Transcript: Ep. 4 - Who let the dogs out - and who really owns a song? | Jun 11, 2019

You're listening to
a TVO podcast.
(Light funk playing)
Hi, I'm Colin Ellis and
this is On Docs,
a podcast about documentaries
and the stories they tell.
This week, we're going to get
into the story behind
a little tune
from the year 2000,
a total earworm.
I know you've heard it.
It goes a little
something like this...
♪ Who let the dogs out? ♪
♪ Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof ♪
♪ Who let the dogs out? ♪
♪ Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof ♪
♪ Who let the dogs out? ♪
♪ Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof ♪
♪ Who let the dogs out? ♪
Yes, that's the Baha Men
singing their hit single
"Who Let the Dogs Out?"
Do you love this song?
Do you hate this song?
Do you love to hate this song?
Well, Ben Sisto
became obsessed with it.
He's the subject of the
Who Let the Dogs Out,
a film about...
♪ Who let the dogs out? ♪
♪ Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof ♪
Ben researched this song for--
get this-- eight years.
Eight years!
His obsession became a
documentary about songwriting,
lawsuits and a bunch of people
who claim they wrote it.
Trying to find
the song's originator
is what took Ben
on a long adventure.
His search for an answer,
any kind of answer,
took him to the UK,
the Bahamas,
all across the United States,
and even Toronto.
So, for Ben, it all started
with a Wikipedia page.
It was 2011, and he'd
just moved to New York City.
He didn't have a job, but he did
had quite a bit of spare time.
And while surfing the wiki
entry for the song,
he noticed one of the citations
wasn't properly credited.
And I thought I would
correct that citation.
I have friends in sort
of the free culture,
Wikipedia community,
and I thought it'd be
a funny little in-joke,
and it just kind of
rabbit-holed from there.
The citation was
about the song's origins.
It mentioned that
a hairstylist in the UK,
some guy named Keith,
had heard a version of the track
and handed it over
to a music producer,
who then went on to make it
the hit that it became.
But the citation never
listed Keith's full name
or described who he was.
So, Ben went out to find him.
Along the way, he encountered
more than a few people
who lay claim to
letting the dogs out.
There's probably
a half dozen people
who take credit for
writing the song.
And then, through my research,
I get all these weird emails
from people who are like,
"My old roommate was
a production assistant
"when they made
the video and, like,
"when the dogs needed
to be let out of the cage,
"it was, like,
his job to let them out."
So, that guy let the dogs...
So, there's like--
I always tell people that the
answer kind of depends
on what you mean
when you ask the question.
It's got, like a-- like a
Heisenberg sort of uncertainty
kind of problem going on.
When he started doing a
travelling lecture
on the answers he found,
director Brent Hodge
approached him.
Hodge has directed documentaries
about the TV show
Freaks and Geeks
and the late comedian
Chris Farley.
And then, it turned out that
Hodge moved from Canada
to New York and he lives, like--
I don't know--
five blocks from me.
So, we met up for coffee and I
think he really liked the story,
and he, like me, is,
I think, the kind of person
who will just, like,
keep knocking on doors
until he gets the answer,
you know, that he wants.
So, who let the dogs out?
Let's find out.
But first, we're gonna hear
from one of our producers,
Matthew O'Mara.
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Now, onto the podcast.
Ben Sisto, thank you so much for
joining me today.
Thanks for having me.
So, I guess the first question's
kind of an obvious one,
but what first got you
interested in the song?
Um, I was jobless
for an amount of time
and I was spending
a lot of time just, like,
looking around on
the internet for things
like Wikipedia articles,
and I just noticed a missing
citation on a Wikipedia article
and I thought I would
correct that citation.
I have friends in sort
of the free culture,
Wikipedia community,
and I thought it'd be
a funny little in-joke,
and it just kind of
rabbit-holed from there.
And so, you went on the
Wikipedia page,
did you actually end up
correcting the Wikipedia page
or what happened after that?
No. I've actually abstained from
ever editing the Wikipedia page
because I'm doing this research.
I think it makes me, like,
an impartial editor,
so I'm doing, like,
the movie and the research,
and then if that informs
somebody else
and that person makes
the wiki edit,
I think that has a bit more,
like, journalistic integrity.
Mm-hmm. So, then I guess--
so where did this, I guess,
journey take you then,
after-- after you found
this missing citation?
I've been to, like,
London, and Seattle,
Toronto, kind of,
like, a lot of--
mainly, like,
UK and around the States,
and I've gone on tours sort of
giving this, like,
Inconvenient Truth style
presentation about it.
So, yeah, just a mix of,
like, college gigs
and, like, DIY venues and bars,
and really any place
that will let me talk.
And the song itself, I mean,
"Who Let the Dogs Out?",
I mean, most people, I think,
know it when they hear it.
But if you were to
describe it to someone
who's never heard it before,
what would you say
the song is actually about?
Um, hmm...
That's a funny question because
no one's ever actually asked me.
Well, I guess-- so, you mean the
Baha Men version, right?
Just for clarity.
Yeah, 'cause I think that--
I think, yeah,
everyone should know--
The Baha Men is the one that
made this song very popular.
But we'll get into, I guess,
the other versions.
But, yeah, if someone was to ask
you kind of what was it about.
I would say
it's just a very simple
call and response
style stadium chant,
where the actual,
like, lyrics and stuff
are kind of irrelevant.
You know, it's just a song
about, like, chanting,
and barking,
and dogs being let out.
I don't know,
there's really not much to it
from, like,
an intellectual standpoint.
It's kind of a-- like, the music
is sort of informed
by, like, things like Miami bass
and early Quincy Jones
and, like, a Trinidadian style
of carnival music
called junkanoo.
So, there's a lot of kind of
international styles
from across different
decades of production
involved in the music.
Hmm. I was trying
to wrap my brains around
if there's any other type of
song that's kind of achieved
this sort of ubiquity.
I guess "Macarena" is the only
one I could really think of.
Are there other songs like this
that you can think of?
Yeah, I usually cite
"The Macarena" also,
as being like a near similar
in terms of, like,
global popularity.
I don't think there's a lot of
songs that really compare though
because it's a song that--
well, you know,
the core of the presentation
is about how it's a chant,
really, and not a song,
and the Baha Men song
is kind of this, like,
delivery mechanism
for this chant,
which has like a powerful
memetic quality.
So, it's like there are
generations of people,
you know, much younger than me,
who haven't hear the song
but know the chant.
And I can't really think
of a lot of pop songs
that have crossed over
in that powerful a way.
Well, the Baha Men version is
the one that, I guess,
took off, was the one
that most people know.
Do you know why that is?
Why that one?
'Cause, I mean, this chant had
existed before
and there was
an Anslem Douglas,
who you interview in the film--
who you interview--
he had a version of it,
which I prefer more, actually.
But do you know why
that one, I guess,
had the commercial
success that it did?
I'm gonna say it has a lot to do
with the sort of
marketing acumen
of the producer Steve Greenberg.
He did a couple of things,
one, was he hired a company
called Pro Sports Marketing
and he asked them to work the
song to stadiums,
the same way you
would traditionally
market a single to radio,
and that sort of helped
usher in the era of, like,
Jock Jams and things like that.
(Rock music playing)
Gregg Green is
an emerging talent
within the Seattle Mariners
and he programs a lot of in-game
music and sound effects.
I didn't have a song
for one of our backup
catchers, Joe Oliver,
and I threw it
out there for him.
Alex Rodriguez
now wants this song
that I thought was, you know, we
were just having fun with.
Before that, stadiums were
playing, like,
Gary Glitter
"Rock'n Roll Part 2"
or whatever as kind of like--
or, like, Queen,
you know, but hadn't--
sports hadn't been marketing
this aggressively.
Also, it was right around the
time that the internet--
or the internet was switching
over to broadband,
so you have a lot more people
who were able to, like,
get quick access to things.
They were, like, going on the
Nickelodeon homepage
and upvoting the--
they had all the people
in the label's office
just upvoting the song
because this was before cookies
and stuff like that.
So, I think it was
just sort of, like,
it came online with the internet
and with other aspects
of mass culture that have--
you know, it was just the right
time for marketing, I think.
Yeah. I actually forgot this was
kind of the beginning
of the Napster era, wasn't it?
Yeah. I think, in like-- yeah,
Napster and Soulseek.
I don't know how many--
I mean, I think of those--
my experience
with Napster was, like,
trading weird, like, rare
hard-core albums and stuff.
I can't imagine who was trading
"Who Let the Dogs Out?"
Like, who takes on the criminal
risk to obtain that song?
But, you know...
Who waits an hour for that
finish downloading, right?
Yeah, yeah.
So, the Baha Men didn't
really like this song
originally, did they?
I think that they were sort of
indifferent to it.
They were aware of it.
You know, they knew
the Anslem Douglas version
and that it had been a hit.
So, they didn't
really see much--
or had been a hit locally,
and they didn't really see much
point in them doing a cover.
But I guess they
changed their minds
when it became
this huge success.
Yeah, their former lead singer
had left the band
to become a back-up singer
for Lenny Kravitz,
and in that, like, deficit,
they brought in, like, three
younger, like, lead singers
to kind of be the people that
you, like, see on the CD cover
and all that stuff,
and I think that their energy
plus Steve Greenberg,
their producer's
enthusiasm for the song
ultimately won them over.
You know, they
were doing other covers.
I think it just took a little
convincing on this one.
Do you have a favourite version?
A favourite version...
Um, I guess I'm partial--
well, the group Miami Boom
Productions from 1992,
they had this song called
"Who Let the Dogs Out?",
and, like, lyrically, it's--
I don't know.
It's, like, 15-year-old boys
trying to be, like, 2 Live Crew,
so it's just like a freight
train of misogyny.
But if you take, like,
that out of it,
the actual production of it
is really interesting
and it's like a good early
Miami bass track.
So, maybe that one.
I was partial to
the Will Ferrell
doing Robert Goulet
version of it on SNL.
Another classic.
I was really happy when
you included that.
♪ Who Let the Dogs Out? ♪
♪ Who Let those Dogs Out? ♪
♪ Who let those
little mutts go? ♪
♪ Yeah ♪
(Audience laughing)
♪ Goulet ♪
The thing that struck me
that I never considered
when I heard this song
was actually originally--
well, at least
the Anslem Douglas version
was about female empowerment.
Did that sort of get
lost over time?
Yeah, I think-- well, there's--
both the Anslem Douglas version
and the 20 Fingers version
sort of have this core message
at their centre,
you know, it's like
about addressing misogynistic
and, like, heteronormative,
like, behaviours,
like within dance culture.
♪ Ladies,
take charge of this one ♪
♪ Are you run tings? ♪
♪ Who? Who? Who? Who? ♪
♪ I'm leaving you in charge ♪
Oh, Anslem Douglas wanted to
address this term "skettle"
which kind of translates to,
like, a loose person,
typically a woman.
And I didn't-- I didn't expect,
when I was researching the
history of this song,
that those elements
would come up.
I think it's--
so, there's two sides to it,
it's interesting and it's good
because it's, like,
men sticking up for women,
but there's also kind of this
problem with the documentary,
I think, which is
that all of these songs
are also written by men.
So, it's like--
I don't know,
there's not actually--
there are nods to
female empowerment,
but there's not a lot of, like,
actual women in the movie
and, you know, it's
kind of us just documenting
the truth of it.
But I do wish that there had
been more women.
Sandra Gillette, who sang
the 20 Fingers version,
we tried to--
I've been trying to talk to her
for, like, eight years,
and she just seems
to want nothing to do
with this research, so...
That's interesting.
I wonder why.
I think that--
I don't know the exact details,
but I believe that she was,
like, a receptionist
or had some kind of
part-time job
and was sort of,
like, chosen to, like,
learn how to sing and dance
and become, you know,
this like-- this pop star,
and prior to the song "You're a
Dog" that she did,
she had this single called
"Short Dick Man",
and that song was, like, really,
really, really big, like inter--
it was like a massive
chart-topper internationally.
And my guess is that, you know,
some people just hit
that level of fame
and it's, like, not for them,
and she probably just has
moved on with her life.
I think she has kids
and, you know, like--
I don't know. I try to,
like, be empathetic
and picture, like, the phone
rings and it's me,
asking her about, like, a single
from, like, 20 years ago,
like, she really has little
incentive to answer, so...
Well, a big theme in
this film is ownership,
and I wonder what this--
I wonder what you learned
about who owns a song
from this project.
Maybe not-- I didn't learn
many new things
about issues of ownership
and copyright,
but it definitely reinforces
things that I have
always believed in
or have heard from other
One is to always protect
your publishing rights,
and two is that
copyright is essentially
the right to be held up in court
until you're financially unable
to sustain legal battles
any further.
You know, the copyright system
and the IP system
are very complicated,
and most people on their own
when they're trying to, like,
have a family and have jobs,
they don't have, like, the time
or resources to navigate that.
So, typically, the people who
win out in these cases
are the large corporations
who can, you know,
do a quick, like--
I don't know. They can just
quickly say, like,
"We're gonna make a million
dollars on this song,
"so we'll spend a quarter
million dollars on legal fees,
"still come out profitable."
And I think there's a lot of
just sort of squashing
or 'go away' money
or, you know, like, financial
silencing that happens.
So, although, like,
I think in America,
there's this idea that copyright
really protects artists,
it doesn't, it just upholds
existing power structures.
My name is Lita Rosario
and I'm an entertainment lawyer
in Washington, D.C..
Songs are usually
The music gets 50% ownership
and the lyrics get
50% ownership.
You end up with equal shares if
there's no written agreement.
So, if there's two people,
it's 50-50.
The legal battle lasted
approximately six years.
There were a series of lawsuits
that were filed
to determined who
the ownership of the song was.
Who got, like, stinking
rich off this song?
I think the Baha Men made
a good amount of money.
Steve Greenberg the producer
made a lot of money.
I think the publisher
Deston Songs
made a bunch of money.
There is an artist
named Chuck Smooth,
who got into a legal battle
with Baha Men early on,
and I think they
made some money.
There's some lawyers,
who kind of got themselves
interjected in the mix,
that, you know, maybe still own,
like, 1% of the master rights.
And, like, what we learned
in licencing the song
is that, you know, like, say--
let's say, like, big record
company A
owns 99% of the song,
and they're totally
into the movie
and they want the
licencing to happen,
you need full
sign on from everybody.
So, you have these people
who own, like, 1%,
and they only own it
because of some, like,
court settlement years ago,
but you've still
got to pay them,
you know, like, whatever they
So, it's still-- it's
that it seems the case is still
that all of the people
who didn't get paid
in the first place
still aren't getting paid,
and all of the people
who are getting paid for,
um, not nefarious,
but less than direct reasons,
are still getting paid.
Who isn't getting paid?
Well, I think that
Miami Boom Productions
should be seeing something.
The difficulty is
with copyright cases,
you need to be able to
prove these two things,
which is access and similarity.
So, like, you know,
let's say I wrote a song
and called it "Imagine"
and I played it for you,
and you said,
"Ben, that sounds exactly like
John Lennon's "Imagine",
if I said, "I've never
heard that before,"
most courts would say, "That's
impossible," right?
But-- so, you have to kind of
show that you both--
that tracks are similar,
but that there was
this path of access.
And what Miami Boom Productions
is lacking
is a direct path of access.
The thing about copyright and
intellectual property through
is it's all sort of open to the
interpretation of, like,
a given court, and it's always,
like, in a state of flux.
So, they definitely, I think,
deserve credit.
I don't know, like, legally,
how you could say
they would get paid.
It would be awesome if this film
gets sold to, like,
some, you know,
big production house
or streaming service
or something,
so I can turn around and hit 'em
off with a couple of bucks.
But, yeah, I don't know.
It's unfortunate.
What about the two radio DJs?
They're from Canada, too.
It says my name on this one.
He didn't bring his.
MAN 2:
Yeah, I didn't bring mine.
MAN 3:
Patrick Stephenson.
And Leroy Williams,
he's got one, too.
MAN 3:
We're all in the studio.
Anslem gets a copy of it,
Anslem does his thing.
He changes it, he turns one
knob, "Uh-huh."
But we were
passionate about creating
and not taking care
of the business,
and the business
bit us in the end.
So, at this point, this is when
you decided to sue.
It wasn't a matter
of decided to sue.
It was like we wanted to know
what our rights were.
Everybody wants to say
they wrote a hit song.
I'm like, "No, dude,
we wrote the song."
Do you think they deserve
any money for this?
I think that they actually did.
I was under the impression
that they did not get any money.
But it's possible that they--
I don't know the details,
but one of them kind of off
camera said something to us
that indicated that
they had gotten more money
than was originally let on.
Did you need permission yourself
to use this song in the doc?
Yeah. We got the song
licenced officially.
There's a lot of stuff in there
that we kind of ran through
errors and omissions,
just to make sure it
was cool and fair use.
All that was handled
by the film company.
But we did properly
licence the song.
The film opens with you
speaking to a lawyer
and she's kind of upset with you
for trying to find, I guess,
the original
version of this song.
Did you get worried at
all about being sued?
No. I mean, the thing
is, like, I'm not--
I have no financial interest.
Basically, all of my research
is I'm just calling people
and I'm kind of asking them,
like, fairly binary yes or no
There's, like, no, like,
problems with, like,
defamation or
I'm not slandering anybody
or I'm not telling any lies.
You know, I'm calling people,
asking them questions
and everybody who's in the doc,
you know, like, everyone signed
their paperwork,
everyone's happy to be in it,
and I think everybody is
happy with the results.
And since Hodgee Films came on
to handle all of,
like, the legal stuff,
I guess, for me, that's like
another layer of protection.
I don't know if
they were ever nervous
about getting sued or not.
You mentioned sports earlier,
and I wonder what role
sports culture plays
in making a song a hit.
Um, hmm. What role
does sports culture play?
The Seattle Mariners,
for example,
picked the song up when they
were having a great season,
and this was, like,
Alex Rodriguez's at bat song
and was, you know,
an emerging star.
So, I think if, like, the song
is bonded to the right player,
the right team, the right time,
you know, it can definitely--
yeah, and then because of the
Mariners' success,
the Mets used it,
and that year was
the Subway Series,
so it was getting a lot of play,
and that meant other teams in
other sports like football
and hockey started using it.
So, yeah, I think sports is a--
you know, I mean, people
love sports, right?
Mm-hmm. Until recently,
I think one of the rooms in your
was dedicated to
"Who Let the Dogs Out?",
it was like a museum?
Yeah. We had a small sort of,
like, half-size bedroom
in the apartment that
I kept all my memorabilia
and would have friends
come over and take a look.
But that room has recently
changed hands.
The new owner is my...
(Baby cooing)
(Chuckling) daughter,
who you hear in the background.
She gentrified me
out of my studio.
(Colin laughing)
So, what happened to the stuff?
Everything is now in storage
at my parents' house.
Oh, so you're not gonna
throw it out or anything.
No. I mean...
Yeah, I don't know.
Like, there's still--
people still send me stuff.
It's like a collection
that maybe is still
growing a little bit.
This was directed
by Brent Hodge,
who's made other documentaries,
like I Am Chris Farley,
Freaks and Geeks.
And I wonder what made you
decide to work with him on this.
Well, he sort of found me.
What kind of happened was
he had done a documentary
called Pistol Shrimps,
and it was playing at the
Ace Hotel in Los Angeles,
and I used to work for
Ace Hotel,
so a mutual friend had
gotten in touch with me
and said,
"Hey, this thing's sold out.
"Can you help me get in?"
So, I helped him get in.
He met Hodge and then, just
through conversation, said,
"Hey, if you like kind
of like weird stories
"to make documentaries about,
"you should really
talk to my friend Ben."
And then, it turned out that
Hodge moved from Canada
to New York and he lives,
like-- I don't know--
five blocks from me.
So, we met up for coffee
and I think he really
liked the story.
And he, like me, is,
I think, the kind of person
who will just, like,
keep knocking on doors
until he gets the answer,
you know, that he wants.
And then, also, the thing that--
other people have approached me
about this before,
but what I really liked about
Hodgee's approach,
everyone on the team there
really understood
that it's only entertaining
if you take it, like,
really serious
and, like, really deadpan.
And that, like--
I mean, it is funny.
It's, like, a stupid song
and there are jokes in it,
and there are characters in it,
but the humour
comes from the fact
that it's also very,
like, serious.
And they didn't ever try to,
like, make it funny.
They just kind of, like,
let it play out,
and I really appreciated their,
um-- I don't know--
their, like, dedication to
helping me--
I'm trying to think.
We just had the
same vision for it.
I think that's the easiest
way to say it.
How would you say this project
has changed your life?
Well, I'm now the world's
leading expert on something,
so there's that.
(Colin laughing)
Um, I don't know.
I don't know if it's
really changed my life.
The funny thing is, like, when I
talk to people, usually,
for the first time about this,
they have this idea that I'm
gonna be this, like,
obsessive R. Crumb kind of,
like, weirdo, and, like--
this was, like, my ticket out of
isolation of something.
But, like, I've always been,
like, sort of an event producer,
someone who likes
research projects,
like, an artist who--
you know, I've like gone on tour
with people, all this stuff,
so it just sort of has kind of
been a natural extension
of things that
I really like to do.
And hopefully, this has maybe
more eyeballs on it
than other projects I've done,
so, hopefully, that means, like,
I'll have a couple more
But it doesn't really feel like
anything has changed that much.
I know that's not
an exciting answer,
but it's just kind of,
like, you know, wake up,
find out who let the dogs out,
and go back to bed.
I don't know.
No, but it's an honest one.
And I guess I wonder
if you've said all you
had to say about this
or is there more to
"Who Let the Dogs Out?"
I mean, is there-- are you
waiting to hear, you know,
maybe in 1985,
there was another chant,
someone else chanting,
"Who Let the Dogs Out?"
Are you expecting
that to happen?
You know, if it does, maybe
somebody else can answer it.
I don't know.
Right now, I think, you know,
having, like, a baby
and all this stuff, like, my
priorities definitely shifted,
and so I'm focusing on a couple
of different things now.
But, you know, it is a project
I will say that every time
I say the door is closed on it,
someone mails me a weird record,
or I get, like, a strange DM.
So, maybe I should stop saying
that it's ever really over.
And last question for you--
what sense of ownership do you
feel over this song,
having taken audiences
through its history
and now in a documentary?
I mean, I feel
no ownership over it.
If anything, I just sort of feel
like-- I don't know--
like a gardener or
something, or, like--
you know, this is all
information that was out there
and I was able to, you know,
kind of gather it
all up into one place.
And this is sort of
what I was saying about
it's like everything I've kind
of always done,
like, when I ran nightclubs,
you know, like,
you pick three bands,
you bring them together,
and they mean
something as, like,
a particular constellation
of things in a room
at a given place and time,
and with this project,
it's like, I bring a bunch
of records together
or a bunch of archivists,
a bunch of producers,
it's just bringing
stuff together.
It is what it is,
and then, like,
it dissipates
back out into the ether.
So, you know,
I give my version of the story
through, like, a talk,
and I want to keep doing that.
And the movie is what it is,
but it's not my story.
It's just a story that I tell,
and it's a story that
I've been able to tell
with a lot of help from a lot of
interesting and smart people,
who probably have their own
versions of it.
And, yeah, I don't know.
It's not mine, that's for sure.
Well, that's a
great place to leave it, Ben.
Thank you so much for spending
so much time with us today.
Yeah. Thanks. Sorry about all
the interruptions,
but, you know, I got, like, a
human life over here.
Absolutely, and that's the most
important thing. Thanks again.
Yeah, yeah.
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And that's the podcast.
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Thanks to producers
Chantal Braganza
and Matthew O'Mara
and production
support coordinators
Niki Ashworth
and Jonathan Halliwell.
Special thanks to our media
research team as well.
Our podcast manager
is Hannah Sung.
We'll catch you
at the next screening.
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Watch: Ep. 4 - Who let the dogs out - and who really owns a song?