Sunday, November 9, 2014

Live. Die. Remix.

If you visited this blog from my main site, you've noticed I do quite a few different things. I run an online radio show, and make music videos to help get that music out there. I push out remixes, arrangements, cover versions, and sample-based music. For fun and exercise I also record original songwriting, which has mostly been localized to a specific compos; the music I do there is kept separate from my other outlets. Years before settling into music, I did a little bit of fan fiction. Like most fan fiction, the stuff I wrote is not very good. In a sense I've also done visual fan art by way of crossovers in my webcomic, in which the outside artist was merely emulated and not actually participating in my strips.

Along the way I've become part of various remix-based communities. Early on, I shared my self-hosted music files on message forums like the ones on OverClocked ReMix. Branching out from that, I focused on on putting things out through SoundCloud and YouTube. My albums are on BandCamp, and my webcomic is published through Tumblr. I've gained peers who do the kind of stuff I do, and we've kept in contact and met up in person. I avidly look out for remix-related events, and have gained acquaintances there. Most of the remixing events I attend happen online; in-person events happen less often and are usually simple meet-and-greets or festivals.

Where does copyright fit into all this output and sharing? I think about copyright the way I think about pickpocketers: it affects me more after the fact, when someone takes action against me. So it might linger in the back of my head when I'm working on a remix, the way a recent mugging might, but I don't think it influences the creative output itself. In an example of my own sample-based work, I'll take a short clip, maybe just a brief vocal from an existing recording, then loop it, add drums from some other recording, and blend them to make a beat. On top of that I might layer in some new chords or a bassline, and the result is a new song, remix, or mashup. A lot of it depends on context. If I had to clear a remix idea with the copyright holder before I even started working on it, I'd hardly remix anything. I mix and match before I even decide what I want to do, so asking beforehand would just limit my palette.

As far as actually selling remixed work, it's definitely a murky grey area. If someone is selling remixes, that person should at least try to contact the original authors. A while back I was asked if my "Finality" re-arrangement could be used for a student project with a possible cash incentive, and it made me take pause. The composer of that piece is Masato Nakamura, whom I assume is rarely, if ever, contacted for permission on anything. Ethics is another thing that depends on context. I definitely do not believe that a remix or sample-based work is plagiarism. If you're making something out of something, it's different than simply taking an existing work and renaming it as your own work, or making it look like it has no past iterations. The remixers I consider my friends tend to have the same values I do regarding this. After all, I follow and enjoy their work. It would be weird if my friends were straight-up plagiarizing.

Probably the most egregious thing a remixer can do is not credit the remix sources. In mashups, sometimes it's easier to publish a track as "Jon Doe - My New Mashup" rather than listing the 23 different source tracks to make that one mashup. It's not that they're hiding anything or taking credit for other people's recordings; sometimes it's just cumbersome to list all of that. That's an example of good intention. Bad intention is plagiarism, where the artist claims he recorded everything himself, or is hiding stuff deliberately. I recall there being a minor kerfuffle on Wikipedia regarding an album entry of Girl Talk: He neglected to make a definitive list of samples for his liner notes, which led to an ongoing edit war regarding a user-generated list on the wiki page. Another musical act I've been a longtime fan of also neglected to mention a bunch of samples in their albums, and it's made my hobby of Wikipedia editing feel like a chore.

Websites have recently worked to meet copyright holders halfway in an attempt to please everyone. YouTube in particular has licenses that in some cases can cover the copyrighted material, and allows content creators to generate revenue with cover versions. Loudr is another example of a site essentially including a lawyering service to clear covers versions. Sample-based remixes can be sold legally through Legitmix, provided the sources are available through iTunes. It wasn't too long ago when putting up anything even remotely resembling copyrighted material on YouTube led to rapid removal, regardless of intention from the uploader. Things have changed a bit since then. Depending on who you ask, we're either moving into an new age of creativity, or a mindless pit of regurgitation. Either way, it's an interesting time to remix.

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