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"I just called them," Anjos says. "It was so funny. I looked up their manager's number and I was like, 'Yeah, uh, I represent a remix company, I'm very interested in remixing the Shins.' He was like, 'Let me get back to you.' A month later I hadn't heard anything. [But one day] I was in class and I feel my phone vibrating. And it was him. I got the call and it was like, 'Yeah, yeah, the guys are really interested, can we send you the files?' They really liked it."
The band liked it enough to release the song, "Sleeping Lessons," in April 2007 as the B-side of a UK single. It's actually one of the few tangible artifacts of Anjos' remixes. (Others include Tokyo Police Club's "Be Good" — which appeared on the Toronto spazz-pop wunderkinds' Smith EP — and a few seven-inch singles.) But a lack of physical product doesn't mean Anjos isn't making money. He doesn't earn royalties on his remixes, but he now commands $1,500 to $3,000 per track. Of course, he'll work at a discount if he can leverage that into access to industry contacts or the guarantee of future work. Like the smaller indie bands he remixes, Anjos understands that at this stage in his career any exposure is potentially valuable.
In fact, earlier on this January day, the popular music blog Stereogum.com gave him the go-ahead to create a remix album to commemorate the RAC's first year. The collection, which will contain new and unreleased tracks as well as old favorites, will be distributed for free on the blog.
Perched on an office chair in front of his monitor, the lanky Anjos calls to mind an elf, owing to his haircut and boyish features. He opens the already-in-progress mix via his Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice, Cubase SX, an all-in-one program that allows him to command the software equivalent of analog tape machines, mixing desks and effects racks.
"Even though this remix has been released before, I want to give it something different for the album," he explains as a squelching version of Bloc Party's "Hunting for Witches" commences. Graphical representations of its various sound waveforms roll by on the screen. After a bit the track trails off, sounding like Depeche Mode scoring a horror movie. Without a pause the music segues into Au Revoir Simone's "Sad Song," a tune brimming with patty-cake handclaps, new-wave keyboards and sweet-tart vocals.
The songs on the remix album have to be cleared before they can be officially included. But Anjos can afford to be patient. In part that's due to his relationship with Stereogum. Anjos long ago realized the taste-making influence of the site, which receives 2.5 million pageviews a month. After the music-news-and-reviews Web site Pitchfork passed on the Bloc Party remix of "Witches," he sent it to Stereogum, which promptly posted it. A week later the site posted the RAC's "Be Good" remix.
"Obviously, he's talented in a way that the vast majority of people who send us stuff aren't on that level yet," says Scott Lapatine, Stereogum's co-founder and editor-in-chief. "Also, he was remixing tracks that weren't necessarily something you would think deserved a beat — bands that aren't necessarily dance-friendly or high-tempo bands."
Tokyo Police Club's manager Rich Cohen says neither he nor the band mind if blogs such as Stereogum share MP3s of their songs: "It never hurts to have more people talking about you." In fact, "Be Good" earned a spot on the KEXP podcast after the station heard it streaming on Tokyo Police Club's MySpace page.
"People are going nuts over it," Cohen says. "People were forwarding it around to their friends. The more exposure, the better for the band."
Josh Roth, manager of Ra Ra Riot (whose song "Each Year" Anjos has also remixed), echoes Cohen's share-the-wealth sentiment. "The reality is, whether we like it or not, if people want to download a song, they can find a way to download a song and an album. We'd rather support that and give people a chance [to get music] before it leaks," Roth says. "When we first released our EP on our Web site, we gave away our technical single for free and said, 'Check it out, our EP comes out in a month, hope you like the song and hope you buy the EP.'"
Of course, once an MP3 hits the Internet, there's no telling where it'll end up. But for a band such as Ra Ra Riot — which is currently unsigned and just finished recording its debut — the chance to gain new fans outweighs the potential negatives.
"Giving away that song and getting it out there helped introduce people to the band," Roth says.
But Lapatine cautions that music bloggers shouldn't feel justified in posting MP3s with abandon if they're basing their actions on the rationale that "bands make more money from people going to their shows and spending money on merchandise than they do on album sales.
"It's not really your decision to make if you don't own the song," Lapatine laughs. "We work with labels and bands wherever possible. Once you reach a certain level of popularity, there's a responsibility that comes along. If we were to post a song, it's going to hit hundreds of thousands of people. It wouldn't really be fair to us to decide the distribution model."