The music industry moves into the 21st century
For decades, the music industry has fought against the creation of remixes because they violated copyright. It also could not find ways to earn revenue from them. But now this is changing.
last month tech company Dubset announced that it had raised $4m to effectively make song remixes copyright compliant – an indication that the music industry has realised that it needs to get with the program. For far too long there has been a major disconnect between how music executives and publishers monetise music and how it is actually created. Whether we acknowledge it or not, remix culture is part of our daily lives. Think about the memes you share on social media, the audio and video mash-ups you consume and the fan fiction that has found a home on the web.
Like it or not, the internet has given the audience more power to write back, which has generally been seen as a nightmare for executives and publishers, who are very much concerned with ideas of intellectual property, copyright and original authorship.
When they hear an acclaimed filmmaker like Jim Jarmusch saying, “Nothing is original, steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination,” they probably almost have a heart attack. Lying sprawled on the floor, clutching their chests, they are unable to make out Jarmusch finishing with “…authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent… and don’t bother concealing your thievery, celebrate it if you feel like it.”
In truth, the way we create is very much a process of drawing influence from everything that came before and not just one divine moment of inspiration. Often by taking a piece of content and manipulating it, you end up with an entirely new creation that has as much relevance as the source material.
Lovers of dancehall, dub, hip-hop and various genres of dance music will know this all too well. The same goes for those who enjoy reading fan fiction.
A more recent example and one that brings me back to Dubset, involves legendary Jamaican reggae band Toots & the Maytals and their hit single “54-46 (That’s My Number)”. Recently Major Lazer and Bar Royale used samples from the Maytals classic as the base for their own collaboration, which was named “My Number”.
Both acts played the song at their shows and it was a crowd favourite, but because of the Maytals samples, the song couldn’t be released commercially as it couldn’t be cleared for copyright. It was Dubset’s Mixbank technology that was able to make the song copyright compliant, which allowed it to be distributed through streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. Mixbank scans a music file and can identify all samples within the file by comparing them to a massive database. This is great news for electronic music producers and remixers, who have been battling take-down notices from companies defending copyright. The potential for a technology like this to solve the major disconnect between creation and authorship is massive, never mind the ethical dilemmas it can resolve. After all, the right to remix appears to be built into the new digital world’s DNA. Copyright campaigner and co-founder of Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig, wrote in 2008 that the “right to quote [to remix] is a critical expression of creative freedom that in a broad range of contexts, no free society should restrict”. His argument is that the remix should be thought of as a method of quotation, citation and commentary; as a form of pastiche, parody or homage. In his mind, the mash-up form is nothing less than an evolution in our cultural literacy. So the fact that Dubset found a solution to monetising the copyright-delinquent remix is an example of the music industry servicing the creators, and not the other way round. Take Nine Inch Nails frontman and industrial rock musician Trent Reznor as an example of someone who was always pushing the frontiers of technology. In 2009 Reznor told Wired: “I doubt I’ll ever pay someone to do a remix again.” His reason? “Because there’s some amazing stuff just coming out of bedrooms.” He was right then and even more so now. Technology and computer software have given any kid with a dream the chance to produce music that can compete with the most professional of operations. Eight years ago when the Wired article was published, Reznor’s website, NIN.com, was home to 11 000 fan remixes that had been uploaded for streaming or download. That’s a lot of content generated by his fans and a nightmare for music executives and publishers at the time. But that’s probably why Reznor was an independent artist back then.
Technology and computer software have given any kid with a dream the chance to produce music that can compete with the most professional of operations.
Trent Reznor Musician