Whether we’re talking about technical innovations or works of musical art, there is a lot to explore when it comes to building off existing knowledge. In history, notable new innovations have generally arisen from improvements on already established technologies. In music, especially EDM, this dynamic is demonstrated through the sheer amount of remixes created from artists’ original tracks.
While we may usually overlook the complicated nature of the remix, there are many aspects to consider when using or editing someone else’s original material. Firstly, the artist creating the remix should have authorized samples or permission from the original artist – though this is certainly not always the case. Secondly, the remixer should avoid compromising the artistic integrity of the piece by tastefully using it and not abusing it. There is also the infamous fine line between being able to showcase one’s unique style vs. not changing the track enough/changing it too much.
A remix, cover, bootleg, edit or mashup can become an incredibly successful hit if it pulls segments from and builds off the original, offers a different sound with distinctive highlights and essentially creates a piece that is able to stand on its own.
So with this, I ask you to think about the following three questions:
- Is remixing considered an infringement of someone’s intellectual property?
According to section 107 of the federal copyright law, for a derivative work to be deemed as “Fair Use” the following questions need to be considered:
- Did the unlicensed use “transform” the material taken from the copyrighted work by using it for a different purpose than that of the original, or did it just repeat the work for the same intent and value as the original?
- Was the material taken appropriate in kind and amount, considering the nature of the copyrighted work and of the use?
If the answers to these two questions are “yes,” a court is likely to find the use fair; because of this, such a use is unlikely to be challenged in the first place. Fortunately, with the way the electronic music industry is progressing, most dance music artists won’t think twice about others using their songs, thus providing more freedom to producers and enforcing the culture of remixing.
Some may argue that this constitutes infringement, especially if samples are taken without giving proper credit or compensation. We’ll let you decide for yourselves but if this topic interests you, I highly recommend looking into the 2008 documentary called RiP!: A Remix Manifesto. Though it may be a tad out-dated, the film offers a number of interesting views on the subject of copyright in music.
- Is a remix still considered an original piece?
This truly depends on the musical ability of the artist and the resulting finished product. While the only real characteristic of a remix is that it changes the materials enough to create something new, artists who use a significant deal of material from others have been known to struggle with finding their own sound, at least in the eyes of critics. For example, artists such as The White Panda, Super Mash Bros. and Girl Talk have all dealt with controversial feedback on their music, though their sound can be as or more distinct than any other original artist. Personally, it amazes me how an artist can create something entirely new, different and refreshing from works that have already been in the public domain. When a stellar remix is heard, it has the power to completely alter our thoughts and emotions towards the song; which makes it a work of art, does it not?
Additionally, the abundance of remixes being released has played a large role in growing and shaping the explosive dance music culture. The majority of the movement can be attributed to the wealth of material at any musicians’ disposal as well as to the accessibility of equipment needed to create new material. Remixing is ultimately the fastest and best way to break onto the scene because each individual track now has the potential to totally defy its boundaries, pushing up and above what is, into a new realm of sound painted by beats and drops. For these reasons, I say that if an artist is truly talented, the originality will be heard through the success of his or her remix. Now, are artists who produce and portray themselves as “remix” or “cover” artists any less gifted, motivated or original? That’s up to you.
- Does remixing help or hurt the original artist?
This answer again depends on how the remix was realized and on the opinions of the original artist. Either way, if you change the song too much, you run the risk that the original artist will dislike and even condone your version. This is why the amount of original material used and way it was remixed plays a big part in determining an answer. In the end, I believe no publicity is bad publicity, and with that comes the understanding that any recognition will be beneficial for an artist, whether the remix is successful in the eyes of the original creator or not.
For example, Swedish pop artist Tove Lo’s song Habits was originally released on March 25, 2013 and rereleased on the 6th of December 2013. It became her first hit single on the US Hot 100 Billboard chart, yet many people discovered the song through the popular remix by producing duo Hippie Sabotage, which was featured about a year ago in a ski video by Faction Skis. Check out the video here.
This example gives an idea of how certain versions of tracks can be better suited to different settings. It also shows that artists usually do receive recognition from derivatives of their work, at the very least by gaining a wider variety of listeners. While there are still loyal supporters advocating the original track’s superiority over the remix, the truth is that both can co-exist without having to compete. Tove Lo even demonstrates this by including the Hippie Sabotage remix in her debut EP.
Also notable is the amount of remixes coming from ZHU’s tracks: namely, ODESZA, Big Gigantic, Andru, Lido and Steve James’ remix of Faded, Bender’s version of Cocaine Model as well as one of my personal favourites: the CHVRCHES cover of Gun. There’s no denying that ZHU’s growing success and the obsession with his anonymity has resulted from the amount talented artists remixing his tracks. That being said, if an original is just that good, most derivatives will naturally follow suit.
So while these questions have many answers, to me a remix should be looked at as a type of homage, or compliment if you will, to the artist. As long as the artist is willing to collaborate, support it and take it as one, there is no reason to restrict it. Music has and will always build off its past, which is why derivative works are an inevitable part of art in general. Just give credit where it is due, respect each other as artists, strive to constantly improve and learn to enjoy the music.