7 good things about remixing

Preamble: The concept of music remixing is still evolving. It originally started mostly as an alternative version of audio manipulation techniques applied to a master stereo recording. For example different equalization, addition of effects like reverbs, delays and compression would be applied to the stereo track of a song, often done to make songs more dance hall ready.

However more recently, remixers are taking it much further, thanks to individual tracks (e.g. vocal, guitar, bass, drums) of songs being made available to remixers by the original music makers. This has enabled remixers to create much more dramatically different versions of songs, than before. In addition, this added freedom has made it possible not only to punch up a song for the dance floor, but also to mellow it out, or even to take it into different genre’s. This in turn has made the distinction between a remix and a remake more blurred. I would therefore propose, that the distinction between a remake and a remix is becoming less relevant.

So here we go (the order isn’t very important):

1. Remixing teaches composition and arranging
Since remixing starts with one or more given pieces of music, it is a less intimidating starting point than a blank piece of paper. The remixer can just re-arrange the given musical snippets, or cut them up some more before re-assembling them. Or the remixer can venture into more advanced compositional techniques, like adding their own parts, or even changing the chords around a given melody. The latter one is definitely one of my favorite pastimes!

2. Remixing teaches production techniques
With even entry level DAW (digital audio workstation) software featuring built-in equalization and effects, remixers get to use and therefore learn the same kinds of tools that professional recordings are made with. Instead of just pretending to be Paul McCartney or Nelly Furtado, you get to be like George Martin or Timbaland.

3. Remixing changes how you listen to all music
Remixers find, that their own compositional and production experience gained from remixing, makes them experience other people’s recordings more intensely. Great music becomes even greater for remixers, because they start to hear subtleties in compositions, individual musicianship and recordings, through their ears and brains trained from their remixing work. Once you have dissected and worked with individual tracks of a song, you become better at hearing individual tracks in other songs, too.

4. Remixing is an additional way to become a music maker
Traditionally, music makers were mostly singers or instrumentalists. And to create something that sounded somewhat good, you had to be a good singer or a good instrumentalist. As a remixer you can create an end product exceeding your vocal and instrumental skills. Numerous music makers have come more from a DJ background than a musician background. And more recently, music lovers with limited (or rusty) musicianship are turning into music makers because of remixing. Regular readers of this blog will note my abundant use of the term “music maker”. It is an acknowledgment of music being made not only by musicians in the traditional sense anymore, but also by people with turntables, Kaoss pads and computers.

5. Remixing builds musical community and collaboration
Remixing is a form of sequential collaboration, in some ways similar to certain aspects of open source software development, or creating art collages. Sequential collaboration hands off the decision making from one person to the next. Therefore it’s collaboration without infighting, arguments and artistic hissyfits. Since most remixing is done at sites where more than one person remixes the same piece of music, it fosters dialog around a common theme. In some cases, remixers find musical kinship through their remixes, and end up collaborating in more traditional ways. In addition, there’s something deeply gratifying on both sides of the remixing equation. Having experienced both, I can attest, that it’s very gratifying and humbling as remixer to be able to work with somebody else’s source materials. But it’s also very gratifying and humbling to have one’s song remixed. Both sides are giving musical gifts to each other.

6. Remixing increases understanding and appreciation across musical genres
A classically trained musician can take a rap song into a classical direction of their choice as much as an industrial hard core rocker can re-interpret a new-age piece. This cross genre appreciation is easiest to achieve when remixers with different musical leanings remix the same song. While one may not necessarily start loving extremely different music, most well intentioned remixers can’t help but gain respect for music makers with different backgrounds.

7. Remixing increases cross-cultural appreciation
Remixing songs from different musical cultural backgrounds can be a good learning experience for different approaches to music. From different instruments, different singing styles to entirely different scales. My last four remixes have been for songs with a good helping of Asian and African backgrounds. Incredibly cool and ear-opening experience. World peace through remixing? We can only hope!

Do you have any favorite things about remixing? Agree or disagree with my top 7? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Remix Commons

Thanks to Loveshadow for the following. He writes:

“Sometime ago on the Realworld Remixed site i posted in the forum there about the site extending its borders to include visual art. For those who liked a remixers work and were moved to add artwork to support it.

Well here is a vision of the future: remixcommons.org

It is an inspired UK based project embracing the Creative Commons ideal whole heartedly. You will find music, video, artwork, blogs, poetry, links to other sites and projects. There is also a full and simple explanation of the mechanics of the CC protocol.

I am sure there are other sites out there blossoming like it, but even if you don’t get involved it’s an entertaining way to spend a hour or two and worthy of your support.”

More from the Remix Commons home page: “Remix Commons is a network of free culture projects in the UK. Our aim is to get artists (working with music, video, images and text) to come together and share their work, be inspired by each others’ work, and ultimately to create ‘remixes’. Our volunteers run local events promoting free culture, bringing the ideas and content to people across the UK who would never find this stuff online.”

For some most amazing remixes, check out Loveshadow’s realwordremixed page.

ccMixter.org – First Impressions

I’ve finally just started to experience both sides of ccMixter.org for the first time – once as content provider and once as as remixer. And the first impressions are very positive. If you want to hop right over and skip reading my notes below, I would recommend starting with the ccMixter about page.

So you are still reading this? Ok here we go:

General Impressions
Being sponsored by the Creative Commons organization, ccMixter is not littered with advertising and assorted visual madness so commonly seen at social networking sites these days. While I consider that as an overwhelmingly good thing, some aspects of the user interface take a bit of getting used to, because it is so refreshingly clean, different and not yet another clone of so many other over-hyped so called web 2.0 sites. It’s a bit like using Google for the first time, after having used Yahoo for a long time. ccMixter packs plenty of web 2.0 punch, many things implemented much cleaner than on other sites. How many sites have we all visited with more than one “play” button for various snippets of music, but when you already have one piece playing, and press on another play button, the first piece continues to play? ccMixter gets this right. A newly pressed play button switches off the previous piece and starts playing your newly selected one. And the site handles changing browser window sizes and/or font sizes about as elegantly as can be done these days. Just those two things – done better than so many high profile sites – are a couple of immediate tip-offs about the thought, craftsmanship and caring that is going into this site. Victor Stone is the gentleman behind most of the programming code and he goes by the handle of “fourstones” on the site. And being a very good music maker and remixer in his own right, he is an active participant in remixing as well as uploading samples in addition to hovering around the forums to answer questions and give guidance. I wonder, if he ever eats or sleeps. 🙂

ccMixter (so far) doesn’t have a “friends” mechanism. I don’t know, if that is a philosophical choice or a question of maybe adding it later. Personally I hate the inflated friends thing (and on many bigger sites it quickly gets to be that way) – it becomes quite useless, once there are too many friends for each person. But on the positive side a friends mechanism is one interesting way to link-hop and can be a fast way to find people one already knows, because a friend may have already marked them as friend. So a friends mechanism has worked for me at times, but only while the numbers of friend linkages is reasonably small – maybe up to 30-50? However ccMixter offers fabulous RSS feeds for following the exploits of the people one wants to stay in touch with. In addition it’s easy to see what comments (called “reviews”) a site participant has made, so that is one way to to link hop, although those lists end up quite lengthy as well. Maybe the system could be programmed to derive a “friends” type of list from multiple comments having been sent back and forth between individuals? In any case, it’s a fascinating problem to solve for social networking sites, regardless of topic.

Generally speaking, ccMixter doesn’t try to re-invent all kinds of wheels or make itself the hub of your entire life on the Internet. So while it clearly is a social networking site around musical collaboration (remixing being “sequential collaboration”), it’s not there to handle your entire online life, promote your band or other stuff so common amongst the social networking clones out there. It’s a place where reasonably serious music makers meet for the purpose of remixing. Overall ccMixter doesn’t try to suck you into visiting the site all the time for ad revenue or to drive the hit counters up for a future takeover by one of the dot com giants. How refreshing!

The licensing of source materials is straightforward creative commons based – this means content at ccMixter can be freely remixed, sampled, mashed up and re-published non-commercially (some content even allows commercial re-publishing). This type of licensing allows the music to flourish and is becoming recognized by more and more visionaries in the arts as well as in business.

Maintaining an Identity
Signing up to the site was straightforward and fast. One can create a profile page with a single small image (remember ccMixter doesn’t try to be a promotional site for bands or general hangout for buddies), a link to one’s home page, some “about” text and a couple of other informational items. A great feature is the ability to send emails to other users without knowing each other’s email address. I much prefer that over the PM (private messaging) systems, which force me to log on to the hosting site to see what the message was. The PM madness out there is like a return to the stone age of multiple disconnected email systems. ccMixter scores big points in my book for its approach to messaging. (Even the software we’re currently using for the a minor theory site gets this wrong – Note to self: fix that!)

Uploading content
This worked straightforward as well, but this is where I spent some wasted time and bandwidth, because I didn’t read the upload page properly. While the initial distinction between acapella tracks and other loops is sensible, it would have saved me some time and ccMixter some bandwidth to be able to switch my uploaded files from “sample” to “a capella” after the first erroneous upload. To get the tracks into the right category I ended up deleting them and re-adding them through the right link. Similarly, it might be nice to switch a regular remix upload into a contest entry later on, or vice versa.

A ccMixter limitation, which I have a lot of sympathy for is the 10MB limit on uploads. I have sympathy for it, since in my own experience with our “a minor theory” site, uploads of more than 10MB’s often fail. Combinations of web host limits, slow Internet connections and browser timeouts can make uploading larger files a difficult proposition. However, this limitation makes it quite a bit of extra work to upload entire remix packs. For example the remix packs for our a minor theory songs even in FLAC format are between 36 MB and 64MB. So I ended up just uploading a capella tracks and creating a link to the full remix packs hosted at our own site. Maybe it’s just fine that way, too.

Submitting my remix to the Salman Ahmad remix contest was overall a very straightforward and pleasant process, but it did ask for a bit too much private data for my liking. Why does one have to part with that data just for entering the contest? I understand that some additional data may be needed for the winners of contest, but that would only be a small subset of the contestants and could be collected only from the winners at the time that it becomes necessary. Fortunately that additional private data isn’t shown publicly on the site, but in the age of identity theft, I am a bit hesitant to submit private data to a website, because even the best designed, programmed, managed and well meaning website can suffer from a programming bug or an attack. In ccMixter’s defense, one doesn’t actually have to enter that data at the time of uploading the contest entry, but can fill it in later – could that be after one is notified of being a winner?

Finding things and staying informed
There’s a useful general search function, although one needs to keep in mind that the underscore _ character is used instead of a space in most name and keyword fields. There are lots of links – you are always only one click away from any provider of content. There’s a useful forum for more public group dialog and to get help. All content is tagged with system selected as well as uploader definable tags, so for example, one can quickly find content with tempo 125 to 130 bpm. Or a female melody a capella track. As mentioned before, there are RSS feeds all over the place. Maybe one nice addition might be to be able to get separate feeds for just one forum area rather than only a combined feed for all forum traffic. I find RSS indispensable to keep in touch with a lot of stuff, and can only highly recommend learning how to take advantage of subscribing to such feeds.

Listening (New paragraph added 2007-07-26 GMT)
In addition to having a really nicely implemented ccMixter Radio, editor’s choices, and user ratings, ccMixter’s playlist feature is a great way to remember, organize and track favorite remixes, or the worst of the worst, if you are so inclined!. You can have many playlists and listen to or subscribe to other user’s playlists, including the omnipresent RSS feeds, so you can stay informed of other user’s updates to their playlists.

So even for pure music listeners ccMixter offers a superior experience to most social networking music sites. As the quantity and quality of the content grows, there is little doubt in my mind, that ccMixter will become one of the legendary music destinations on the web. And because of the creative commons licensing, it is immune to a lot of the nonsense affecting internet radio and online music in general. As the corporate players in the traditional music business are becoming ever more aggressive in locking up music, sites like ccMixter will continue to bring music makers and audiences together. There is already quite a bit of quality music there – and even some of the less refined stuff has a raw charm to it, which reminds me of the magic of experiencing music more personally. intimately. The web version of musical performances in a small coffee-shop or club. Instead of leaving a tip, you can leave a review for the online performer. A nice comment makes any performer’s day whether it be after a live or after an online performance. On a site like ccMixter it’s much easier to avoid listening to crap than on most commercial radio stations with it’s corporate rock bands, mickey mouse club alumni and television contest winners. And ccMixter doesn’t have advertising blemishing the music experience.

Bottom Line (for now)
These are just my first impressions, and so far there is a lot to like about ccMixter – and in my opinion it’s the overall best remixing site I’ve found so far. I hope that most of my remixing friends will start joining ccMixter. The site has the potential to become the best remixing treasure on the web – in many technical ways it already is, but a continuing influx of talented music makers will really fulfill it’s potential. I recommend starting with the ccMixter about page

In addition, I’ve seen talk about additional collaboration features being added. That would be a great addition indeed, since remixing and collaboration are highly related and many remixers end up collaborating (heck, that’s how a minor theory started!)

I’ll try to actively participate at ccMixter by providing more samples from a minor theory and some of my own as well as remixing some other content from there outside a contest. It will be interesting to compare the experience of a site without a “friend” mechanism to other sites with friend mechanisms.

After having given ccMixter a first good spin (pardon the pun!) , I have a little bit of the same feeling, when I first bumped into Wikipedia or the Internet Archive. This has the makings of becoming one of the very special destinations on the web.

Any errors, omissions, or other thoughts, please leave a comment. – Thanks!

12 Things to Like and Dislike about Remix Sites

Love it when remix sites feature:

  1. creative commons licensed (e.g. attribution, non-commercial) remixed packs, which allow remixers to post their remixes to other places
  2. real singing (decent singing a capella vocal tracks are rare, rapping is more easily found)
  3. users can upload sample packs and tracks as well as remixes (peer to peer remixing)
  4. listeners being able to comment on submitted remixes (compliments and constructive critiques are the real reward for publishing one’s remixes, otherwise why bother?)
  5. remix packs being made available using FLAC compressed audio files (smaller file sizes without loss in quality)
  6. remix contests (a bit of friendly competition can be fun and educational)

Hate it when remix sites:

  1. take remixers for granted (yes it’s a privilege to remix someone else’s creation, but it is also a great privilege to be remixed)
  2. demand full commercial rights to remixes without compensation (I still can’t believe that some are actually trying that!)
  3. disallow publishing of remixes anywhere else but on their site (it essentially buries the remixer’s work on one site)
  4. have remix contests where you can’t listen to all contest submissions (listening to other remixers work is inspirational as well as educational)
  5. disqualify remixes from being posted because of some unpublished selection criteria (that is wasting the time and emotional energy of the remixer)
  6. feature ratings systems, which can be too easily subverted or hijacked (if it’s too easy to subvert the system, might as well not have it)

In the end, there is only one way to make remix sites “behave well”: Remixers have to vote with their feet – I mean vote with their browsers. That means abandoning sites with bad policies and congregating at sites with good policies – even when the musical quality might suggest otherwise. If good remixers congregate at sites with good policies, good original content producers will follow.

a minor theory remix contest at MI7.com

MI7.com is holding a remix contest featuring the song “Dream In Blue” by “a minor theory: “We know there is a wealth of talent here at mi7.com, so we thought it was time to bring some of it together. So today we proudly announce what we hope will become a regular feature: our first User Remix contest! MI7 members A Minor Theory have be kind enough to allow the use of the original files from their song Dream of Blue.”

Disclosure: spinmeister is half of “a minor theory”. 🙂

Indaba Music Remix contest

Indiba Music is a potentially interesting site for musical collaboration. In addition, they have just launched three remix contests with several interesting source songs by “Some Velvet Morning”, “Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers” and “Mason Proper”.

From Indaba Music’s Blog: “Today Indaba Music launches the first in a series of Studio Access Collaboration Contests. The debut contests will feature the audio tracks of three rising young bands, all members of the Indaba community. Indaba Music members will be able to add to and remix tracks from recording artists Some Velvet Morning, Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers and Mason Proper.

Contest submissions – original songs created from tracks comprising the bands’ current singles – will be featured on contest pages and voted on by the community.”

Salman Ahmad “Natchoongi” Remix Contest

This contest may be interesting for remixers, who enjoy world music – from ccMixter.org: Salman Ahmad “Natchoongi” Remix Contest: “Creative Commons and Magnatune are extremely proud to be working with international multi-platinum recording artist Salman Ahmad and are pleased to offer the audio source files from Salman’s Natchoongi online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, so that producers worldwide can use the sounds in remixes and new compositions. As a way to celebrate we are sponsoring a remix contest using those sources.”

I like the licensing terms much better than those at sites like realworldremixed.com, since remixers are allowed to publish their remixes non-commercially in other places than the sponsoring site.

YouLicense – Online Music Licensing Marketplace

The creative commons licensing mechanism is a very efficient, and thus our favorite way of dealing with giving away selected rights for music. However, music creators, remixers, aggregators, distributors and institutional consumers everywhere still need much more efficient licensing and payment mechanisms to create modern business models for recorded music. The old models with their country specific legislation, regulations and payment mechanisms are failing the technical and commercial realities of today’s global music economy.

While a number of evolving sites and services are targeting the retail consumer market place, it is much harder to license materials for remixing, distribution, soundtracks, and institutional use.

This is where YouLicense may be able to fill a much needed role. From their “about” page: “YouLicense is an online music licensing marketplace. We have developed a platform which enables artists and those seeking musical content to conduct business directly with one another in a safe and secure environment. Our unique search engine and standardized contracts allow for a quick and easy process.”

It’s clearly still early days – as of this writing the site is still by invitation only. And to do this well is not trivial by any means. But if this effort even gets a few things right, it could become a much more efficient wholesale / institutional market place for recorded music than we have now.

Magnatune – label of the future?

This is a really interesting label – for remixers in more than one way: As a potential source of remixing materials as well as a destination for distributing one’s music. In their own words: “Magnatune is a music/business experiment that has never yet been tried. We’re doing our best to make it succeed, but it may not. If we don’t make you any money, we think we can get you some exposure, it won’t cost you anything, and we won’t limit your future options.”

And explaining the concept of Open Music: “Open Music is music that is shareable, available in “source code” form, allows derivative works and is free of cost for non-commercial use. It is the concept of “open source” computer software applied to music.”

I have no idea if this model can generate meaningful revenue, but it most certainly looks like it can facilitate the creation of great music. But there’s a lot that seems right about this. Definitely worth checking out: Magnatune

Remixing each other

The musical talent pool now has technology in their own little studios, which only a few years ago were only accessible to artists who had good financing (by record companies or other sources).

That means many more people are learning how to record, produce, remix, etc. with rather little money spent. This in turn spawned the evolution of a high end amateur producer scene, blurring the boundary between amateur and professional. Similar events have disrupted and shaped other areas including computer software, photography, astronomy to just name a few.

And it means the arrival of large numbers of producers on the music scene. Once you have a moderately decent home studio you can become a producer. Producers who aren’t always performers. Or great performers who love producing. These producers can make remarkable music. Some are arriving from a DJ angle, some more from a performer angle.

Remixing is essentially a form of producing. Originally remixing was an afterthought – a second production, a remake with at least some of the tracks of the original production.

But I think remixing can be more than just an afterthought – it can be a refreshingly different model of creating recorded music.

Remixing is a form of sequential collaboration, allowing more people to make something into a better overall product, without having to be at the same place simultaneously and without having to agree all the time. Remixing avoids band internal fights. Remixing allows simultaneous parallel versions. Remixing makes the whole participating community better.

Some of the big acts these days are produced technically in a remixing way. But it’s still very much a controlled process with a lot of licensing control and issues. But what if we would give up control and make remixing much more open? What if we didn’t predetermine, who was going to produce what and when? What if we started recording song sketches and then let the remixers at it? Songs could become many different things simultaneously. Some of them will suck – just like much of the stuff we get fed by former MMC members, TV contest winners and corporate rock bands. And some of the remixes will be amazing, something we would have never thought of, special pieces of music. Maybe we could call that “extreme mixing”. The opening up of the production process to wide participation.

What’s wrong with remixing? Only one thing: It’s not easy to craft a somewhat fair, yet efficient economic model around it.

So remixing has tremendous artistic value potential, but we don’t know (yet) how to handle the economics of it.

I submit: Let’s NOT have the economics stop us from pursuing a good thing.

So I encourage everyone: write and record songs, make remix packs for others, and remix others. Writing songs and making remix packs is hard, but it puts you into the most valuable part of value chain! So there’s an upside for the extra work.

If you want to reserve the right to make money later, you can protect potential future economic interests by licensing under creative commons non-commercial, attribution, share-alike type of licenses. Or even allow commercial exploitation — if your work gets a great reputation, money has a chance of following in a variety of ways.

In the software business this has become quite common with open source licenses. And many people and companies who are opening their stuff up have still found ways of generating revenue. Not everyone, but many. There will always be people who do stuff for a living and others who do it without making money at it. So that doesn’t change. But whether you want to make money with it, or not, at least try something new! In software, one of the key successes was that open source licensing allowed people to build upon each other’s work or to take a piece of work into a new direction. That created a body of excellence previously unknown. The Internet became what it is, in large part, because of open source software. Will remixing do the same thing for music? I think it can!

Of course, if you are already have a major label deal, abandoning your currently successful business models is a scary thing to do. And maybe it’s not the right thing for your individual situation. However for most of us, what do we have to loose?

Therefore I say, let’s remix each other and see what we can do. Build on each other’s work and make something brilliant!