Although not exclusive to digital media, mashups and remixes have always drawn criticism. The mashup (also called bootlegs due to their illegitimate use of audio samples) have been around for as long as recorded media itself. With roots in audio tape being cut and taped together, the mashup has always had a bit of an underground and taboo feel to it. The remix is a somewhat newer occurrence by modern definition. Of course, expanding the definition slightly would allow remixes to extend all the way back to classical. A favorite personal example comes from the early 1900s, when Vaughan Williams (a noted composer) recycles a theme from Thomas Tallis (a noted composer from the 1500s) in his piece Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
These days mashups and remixes are becoming more common. This is primarily due to the ability to share work with the internet. Unfortunately, this is also making them easy to detect by those who are offended by the content and would like to see it removed. The interesting thing to see is that remixes, which usually bear more resemblance to the original piece, are being adopted by record companies. Mashups, on the other hand, are consistently attacked by record companies. The primary reason cited when attacking mashups is that they contain unlicensed samples of songs.
The debate begins to get shaky when record companies begin constraining their efforts to just one of the two genres. There are a lot of bad remixes and mashups out there. Remixes might be more accepted because individual artists begin promoting their favorite remixes of their work. It’s becoming somewhat common practice for artists to release remix albums of a song of theirs, Lady Gaga’s Alejandro the Remixes album comes to mind most easily. The disc contained 8 remixes, and while they were all high-quality remixes, the song remained the same throughout several of them with changes being made to the synthesizers or bass components of the song. Mashups can suffer from the same curse of monotony, but many of them break away from sounding like the original at all. A great example is DJ Earworm’s United States of Pop series. At the end of each year, he makes a mix of the top tracks in The States and it always produces impressive results by all means. Take a listen to his United States of Pop from 2012:
While it’s possible to recognize individual components, the song is a completely new creation. It’s an audio version of a collage. So why do record companies attack them so heavily. Without having much insight into the minds of them, it’s tough to pin the behavior on a reason. It would seem though, that companies have began to accept remixes as they’ve found that they can sell them. Mashups are, from a legal standpoint, much harder to profit from. One would have to obtain licenses from all of the included artists. Unless these artists were willing to give away licenses for free, this business model would never work. Another large problem with the marketability of Mashups is that they’re not professionally produced usually. That is to say, they’re not produced by record-label signed artists. In the case of the Lady Gaga remix album all of the remixes were by also signed artists. In all likelihood, they remixed the tracks because they wanted to, and allowed Lady Gaga to release them because they were proud.
Regardless of the reason, as digital media further advances, this will be a problem the music industry will have to face rationally eventually. Until then, we’ll just have to stick to getting our tracks from other sources.