Remixed2012 Media Festival
What Is the Future of Remix?
My takeaway from the Remix Media Festival led me very much back to the same place I have been for a while since beginning to explore the concept of Remix Culture on an Academic level. My introductions to Remix were cultural and in practice. I began making electronic music and sampling in the mid-90s as a musician and a composer, hoping to become a professional producer. A few years into the beginnings of my professional career in the early 2000s I found myself on the receiving end of the Remix and DIY revolution happening in the world of music. Having never had to live on a corporate salary from a record label, yet being a rights holder I have been torn somewhere between the doctrine currently echoing through the cultural exploration of Remix culture, and the more conservative views held by guys such as Andrew Keene in his CULT OF THE AMATEUR.
Having spent the past year or so doing my own independent research in and out of school on the topic of Intellectual Property in the new landscape, I have found few conclusions and still many questions. I did my first remix of a pop song in 2002. It was an experiment and I was working as an engineer and a midi programmer for a record producer. I remember having to go through many hoops to first find someone willing to give me stems or an instrumental to work with, an acapella vocal as well as permission to even make the attempt. Looking back on this, what is so interesting is that the prospect of actually putting the finished product on display was entirely dependent on the permission and acceptance of the artist, the label and the producer of the original artists album. The concept of leaking it out on the Internet was not just out of the question because it would destroy my career, but it wasn’t really even a possibility. Well maybe it was but the accessibility of doing something and gaining an audience was minimal and hard to do. Fast forward now a decade later, I was able to release the song on my friends label. I still did not go seeking permission from the original rights holder, but this track I was so proud of was sitting on the shelf for years and I just wanted to do something with it. Since then the artist has been dropped by the record label. The project is defunct and the album was shelved. My remix is in many ways is one of the few living remnants of the artists. Ten years ago I would have been terrified of a lawsuit and damage to my reputation had done something like this. I feel the evolution of Remix Culture and the ‘rules’ so to speak of the art form have changed, allowing me to be less conflicted about putting the track out there.
This story for me is a parallel to what I have taken away from Eduardo Navas’ book, what I heard at the festival and the research I have done on my own over the last year or so. I am still conflicted on what the future holds for Remix and Remix culture. The topic to me personally is less about what the future of Remix is, and more about what the future of creative intellectual property is.
This clip is an excerpt of Eduardo Navas discussing the future of Remix as the panel was closing:[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/67546328″ iframe=”true” /]
The question remains for me whether or not Remix is a pseudo-Marxist countercultural revolution against the centuries old copyright industry? Or is it the contemporary expansion of art and culture? The excerpt below, contains one of the panelists asking whether or not the digital DNA of the internet being able to track imprints will turn Remix into an all out revolution against the copyright industry.[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/67546329″ iframe=”true” /]
Further questions still unresolved revolve around the line drawn between borrowing in ‘homage-style’ or actual sampling. This is an argument that is foundational to the academic exploration of Remix culture. Below is an interesting exposition on the topic that discusses how Lady Gaga borrowed ideas on a performance level and made them her own.[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/67546330″ iframe=”true” /]
This is particularly interesting because it reveals one of the central dividing lines in the exploration of Remix culture, which is if you sample for arts sake, for the experience, for your own enjoyment it should be allowed and allowed to be done easily and freely. However, if you are engaging in the act of Remix for profit than do you owe something to the original creator? And how far can you track the chain of invention down the line in terms of being able to fulfill the economic pact of IP Compensation. The issue preventing resolution at this point is that many new artists become artists simply by experimenting with Remix, further leading them into profitable careers. At which point does a hobbyist remixer turned professional start having to pay a rights holder up the chain? Or do they? And what defines what is copying and what is ‘homage.’
Having scanned through much of Eduardo Navas book REMIX THEORY: The Aesthetics of Sampling. Navas’ accessible yet academic breakdown of the history of and evolution of Remix in many ways mirrors Dick Hebdige’s exploration of Subculture published over 30 years ago: Subculture: The Meaning of Style
Navas’ book describes the importance of Dub in the lineage of what is a counter-cultural movement turned mainstream cultural style. I couldn’t help be reminded of Hebdige’s tracing the Subcultural style and countercultural style of Punk back through the evolution of Caribbean music. Despite Hebdige exploring evolution of the intertwining of fashion and art with subculture and music, Navas and the Remix Culture are not without its parallels. Remix culture is itself an extension of subcultural evolution, Dub, Hip-Hop, electronic music. Art and fashion are intertwined in the same way however Remix is just the more contemporary parallel as it has the overlay of the prism of media and technology.
Regardless of all the debate and the unknowns the one thing I am certain of is that the coming once in a generation demographic tidal wave stemming through the world will undoubtedly put an end to the copyright industry, as we have known it. We know that there is at the top the rights holders, the more ‘classical’ or ‘traditional’ professional creative class that is thinning out, dying off and in many instances fighting against the tides of change in regards to intellectual property usage. At the bottom there is the ‘Cult of the Amateur,’ which is comprised of networks upon networks of dabblers, semi-professionals, crossover artists and others who may possess great talent and have the ability to gain an audience but are not part of the legacy infrastructure of the copyright industry. Both are uniquely tied to each other. Differentiation is very much in the eyes of a generation just now emerging as a cultural force. So the idea for a pseudo-Marxist revolution of one against the other, working class vs. ruling class is extreme. Since one draws from the other in terms of inspiration and resource, and one relies on the other to perpetuate the vitality and life of previous bodies of work; one’s demise would surely be a form of cultural mutually assured destruction.
Without a sort of ‘bridge class’ of creative thinkers and content makers encapsulating the message, the bell curve of media economics that enable artists and content creators to thrive and culture to evolve constructively could de-evolve back to where it was hundreds of years ago.
In simplest terms, Mozart died poor and was buried in a ditch in a ground with no casket. There was a time in history where all manner of entertainment was created and performed by the poor and working class for the amusement of the wealthy. If you follow this as a bell curve over the last hundred years or so, the peak is where we’ve been in the 20th century – a stark reversal – where entertainment is largely created and curated by the wealthy for the amusement of the poor and working class. This of course is a bit of a simplification but it is an interesting way of looking at it. Is Remix the beginning of the downward slope of the bell curve? Or is it just another great cultural movement living at the apex point.
I wrote an article reflecting on Remix this past summer. More about the demographic shift and how it will have cultural impact since the next generation has a different native understanding of sharing and sampling.