The Rise of Remix Culture

The Rise of Remix Culture

Exploring the explosive growth and significance of remix culture and the remix economy for music... (Read Time 8-10 mins)

Johnny Hudson (CEO & Co-Founder, Remixology)

“Remixing has become the most important Art-Form in Contemporary Culture”
Vice Media LLC

The Emergence of a New Art Form

Here at Remixology, we are fully immersed 24/7 in music remixing and the broader surrounding remix culture. We’ve seen remixing soar from the specialist domain of club DJ’s to becoming established as an art form in its own right.

Remixing helps to promote progress; ensuring the best art, old and new, connects and resonates with today's audiences through evolving channels and platforms with a wider appeal.

The opportunity to remix has become democratised through the explosion of technology and proliferation of content platforms and social media. The tools and materials for creating derivative works are readily available and placed directly in the hands of so many more people across the world than was even conceivable at the turn of the millennium. We live in a read/write culture where today’s creators more fluidly take from, interact with, and reshape art.

Today a remix can take an infinite number of forms. It can include anything from simple re-editing and audio mixing of an existing work, to features, collaborations and mashups; through to the total re-imagining of an original work in a completely different style. In some cases, remixes are based on only one element, or thread of inspiration taken from an ‘original’ work.

“A lot of artists are used to their music being reused online and have come to accept and embrace it. You have a generation who remake, remix and upload songs and then other people remake the remakes; it just keeps going.”
Girl Talk 

Although remixing can be seen most prominently in music culture, the same phenomenon applies and is reshaping nearly all art forms around us today. All modern forms of art from photography, books, paintings and graphics through to moving imagery and video have all been subject to this thanks to the power to do so being in the hands of everyone.

We plan to dive deeper into these themes in other blog posts in the coming months. As Remixology’s primary focus is music though, we’ll start by exploring some key trends in the industry and keeping the focus there for this post...

Unlocking the Power of the Remix in the Modern Music Industry

Remixes have the proven potential to propel artists as well as their producers to global stardom. In the modern music business, remixes help artists; climb the charts to No.1, turbo-charge credibility, open up new markets, unlock new revenues, move dance floors all over the globe, set alight media, excite and engage audiences, attract fans and extend the longevity of single and album campaigns. There are thousands of examples of how remixes enable artists to grow beyond their original work; let's dig into a few of the more thought-provoking success stories...

Madonna Remix

Madonna embraced remix culture as a core part of her aesthetic and persona from an early stage in her career; drawing inspiration, sounds and styles from the 80’s club scene in New York with extended 12-inch versions of her first wave of hits. She wholeheartedly embraced club culture and has since taken in everything from progressive house, trance, ambient, breaks and deep house, through to the squelch of dubstep and soaring highs of EDM, acting both as a crossover pioneer and stamp of approval for those genres in the mainstream. She has also become one of the most remixed artists of all time, and remixes of Madonna tracks act as important snapshot portraits of her velocity as an artist and the evolution of dance music that appears to have always driven and inspired her.

More contemporary global superstar artists who really understand the power of the remix include Justin Bieber and his team. The original version of the song ‘Despacito’ was a huge success on the Latin music charts, but the remixes were transformative. There were in fact nine derivative versions that helped evolve and expand the impact of the original work that was credited to Luis Fonsi. These include a salsa rework, a Major Lazer remix, a Portuguese translation, as well as a slightly less official Merengue version by Dominican artist Anthony Santos and an orchestral composition by two Croatian cellists.

Justin Bieber Remix

However, when Bieber jumped onboard for a remix version, it exploded right across the world taking the song stratospheric, and is often mistakenly seen as the definitive ‘original’ version. Bieber not only created by far the single biggest pop culture moment of 2017, but the most streamed track of all time. It has to date racked up an astonishing 8bn views on YouTube alone, breaking the record for most viewed video of all time (more views than people on the planet) and that is just on YouTube. In the US, it became the first song in Spanish to top the Billboard Hot 100 since Los del Río's "Macarena" in 1996, subsequently tying the longest-reigning number one achieving 16 weeks (at the time, anyway).

Lil Nas X subsequently took remixing to a new level in 2019 and went on to break the US chart record set by Bieber with his all conquering commercial hit Old Town Road which catapulted the 20-year old rapper to the top of the charts and super-stardom. He had purchased the beat for $30 on BeatStars, added his own song and elements and launched it to little fanfare. The track initially gained popularity on the social video sharing app of the moment TikTok; driving its viral success through masses of user generated video content that remixed the original audio and video. A combination of six official remixes followed which include the version now seen to be the main mix featuring country superstar Billy Ray Cyrus; fusing elements of the original from hip hop and trap beats with country music. This propelled the track to become a record-breaking hit and went on to become a phenomenon and the longest running No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart; spending a monumental 19 weeks there and smashing the record held by Despacito. This was helped significantly by catering to diverse and different audiences of the various artists involved with the remix versions and cross pollinating their sales potential by counting all the remixes as a single entity with the original song under official chart rules.

Lil Nas X Remix

"One year ago today I dropped a remix to Old Town Road with Billy Ray Cyrus, I knew it would be successful but damn did it change everything! Can’t express how much this song has done for me."
Lil Nas X (May 2020)

Remixes as a Catapult to Success

Remixes are often the launchpad from which a significant number of new artists and producers emerge every year and many of the biggest superstar DJ / Producers in the world today cut their teeth through remixing. Remixers are renowned for pushing forward and introducing leading edge art-forms, sounds and styles and live in the vanguard of experimentation; influencing the evolution of new ideas, genres and sometimes even cultural movements.

Look carefully at those Remix Artists and Producers breaking through today and you can find the stars of tomorrow. Superstar names like David Guetta, Avicii, Marshmello and Kygo all started off by remixing other artists early in their ascent and it has continued to play an important part of their meteoric rise to fame. Skrillex remixed a considerable number of Lady Gaga tracks and they contributed significantly to Lady Gaga’s albums: The Remix (2010) and Born This Way: Remixed. Both collated remixes from across her first two hit albums with remixed versions featuring both uptempo and downtempo compositions and altered and re-recorded vocals from Gaga. The albums were hailed by critics for how Gaga was able to leverage electronic music scenes in particular to sell and represent songs from The Fame in new and novel ways; massively expanding her reach and influence, and aiding the momentous success of the releases and campaigns. One even featured remixes by 2020’s most popular artist; The Weeknd many years ahead of his global ascent to fame.

“All my remixes have played such an important role in me delving into production. I dipped my toes in through remixing, and by doing remixes, I learned how to produce.  Over the years I made many friendships with other musicians by remixing them or having them remix me or just by being a part of the ecosystem remixes create. Even now, my original music comes from remixes."

In a rather ironic tale, singer Mike Posner enjoyed huge success through a remix rather than an original track. He had a couple of hit singles such as ‘Cooler Than Me’ which helped his debut album to reach number 8 in the US. However, instead of taking off, his career as an artist nosedived and he was dropped by his label. So Posner signed to an indie label to have a new shot with a low-key EP including a rather sad, autobiographical ballad, ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’ dressed up in a relatively traditional, folky arrangement; featuring Posner’s voice and acoustic guitar. Then emerging Norwegian production & remix duo SEEB were offered a remix opportunity and unlocked the yet unrecognised potential in the song by turning it into a tropical house track. The resulting outlandish mashup of Scandinavian and tropical, electronic and folk became one of the best-selling singles of 2016 and ushered in a new wave of dance music. It also delivered Mike Posner the global success he had always worked hard for and strived to achieve.

“My record label said, Why don't you give 'I Took a Pill in Ibiza' to someone to remix, I said, sure, as I like the idea of people reimagining art and making something new out of it. SEEB transformed it into a worldwide hit that changed my life forever.”
Mike Posner

Even 2020’s biggest success story The Weeknd dropped a previously unreleased remix he did of Lana Del Rey's 2014 Ultraviolence track "Money Power Glory" on his radio show and confessed that it helped the pair end up collaborating on the title track to Del Rey’s album Lust for Life back in 2017.

Remix Innovation & Collaboration

With all the possibilities brought about by the evolution and digitisation of the music industry, direct artist-to-fan relationships, the explosion of collaboration and proliferation of technologies for music and remix production in everyone’s pockets with mobile phones and tablets; remixing is becoming increasingly normalised. This can also help mobilise fan bases for campaigns by turning them into creators (and promoters) of remixes too.

British pop sensation Dua Lipa decided to collaborate with Jaguar to make music in a completely new way. Using Jaguar’s custom-made software, she created an exclusive tool of her latest track ‘Want To’ and empowered fans all over the world to create their own personalised remixes. Using their data – from the way they drive, to taking data from music they listen to on Spotify, the software used this to rearrange elements of the track and create a personalised version and sound but using musical elements from the original track. Those without Spotify were also able to create remixes through an app by tapping their mobile to ‘set the pace’ of a new version too.

Users generated remixes in many different tempos and styles based on a wide range of genres from hip-hop and dance, to orchestral, pop music and drum & bass. This went on to generate hundreds of thousands of new, unique fan versions of the track shared widely across the internet; all thanks to the power of mobile technology. It also helped the track to achieve the status of the most remixed track of all time.

Dua Lipa Remix
“’I’m so excited to push the boundaries of music and technology for my fans. It’s pretty mind-blowing that anyone can create their own unique version of my single based on the way they drive a Jaguar, or what music they listen to. It’s crazy to think I-PACE can alter the energy of my music to create a totally new and incredible sound.”
Dua Lipa

More recently, Dua Lipa extended her chart-dominating second studio album, Future Nostalgia (2020) by releasing a separate remix album "Club Future Nostalgia" with a DJ mix version, despite the suspension of clubs and dance events throughout 2020. Lipa collaborated with the breakthrough American DJ ‘The Blessed Madonna’ who helped to curate and attract remixes from leading DJs and producers spanning mainstream and underground dance scenes. This went on to open up a whole host of new sales, media, marketing and audience exposure opportunities; and included names like Masters at Work, Larry Heard, Moodymann, Mark Ronson, and Stuart Price with guest collaboration appearances from Blackpink, Missy Elliott, Madonna, and Gwen Stefani.

Artistic Expression through Remixing

In a broader sense, remixing, referencing and reinterpreting previous creative works allows artists to engage in an ongoing cultural dialogue: it is an inherent feature in the way art, technology and society continues to evolve.

“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
Jean-Luc Godard
Lana Del Rey Remix

Lana Del Rey and her label’s strategy of commissioning remixes to accompany her singles and album campaigns as a key part of the release plan spanning many styles and genres has paid dividends over the years. Cedric Gervais remixed Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness to unknowingly create one of the most commercially successful tracks of her career. In an alternate take on the same track, the remix took it to a completely different place and feeling, turning a sad sombre slow-burning original song that would not have connected at mainstream radio in its original format, into an upbeat anthem for the emerging youth culture surrounding EDM. The track was represented with a fresh backdrop of a continuous explosion of colourful and high-energy beats and synths. It turned into a worldwide commercial success and became the highest charting single of her career in the US; peaking at #6 and becoming a massive global radio smash; charting all over the world and embraced by a rising generation growing up on a new dance music sound nearly two years after the original was first released. The remix won a Grammy and opened unprecedented new avenues for Lana Del Rey, arguably making her more relevant than ever in the media, mainstream and with younger audiences.

Future Blog Posts

“Art cannot be created or destroyed — only remixed.”
Kirby Ferguson - TED Talks

At Remixology the majority of what we learn is drawn from the fantastic people we’ve had the pleasure of working and collaborating with, as well as many hours spent with new friends, colleagues and clients conversing, debating and absorbing. So we felt it would be useful to create a blog platform that enables us to share these viewpoints, stories and experiences. We want to use it to focus on the artistic aspects and considerations of the remix, as well as the evolving nature of remix culture and significance it plays across diverse and different roles and perspectives within the industry to generate commerce too. We term this the ‘Remix Economy’ and our goal with this blog is to help surface and share unique insights, experiences and learnings which contribute to its ever-growing success.

We hope you find the blog to be an inspiring and enlightening resource to dig deeper on remix culture and the remix economy, as well as a place to learn and understand more about how remixing and remix strategy is contributing to the success of artists, DJ’s, producers and their careers across the world.

We invite you to share your own feedback and learnings on our channels, as well as your own and help contribute positively to the discussion around this groundbreaking art form to help it continue to flourish and contribute to the overall success of artistry and the global music industry...

Johnny Hudson (CEO & Co-Founder, Remixology)