bachelor of Arts in English writing from the University of Pittsburgh and has been writing for most of his life in various capacities. He has worked as a staff writer and videographer for the "Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh" and also has training writing fiction, nonfiction, stage-plays and screenplays.

Photo Credits

  • Jason Merritt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images