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Did Nickelodeon Just Rip Off This Electronic Musician?

Tobacco is the solo electronic project of Black Moth Super Rainbow's Tom Fec. The other day, a friend of Tom's sent him a Nickelodeon promo video that was blatantly ripped from one of his tracks. I called him up to find out if he was planning on suing...
August 19, 2014, 9:06pm

Thomas Fec, AKA Tobacco

UPDATE (August 21): Commercial music producer Eric Robertson provided Stereogum with this statement: "I was originally commissioned to write the music for the Nickelodeon vid. The reference track obviously was 'Creepy Phone Calls.' I produced seven different songs/versions in a similar style to use for the vid, but I wouldn’t rip it off so apparently they found someone else who would. It isn’t Nickelodeon’s fault. Nickelodeon hired it out to an ad agency and the agency made all the calls. I won’t rip stuff off just to get a check."


I’ve never met Thomas Fec a.k.a. Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow, but I’d always assumed he was making his music the same way I was consuming it; on a head full of acid. Tobacco’s experimental psychedelic stoner synth-rock/pop with vocoder ends up sounding a lot like analog remixes of early 80s educational video soundtracks, all done on outdated equipment. In short, not many musicians are able to mimic his relatively unique style without sounding like blatant copycats.

Of course, none of that really matters when you’re cable colossus Nickelodeon, whose Animation Studio released a promo video with a suspiciously familiar sounding soundtrack. Oh right, its ripped straight from Tobacco’s 2010 album, Manic Meat—specifically “Creepy Phone Calls."

Here's the Tobacco track:

And here's the Nickelodeon promo:

Now, I have literally no knowledge of copyright law and how it applies to like-sounding covers, especially of easily recognizable work, but considering that George Harrison, Michael Bolton, Johnny Cash, and Vanilla Ice haven’t managed to avoid large out of court settlements for infringement, it’s at the very least frowned upon. Not that it matters, but it’s funny to find this video directly above the “Creator-Driven” banner.

I called up Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and they didn’t know anything about the video at all, so they transferred me to Viacom’s Marketing Department, who had even less of an idea and transferred me to their New York Marketing Department, who didn’t know about the existence of the Animation Studio at all and redirected me to a dead end, who told me “I don’t know who would know that information, that’s why they’re bouncing you around,” and politely hung up.


Then I got in touch with Tobacco to see what he thought about being “scroted.” He didn't hang up on me.

VICE: How’d you find out about this?
Thomas Fec: Someone just like sent it to me, asking me. They thought it was mine, and were like “Oh! You’re doing Nickelodeon now, that’s so cool!” and I’m like “I don’t remember doing that at all…”

How do you feel about the rip?
Honestly, like everyone’s telling me that I should care, but I kinda don’t care. I don’t know why I don’t care. I probably should care. It seems like I can’t even blame Nickelodeon, I wouldn’t expect them to know every single song that’s out there, you know what I mean? They probably have no idea, they probably just hired some guy to just give them a song, I mean really it’s whatever scrote made the song that’s to blame. I guess I should be bothered but I’m not.

So what are you gonna do about it, nothing?
No, I might if it was on TV… but maybe it is, I don’t even know. If this was something bigger then I’d probably do something, but it might just be smarter to not do anything and let this scrotey guy keep ripping these songs. Hopefully he pitches it to somebody like Pizza Hut someday so I can actually get something out of a lawsuit.

Do you think you’re within your rights to sample their version of your song for a new song?
The only thing that bothers me is that they’ve cut what I’ve done and just like they’ve made it so cheap sounding. Like anytime someone hears my music and they hate me for what I do, that’s what they’re hearing in what I do. You know what I mean? Like, whatever that shittiness is. I could never sample something that sounded that bad.

Have you done any work for Nickelodeon?
I did a song once for Yo Gabba Gabba!, but I don’t know what channel that was on.

What instrument are you making that “high-pitched fuzz” sound with? Sounds like a sustained engine rev?
Probably just a monosynth, like an octave cat or something.

I’m surprised you’re so chill about such a scrotey move.
I put out those Fucked Up Friends DVDs with little clips from old videos from the 80s and 90s, and I do understand appropriating a piece of work—taking something and making it into something new. At least I’m trying to see it that way.

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