Virtual Remixing: Competition, Creative Commons and Copyright #crassh3c (Sam Bennett)

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel

Sam Bennett (Australian National University): Virtual Remixing: Competition, Creative Commons and Copyright
In the last decade, remixing practice has changed from a niche, often concealed, highly specialised skill, into a marketing tool, promotional opportunity and point of focus for online music technology communities. This paper critically analyses examples drawn from 3 identifiable categories of online remix site:
– Creative commons sites such as ‘ccMixter’ offer users unlimited access to royalty free sample sets for remixing;
– Online remix competition hosting sites, such as ‘Indaba music’, host official remix competitions, often with prize incentives; and
– Stem remixing ‘events’ organised by individual commercial recording artists.
Yet such practice presents a dichotomy: on the one hand, remix competitions and creative commons sites allow users access into previously unheard multi track recordings, exposing both the performance and production aspects of composite parts of an original multi track recording. Prior knowledge or remixing ability is not a prerequisite and remixing events are open to anyone, anywhere, with a computer and DAW. On the other hand, commercial recording artists launching remix competitions and ‘events’ ensure full creative and copyright control by: creating instrument and vocal stems with their original effects processing in tact; limiting what the user hears either by song choice or stem formulation; ensuring only professional remix engineers are employed for commercially released remixes; and, retaining copyrights on all adaptations of the original work. Building on research published in The Oxford Handbook on Music & Virtuality, this paper evaluates the benefits and limitations of online stem remixing from the perspective of recording artist, hosting site and online remixer.

Sam is dealing with artist motivations – what drives artists to mix audio ‘stems’: analysis – exposure of performance nuance/production process; and fan community engagement. She starts by defining stem remixing as a halfway house between the multitrack mix and the final master mix. So stems are effectively [in old-school analogue studio tape terminology] bounced subgroups of a number of tracks.


Stems are often released by artists to fans for remix purposes, typically for free through blog sites.

  • William Orbit – ‘OrbitMixer’ 2009
  • Kanye West – ‘Love Lockdown’ 2008
  • Radiohead – ‘Nude’ 2008
  • NIN – ‘The Hand That Feeds’ 2005

We now look at Deadmau5 ‘SOFI Needs a Ladder’ (2010). A competition was held whereby 10 remixes were performed live in front of judges. These were not dry stems – they were bounces of the original recording, with many of the effects ‘printed to tape’. What appears to be one vocal track is in fact three separate vocal recordings bounced into one, with substantial effects processing.

Bon Iver
Bon Iver

The next example is Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2012) – a ‘call to arms remix for fans’ hosted by Indaba Music and Spotify. Prizes of $1000 for best remix in each song category. Spillage on the exposed stems reveals the lo-fi nature of the recording session. This flows quickly into REM’s ‘It Happened Today’ (2011). Producer Jacknife Lee posts REMHQ news item, suggesting that the 125 .AIFF files on the site were raw, but again these were in fact processed, with effects printed to tape (including reverb in the case of Stipe’s vocal). Some other instruments (e.g. celeste and vibes, or snare drum) were more isolated.

Sam now discusses some of the issues arising from these projects. The Deadmau5 project created substantial negativity (including negative views about ripping off fans’ by asking $3.99 fee for the audio). The REM group generated 211 remixes with very positive fan feedback, albeit with moderation of the forums. There was no prize offered. Similarly, the Bon Iver project (‘Holocene’ generated 240 remixes) was positively received. Lots of tech support requests from beginner remixers. Lots of fan engagement and sincere/earnest praise for others’ work. Encouragement of beginners.

Discussion. Some research problems, mainly relating to the time-limited nature of stem contests (they disappear from the ‘net after a short time). The artist assumes the listener has access to both applicable technologies and production skill sets. Not just democratisation of technology, but democratisation of skill sets.

Conclusion. Fan engagement varies significantly. The remixer is limited from the outset because they do not have access to dry multi-track individual files. Increasing opportunity for ‘official release’ since 2010. The artist retains full copyright and creative control. None of the research unearths genuinely raw audio without processing.



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