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.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY - Ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

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

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