A remixer uses audio mixing to compose an alternate master recording of a song, adding or subtracting elements, or simply changing the equalization, dynamics, pitch, tempo, playing time, or almost any other aspect of the various musical components. Some remixes involve substantial changes to the arrangement of a recorded work, but many are harmonic, such as creating a "vocal up" version of an album cut that emphasizes the lead singer's voice.
Songs are remixed for a variety of reasons:
- to give a song a second chance at radio and club play
- to create a stereo or surround sound version of a song where none was previously available
- to improve the fidelity of an older song for which the original master recording has been lost or degraded
- to alter a song to suit a specific music genre or radio format
- to alter a song for artistic purposes
- to provide additional versions of a song for use as bonus tracks or for a B-side, for example, in times when a CD single might carry a total of 4 tracks
- to create a connection between a smaller artist and a more successful one, as was the case with the chart-topping remix of Brimful of Asha by Cornershop
Remixes should not be confused with edits, which usually involve shortening a final stereo master for marketing or broadcasting purposes. Another distinction should be made between a remix and a cover. A remix song recombines audio pieces from a recording to create an altered version of the song. A cover is a recording of a song that was previously recorded by someone else.
Roots of the remix
Since the beginnings of recorded sound in the late 19th century, certain people have enjoyed the ability to rearrange the normal listening experience with technology. With the advent of easily editable magnetic tape in the 1940s and 1950s and the subsequent development of multitrack recording, such alterations became more common. In those decades the experimental genre of musique concrète used tape manipulation to create sound compositions. Less artistically lofty edits produced medleys or novelty recordings of various types.
Modern remixing had its roots in the dance hall culture of late-1960s/early-1970s Jamaica. The fluid evolution of music that encompassed ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub was embraced by local music mixers who deconstructed and rebuilt tracks to suit the tastes of their audience. Producers and engineers like Ruddy Redwood, King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry popularized stripped-down instrumental mixes (which they called "versions") of reggae tunes. At first they simply dropped the vocal tracks, but soon more sophisticated effects were created, dropping separate instrumental tracks in and out of the mix, isolating and repeating hooks, and adding various effects like echo, reverberation and delay.
From the mid-1970s, DJs in early discothèques were performing similar tricks with disco songs (using loops and tape edits) to get dancers on the floor and keep them there. One noteworthy figure was Tom Moulton who invented the dance remix as we now know it. Though not a DJ (a popular misconception), Moulton had begun his career by making a homemade mix tape for a Fire Island dance club in the late 1960s. His tapes eventually became popular and he came to the attention of the music industry in New York City. At first Moulton was simply called upon to improve the aesthetics of dance-oriented recordings before release ("I didn't do the remix, I did the mix"—Tom Moulton). Eventually, he moved from being a "fix it" man on pop records to specializing in remixes for the dance floor. Along the way, he invented the breakdown section and the 12-inch single vinyl format. Walter Gibbons provided the dance version of the first commercial 12-inch single ("Ten Percent", by Double Exposure). Contrary to popular belief, Gibbons did not mix the record. In fact his version was a re-edit of the original mix. Moulton, Gibbons and their contemporaries (Jim Burgess, Tee Scott, and later Larry Levan and Shep Pettibone) at Salsoul Records proved to be the most influential group of remixers for the disco era. The Salsoul catalog is seen (especially in the UK and Europe) as being the "canon" for the disco mixer's art form. Pettibone is among a very small number of remixers whose work successfully transitioned from the disco to the House era. (He is certainly the most high profile remixer to do so.) His contemporaries included Arthur Baker and François Kevorkian.
Contemporaneously to disco in the mid-1970s, the dub and disco remix cultures met through Jamaican immigrants to the Bronx, energizing both and helping to create hip hop music. Key figures included DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Cutting (alternating between duplicate copies of the same record) and scratching (manually moving the vinyl record beneath the turntable needle) became part of the culture, creating what Slate magazine called "real-time, live-action collage." One of the first mainstream successes of this style of remix was the 1983 track "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock, as remixed by Grand Mixer D.ST. Malcolm McLaren and the creative team behind ZTT Records would feature the "cut up" style of hip hop on such records as "Duck Rock."
Early pop remixes were fairly simple; in the 1980s, "extended mixes" of songs were released to clubs and commercial outlets on vinyl 12-inch singles. These typically had a duration of six to seven minutes, and often consisted of the original song with 8 or 16 bars of instruments inserted, often after the second chorus; some were as simplistic as two copies of the song stitched end to end. As the cost and availability of new technologies allowed, many of the bands who were involved in their own production (such as Yellow Magic Orchestra, Depeche Mode, New Order, Erasure, and Duran Duran) experimented with more intricate versions of the extended mix. Madonna began her career writing music for dance clubs and used remixes extensively to propel her career; one of her early boyfriends was noted DJ John Jellybean Benitez, who created several memorable mixes of her work.
Art of Noise took the remix styles to an extreme—creating music entirely of samples. They were among the first popular groups to truly harness the potential that had been unleashed by the synthesizer-based compositions of electronic musicians such as Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Giorgio Moroder, and Jean Michel Jarre. Contemporaneous to Art of Noise was the seminal body of work by Yello (composed, arranged and mixed by Boris Blank). Primarily because they featured sampled and sequenced sounds, Yello and Art of Noise would produce a great deal of influential work for the next phase. Others such as Cabaret Voltaire and the aforementioned Jarre (whose Zoolook was an epic usage of sampling and sequencing) were equally influential in this era.
After the rise of dance music in the late 1980s, a new form of remix was popularised, where the vocals would be kept and the instruments would be replaced, often with matching backing in the house music idiom. A clear example of this approach is Roberta Flack's 1989 ballad "Uh Oh Look Out," which Chicago House great Steve "Silk" Hurley dramatically reworked into a boisterous floor-filler by stripping away all the instrumental tracks and substituting a minimalist, sequenced "track" to underpin her vocal delivery. The art of the remix gradually evolved, and soon more avant-garde artists such as Aphex Twin were creating more experimental remixes of songs (relying on the groundwork of Cabaret Voltaire and the others), which varied radically from their original sound and were not guided by pragmatic considerations such as sales or "danceability", but were created for "art's sake."
In the 1990s, with the rise of powerful home computers with audio capabilities came the mash-up, an unsolicited, unofficial (and often legally dubious) remix created by "underground remixers" who edit two or more recordings (often of wildly different songs) together. Girl Talk is perhaps the most famous of this movement, creating albums using sounds entirely from other music and cutting it into his own. Underground mixing is more difficult than the typical official remix, because clean copies of separated tracks such as vocals or individual instruments are usually not available to the public. Some artists (such as Björk, Nine Inch Nails, and Public Enemy) embraced this trend and outspokenly sanctioned fan remixing of their work; there was once a web site which hosted hundreds of unofficial remixes of Björk's songs, all made using only various officially-sanctioned mixes. Other artists, such as Erasure, have included remix software in their officially released singles, enabling almost infinite permutations of remixes by users. The band have also presided over remix competitions for their releases, selecting their favourite fan-created remix to appear on later official releases.
Remixing has become very prevalent in heavily synthesized electronic and experimental music circles. Many of the people who create cutting edge music in such genres as synthpop and aggrotech are solo artists or pairs. They will often use remixers to help them with skills or equipment that they do not have. Artists such as Chicago-based Delobbo, Dallas-based LehtMoJoe, and Russian DJ Ram, who has worked with t.A.T.u, are sought out for their remixing skill and have impressive lists of contributions. It is not uncommon for industrial bands to release albums which have remixes as half of the songs. Indeed, there have been popular singles that have been expanded to an entire album of remixes by other well-known artists.
Some industrial groups allow, and often encourage, their fans to remix their music, notably Nine Inch Nails, whose website contains a list of downloadable songs that can be remixed using Apple's GarageBand software. Some artists have started releasing their songs in the U-MYX format, which allows the buyers to mix songs and share them on the U-MYX website.
Remixes have become the norm in contemporary dance music, giving one song the ability to appeal across many different musical genres or dance venues. Such remixes often include "featured" artists, adding new vocalists or musicians to the original mix. The remix is also widely used in hip-hop and rap music. An R&B remix usually has the same music as the original song but has added or altered verses that are rapped or sung by the featured artists. It usually contains some if not all of the original verses of the song however, these verses may be arranged in a different order depending on how the producers decided to remix the song.
In the early 1990s, Mariah Carey became one of the first mainstream artists who re-recorded vocals for a dancefloor version, and by 1993 most of her major dance and urban-targeted versions had been re-sung, e.g. "Dreamlover". Some artists would contribute new or additional vocals for the different versions of their songs. These versions were not technically remixes, as entirely new productions of the material were undertaken (the songs were "re-cut", usually from the ground up). In 1988, Sinead O'Connor's art-rock song "I Want Your (Hands On Me)" was remixed to emphasize the urban appeal of the composition (the original contains a tight, grinding bassline and a rhythm guitar not entirely unlike Chic's work). M.C. Lyte was asked to provide a "guest rap," and a new tradition was born in pop music. George Michael would feature three artistically differentiated arrangements of "I Want Your Sex" in 1987, highlighting the potential of "serial productions" of a piece to find markets and expand the tastes of listeners. In 1995, after doing "California Love", which proved to be his best selling single ever, Tupac Shakur would do its remix with Dr. Dre again featured, who originally wanted it for his next album, but relented to let it be on the album All Eyez on Me instead. This also included the reappearance of Roger Troutman, also from the original, but he ended the remix with an ab lib on the outro. Another well-known example is R. Kelly, who recorded two different versions of "Ignition" for his 2003 album Chocolate Factory. The song is unique in that it segues from the end of the original to the beginning of the remixed version (accompanied by the line "Now usually I don't do this, but uh, go ahead on, break em' off with a little preview of the remix.") In addition, the original version's beginning line "You remind me of something/I just can't think of what it is" is actually sampled from an older Kelly song, "You Remind Me of Something". Madonna's I'm Breathless featured a remix of "Now I'm Following You" that was used to segue from the original to "Vogue" so that the latter could be added to the set without jarring the listener.
Many hip-hop remixes arose either from the need for a pop/R&B singer to add more of an urban, rap edge to one of their slower songs, or from the need for a rapper to gain more pop appeal by getting an R&B singer to sing some lines here and there. When a song by a solo artist does not take off, a remix with additional performers can give the song a second chance.
Thanks to a combination of guest raps, re-sung or altered lyrics and alternative backing tracks, some hip-hop remixes can end up being almost entirely different songs from the originals. An example is the remix of "Ain't It Funny" by Jennifer Lopez, which has little in common with the original recording apart from the title.
Slow ballads and R&B songs can be remixed by techno producers and DJ's in order to give the song appeal to the club scene and to urban radio. Conversely, a more uptempo number can be mellowed to give it "quiet storm" appeal. Frankie Knuckles saddled both markets with his Def Classic Mixes, often slowing the tempo slightly as he removed ornamental elements to soften the "attack" of a dancefloor filler. These remixes proved hugely influential, notably Lisa Stansfield's classic single "Change" would be aired by urban radio in the Knuckles version, which had been provided as an alternative to the original mix by Ian Devaney and Andy Morris, the record's producers.
John Von Seggern of the ethnomusicology department at the University of California, Riverside says that the remix "is a major conceptual leap: making music on a meta-structural level, drawing together and making sense of a much larger body of information by threading a continuous narrative through it. This is what begins to emerge very early in the hip-hop tradition in works such as Grandmaster Flash's pioneering mix recording Adventures on the Wheels of Steel. The importance of this cannot be overstated: in an era of information overload, the art of remixing and sampling as practiced by hip-hop DJs and producers points to ways of working with information on higher levels of organization, pulling together the efforts of others into a multilayered multireferential whole which is much more than the sum of its parts."
A remix may also refer to a non-linear re-interpretation of a given work or media other than audio. Such as a hybridizing process combining fragments of various works. The process of combining and re-contextualizing will often produce unique results independent of the intentions and vision of the original designer/artist. Thus the concept of a remix can be applied to visual or video arts, and even things farther afield. Mark Z. Danielewski's disjointed novel House of Leaves has been compared by some to the remix concept.
Remix in literature
A remix in literature is an alternative version of a text. William Burroughs used the cut-up technique developed by Brion Gysin to remix language in the 1960s. Various textual sources (including his own) would be cut literally into pieces with scissors, rearranged on a page, and pasted to form new sentences, new ideas, new stories, and new ways of thinking about words.
Naked Lunch (1959) is a famous example of an early novel by Burroughs based on the cut-up technique. Remixing of literature and language is also apparent in Pixel Juice (2000) by Jeff Noon who later explained using different methods for this process with Cobralingus (2001).
Remix in art
A remix in art often takes multiple perspectives upon the same theme. An artist takes an original work of art and adds their own take on the piece creating something completely different while still leaving traces of the original work. It is essentially a reworked abstraction of the original work while still holding remnants of the original piece while still letting the true meanings of the original piece shine through. Famous examples include the Marilyn prints of Andy Warhol (modifies colors and styles of one image), and The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso, (merges various angles of perspective into one view). Some of Picasso's other famous paintings also incorporate parts of his life, such as his love affairs, into his paintings. For example, his painting Les Trois Danseuses, or The Three Dancers, is about a love triangle.
Other types of remixes in art are parodies. A parody in contemporary usage, is a work created to mock, comment on, or make fun at an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation. They can be found all throughout art and culture from literature to animation. Current television shows are filled with parodies such as South Park, Family Guy, and the Simpsons.
The internet has allowed for art to be remixed quite easily, as evidenced by sites like memgenerator.net (provides pictorial template upon which any words may be written by various anonymous users), and Dan Walsh's Garfieldminusgarfield.net  (removes the main character from various original strips by Garfield creator Jim Davis).
Remix in media and consumer products
In recent years the concept of the remix has been applied analogously to other media and products. In 2001, the British Channel 4 television program Jaaaaam was produced as a remix of the sketches from the comedy show Jam. In 2003 the Coca-Cola Corporation released a new version of their soft drink Sprite with tropical flavors under the name Sprite Remix.
Because remixes may borrow heavily from an existing piece of music (possibly more than one), the issue of intellectual property becomes a concern. The most important question is whether a remixer is free to redistribute his or her work, or whether the remix falls under the category of a derivative work according to, for example, United States copyright law. Of note are open questions concerning the legality of visual works, like the art form of collage, which can be plagued with licensing issues.
There are two obvious extremes with regard to derivative works. If the song is substantively dissimilar in form (for example, it might only borrow a motif which is modified, and be completely different in all other respects), then it may not necessarily be a derivative work (depending on how heavily modified the melody and chord progressions were). On the other hand, if the remixer only changes a few things (for example, the instrument and tempo), then it is clearly a derivative work and subject to the copyrights of the original work's copyright holder.
The Creative Commons non-profit group created the ccMixter website to provide remixers with creative material licensed for remixers to use with permission. A number of netlabels have similarly used liberal licensing to facilitate remixing.
- ^ http://www.jahsonic.com/WalterGibbons.html
- ^ Interviewed by The Paris Review, Burroughs explained the following: "A friend, Brion Gysin, an American poet and painter, who has lived in Europe for thirty years, was, as far as I know, the first to create cut-ups. His cut-up poem, Minutes to Go, was broadcast by the BBC and later published in a pamphlet. I was in Paris in the summer of 1960; this was after the publication there of Naked Lunch. I became interested in the possibilities of this technique, and I began experimenting myself. Of course, when you think of it, The Waste Land was the first great cut-up collage, and Tristan Tzara had done a bit along the same lines. Dos Passos used the same idea in 'The Camera Eye' sequences in USA. I felt I had been working toward the same goal; thus it was a major revelation to me when I actually saw it being done." Cf. Knickerbocker, Conrad, Williams S. Burroughs, 'The Paris Review Interview with William S. Burroughs' in A Williams Burroughs Reader, ed. John Calder (London: Picador, 1982), p. 263.
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