By Ray Downs
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By Lindsay Toler
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By Allison Babka
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By Jake Rossen
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The art of remixing evolved from dub — specifically, early-'70s Jamaican producers such as King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry, who created alternate versions of popular reggae songs using stripped-down arrangements and space-age effects. Early British punk acts such as the Clash, and new-wave bands like the B-52s, U2 and the Cure, adopted the same aesthetic in order to push their music into dance clubs, and as the '80s wore on into the 1990s, a variety of adventurous artists — among them New Order, Primal Scream, Madonna and Massive Attack — hired outside remix specialists to create alternate takes of their songs.
Then the digital home-studio revolution put the means of musical remixing into the hands of anybody with a decent PC and the right software. Certain artists have embraced this new wave of DIY; both Brian Eno and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor even made the unmixed components of their songs available on the Internet for anyone and everyone to download and reinterpret.
André Anjos — whose clients typically send him raw song data — is a prime example of someone who has taken full advantage of this open access to information.
"The Internet has leveled the playing field for people like him to get their stuff out there," says Scott Vener, a music supervisor with HBO's Entourage, the series about making it in Hollywood that stars Jeremy Piven. "There's not just three or four distribution channels. And obviously the music blogs have been the thing that has helped André gain a fan base, or even recognition. You don't need huge marketing budgets, either, to promote yourself."
One way to get a sense of the RAC's saturation is to search for "RAC" on the Hype Machine (www.hypem.com), a site that aggregates blog posts containing downloadable MP3s. Blogs in Germany and Sweden have posted RAC remixes, and the widely read U.S. music blog BrooklynVegan dedicated an entire entry to the RAC's output late last year — to the tune of eighteen MP3s posted. Anjos is particularly proud that the RAC remix of Tegan and Sara's "Back in Your Head" was the Hype Machine's single most popular blog track on Christmas Eve 2007.
The spread of music files — remixes included — is a digital domino effect: People download an MP3 and share it with friends or other bloggers, who in turn repost it so others can discover, listen to and share the tune. Essentially these music bloggers have begun to replace the professional tastemakers of the past: record store clerks, journalists and even radio DJs.
"Music blogs are more important than radio," asserts Vener. "If you find somebody whose tastes you align with, then you can stay with that personal blog and save it, keep going back to it."
The difference now is that blogs increasingly have become a legitimate outlet for promotion, says Stereogum's Lapatine. "For many years no one knew who we were. And now a lot of bands will come to us months in advance, will have it as part of their release plans to debut something on Stereogum. The mindset of the industry is changing, such that artists and labels realize the value of blog promotion."
But for every site that, like Stereogum, gets clearance for the MP3s it posts for download, countless others post MP3s without permission. And the problem of contraband music isn't going away: As quickly as authorities shut down illegal album-download sites such as OiNK and Demonoid, other cheekily named sites (waffles.fm, what.cd) have popped up in their place.
The business of unauthorized MP3 remixes is booming as well, judging by the number of bootleg versions offered up by blogs and Web sites that specialize in dance and electronic music. These outlets help Matt Shiv, music director/on-air host at WOXY.com, expand the playlist of Xtrabeats, which he curates.
"There's a ton of people who will get ahold of the a cappella version [of a song] off a promo or something like that, and then do a mix that isn't officially released," he says. "That's becoming more frequent in the sense that there's an awful lot of up-and-coming talent right now, and it's a lot easier to do that stuff than it used to be. People are making DJ mixes and posting them online to get their name out there.
"Let's face it, even probably ten years ago you had to be a lot more entrenched in the production side of the industry to do that kind of stuff. But now with all the [software], it is a lot easier to construct something and make it listenable."
Shiv notes that widespread press and attention can ultimately be a positive thing, even if the source is an illegal release, citing as examples two high-profile renegade remix projects: Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, a mash-up of the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's The Black Album; and DJ Amplive's Rainydayz Remixes. The latter — on which hip-hop artists including Too $hort, Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien rapped over songs from Radiohead's album In Rainbows — was hit with a cease-and-desist order earlier this year before it could be released. But Amplive ultimately cleared the collection and was able to make Rainydayz available for free download.