Sunday, April 5, 2009

Encouraging Fan Involvement through Remixing

In my last blog entry, I mentioned one way to use music as a community builder is via fan creativity. A big proponent of this approach is Terry McBride, CEO of the management firm/record label Nettwerk (Avril Lavigne, Barenaked Ladies, Dido, Stereophonics, Sara McLachlan, Sum 41, Jars of Clay).
We found out that the T-shirts that the fans designed -- even if the artists didn't like them -- the people who went to shows liked them more than the ones that the artists designed. "Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride Puts Fans in Charge of Bands," MediaShift, 12/11/08
That realization led Nettwerk to give the fans even more control.
In 2005, we took it a step further by releasing Barenaked Ladies songs in stems [pieces of the music tracks]. …That was more of a remix. Now I'm more about the mix; to hell with the remix! We have an artist named K-OS, and we released all of the stems two weeks ago, and the fans have not heard the album. … they are actually mixing the album. So we will release physically and digitally the artist version and the fan version. And when we go to radio, we will service the artist version and fan version. So we are taking it the rest of the way.
Nettwerk hasn’t been the only entity to do this. In 2006, Duncan Sheik, who had been on Atlantic but then dropped, released the two-disc While Limousine album.
The "mine" disc is a conventional CD with the music mixed by engineer Kevin Killen. The "yours" disc is a DVD-ROM which contains computer audio files of individual elements of each song, the vocals, the strings, the guitars, etc., along with a link to free software which one can use to mix the CD anyway one likes. George Graham Reviews Duncan Sheik's "White Limousine" 2/06/06
The DVD portion of the release contains all of the individual tracks for each song as well as instructions for downloading a free demo version of Ableton Live, with which anyone can remix and experiment with the constituent parts of the songs. Additionally, advanced users can load the standard 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV versions of Sheik’s White Limousine tracks into a variety of other popular DAWs, including all versions of Pro Tools, Ableton Live 5, Apple Logic Pro and GarageBand, Cakewalk SONAR and many others. M-AUDIO-Duncan Sheik Solicits a Few (Thousand) Remixes
Not everyone has been impressed with this approach. Jason Feinberg, president and founder of On Target Media Group, an entertainment industry new media marketing and promotion company, pointed out that only a minority of fans got involved in these experiments.
When they first came online, a slew of artists adopted video remix contests, but soon found that their fans were not willing to put in the time and effort to create a usable finished product. "Five Tips for Musicians to Engage Their Fans Digitally,"MediaShift, 3/9/09
But instead of abandoning the concept as too much bother, more artists are jumping on board. Here are some recent examples.

K'naan is inviting fans to follow him on Twitter and then submit verses for a song via Twitter.
"People Like Me" Contest
More info here: "Things That Go Pop!" CNCNews, 4/1/09

Imogen Heap recorded the vocals for a song that was never finished. Rather than letting it go to waste, she has uploaded nine different vocal stems [tracks], invited fans to finish the song, upload their completed versions on the website, and donate some money to charity.
Imogen Heap - The Song That Never Was

Ben Folds released the album Way to Normal in 2008. But many of his fans thought it sounded awful.
… there have been requests for an alternate less compressed version of Way To Normal to be made available. … And so we have "Way To Normal: Stems and Seeds" - two disks. One disk is a remix, remaster, re-sequence of "Way To Normal" … The other is a disk of files, called stems, which will pop up in Garageband and allow you to mix the album yourselves. Just click on the file of the song you want to mix and you'll quickly understand how it works. If you'd like to turn the drums off or down, or if you want to use loops or turn that damn singer off and sing it yourself, its all possible. We've included extra loops with the song "You Don't Know Me" hoping someone could maybe come along and make a hit out of this fucking song. "Way To Normal: Stems and Seeds,"12/16/08
Railroad Earth has uploaded two songs to remix, plus software and instructions.

Radiohead made five stems (vocal, guitar, bass, drum and strings/effects) from one song available for purchase on iTunes. Then fans were invited to vote on the best remixed submissions.
Radiohead/ Remix/ Reckoner
More info here: "Radiohead fans can remix ‘Nude’ single," Los Angeles Times, 4/1/08

Kanye West bettered Radiohead by making a song available for free on his website, with six stems.

Here are three variations on the remix concept:

Hoobastank has provided enough online tools to make a simple video that it requires no skill and takes less than a minute to create.
Hoobastank: My Turn

3OH!3 provides spoken sound clips so you can make prank phone calls.
3OH!3 Soundboard

People were invited to add clips to a documentary about remixing.
RiP: A Remix Manifesto

Here are four more sites with remix resources:

Music Ally: UGC fan music contests

Radiohead Remixing: Contest, Full Stems via iTunes and GarageBand

More info here: "MixMatchMusic adds over 2500 Musical stems"

Whether or not remixing itself catches on with the average fan, what is significant is the move toward letting them play with the content. Now that the tools are there, it is unlikely we will return to the days when artists/producers made the content, and audiences passively consumed it. We may even see the day when the big name producer is considered dispensable. If fans are mixing their own songs, will they care if there are no famous producers to guide the projects?

Suzanne Lainson

1 comment:

  1. Great article! Enabling brands and bands to engage and involve fans through remixing is what we focus on at MixMatchMusic (Full Disclosure: I am a founder of MixMatchMusic). No matter what technology you use to facilitate the remixing, it is important to break down the creative barriers between producer and consumer. Our widget, called the Remix Wizard (, allows anybody to host a remix promotion from their myspace page, blog, or any other site. After providing the stems and customizing the look of the widget, bands invite fans to make remixes of the song and upload their mix to the widget for others to listen to, vote on, and share.

    Long live UGC and remixing!


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