Remixing In 2019
Updated: Feb 16, 2019
I was having a conversation with a younger producer the other day and the subject of Bodyrox’s “Yeah Yeah” came up and led to a pretty interesting conversation and revelation. He was in London working in the studio with D. Ramirez (Real name Dean Marriott) and the subject of the record came up.
The original version of “Yeah Yeah” from Bodyrox came out in 2006, but it wasn’t until it was remixed by Ramirez that the song took off. In fact, the Ramirez remix was the version pushed to radio and club play and warranted a full vocal which led to Luciana being put on the track. I am hard pressed to find anyone who even remembers what the original version sounds like, if you can even find it anywhere on the web since even Bodyrox pushes Ramirez’s remix as the original. That in itself is not uncommon with records that hit big and aren’t mainstream hits to begin with. In this case the remix introduced a new sound from the Nord Lead using detuned oscillators and a catchy melody that would be copied over and over in other people’s productions. It is that part that prompted the discussion I was having.
In 2017 “Yeah Yeah” was re-released, and this version is based around the sound and melody from Ramirez’s remix. It was in our conversation my friend was surprised to learn that this kind of thing is a common occurrence that usually goes unchecked, and uncompensated. The remix of the remix seems pretty abstract until you realize that in a lot of cases they just aren’t aware of the history.
Another great example is Stonebridge’s remix of “Show Me Love” from Robin S. This is an early 90’s examples of how a remix can not only transform a song leading the original into obscurity and at the same time solidifying a remix into legendary status. Most people have never heard the original 1990 version of “Show Me Love” from Allen George and Fred McFarlane, and while it is actually still a solid house version, bears no resemblance to the Stonebridge version the majority of people associate as the original. When you think of “Show Me Love” you think of that iconic vocal, but also that Korg M1 organ hook, and that melody was entirely created by Stonebridge for his remix. While the decades have seen dozens of bootlegs, covers, and remixes of the song, the thing that most have in common is the use of that legendary hook, yet I have never seen Stonebridge receive credit for it. Honestly, in many cases, most people have no idea that it was his remix, not the original that gave birth to that melody so they believe they are copying the original, and that is not the case.
So why does this happen so often? First we need to touch on what a remix actually is. In its most basic form, a remix is a derivative work from the original, taking one thing and transforming it into something else using the original, and we live in a world where remix culture is at an all-time high. Remixes are usually sanctioned by the artist or label, but anymore bootlegs are just as much a part of the landscape as official remixes. You can trace the roots of music remixing back to the 50’s with the advent of multitrack tape, early dancehall era in Jamaica, on through disco especially with Tom Moulton, who invented the extended mix and Walter Gibbons who created the first commercially released 12-inch single with Double Exposure’s “Ten Percent”. From the disco era we transitioned into the 80s where you find countless extended mixes of many pop records. In those days, remixes and dubs (usually a different arrangement less centered on the vocal) were constructed using the multitrack and didn’t deviate that much from the sound of the original. Arrangements would be altered, parts would be emphasized, and sometimes additional parts would be tracked but it was creative liberty using the available parts that forged the groundwork of remixing. Listen to early remixes by Arthur Baker, François Kevorkian and Shep Pettibone for some ideas and inspiration.
It was in the mid-80s where we started to see the blueprints for modern day remixes where mainly the vocals were kept and entirely new production was put underneath. A little known fact is that Kevin Saunderson, one of the godfathers of Detroit techno was the first person to officially put this into practice with his remix of “Heat It Up” from Wee Papa Girl Rappers, creating entirely original music and keeping only the vocals from the original.
As time marched on (gratuitous Kings of Tomorrow reference) and house, techno, and other genres became popular the volume of remixes started to reflect this. Where previously a label would release one remix, labels now release 5 or more encompassing a wide range of styles targeting specific markets and dancefloors. Unless the artist or label has given specific directions, there are no rules that govern what you can do with the source material or stems. I recently remixed that “Yeah Yeah 2017”track officially, and turned a 128 BPM big room anthem into a 115 BPM Nu Disco track. Over the past few years, as specific trends in electronic music have become dominant, I have seen a large influx of genre specific remixes and bootlegs emerging especially in the trap, moombah, future bass, future house and “deep” house styles. It seems lately that any popular record ends up with one if not all of these styles getting the treatment one way or another, sometimes by the dozens. If you pair that with the ease at which you can craft remixes on a laptop with a variety of DAW’s means that the entrance fee to get into the game is at an all-time low so there are many more players on the field.
Hold up a second, what is this official and bootleg thing you’ve glossed over. So in 2017, it is very trendy to label things a remix, but it is not technically a remix unless a few things are in play. First, the underlying production and music have to be yours and not just an edit of the original. Chopping a record up in Ableton to change the arrangement, tempo, or pitch is not a remix even if you add a few elements, it is an edit. The grey area is if you have completely rebuilt a track from scratch using the songs stems, adding your own elements to it like Louis La Roche and Joey Negro frequently do, you fall into the remix category. Others have called them Reboots, Flips, and Reconstructions. Second, it has to be sanctioned by either the artist or the label. Even if you are not getting paid, official only applies when it is under these conditions.
When you do all original production, and it is not sanctioned by the artist or label even if it ends up on blogs, pools or in DJ sets, it is a bootleg even though people misuse and flip these labels frequently to create more hype for their content. Besides the legitimacy of the remix being official, a bootleg is just as powerful a tool for a record and in a lot of cases allows the producer more freedom without the constraints of a label or artists acceptance. As a Billboard reporter, I get all of the official remixes the label services, and sometimes, even if there are a dozen official remixes, I may not find one that fits my sets. But if the record is popular enough, chances are I can always find a bootleg that I can play. Soundcloud was the Wild Wild West of unofficial remixes for the longest time, and gave birth to a lot of remixers who gained notoriety with their bootlegs until the platform brought in a new sheriff. But that is another story.
Another part of the conversation my friend and I had was the idea of compensation for remixes. It has generally been a work for hire situation. You and the party hiring you agree to a remix fee, you deliver the master and you are paid a one-time fee for your service. Over the years not much has changed, and in many cases the value of an official remix has declined because it is so easy to make remixes now, and in some cases the bootlegs outshine the official ones. But as producers trend, their sounds are always called upon to shape records for their audiences and they are compensated well. Some artists are big enough, or have had enough success that they can have options put into their remix contracts that say that if a record reaches number 1, goes top 10 on Beatport, or sells a certain number of copies you get something extra. Sometimes it’s a percentage of sales, a point on the record, or even rarer some publishing. Sometimes labels will go right for the backend incentives if they aren’t able to swing significant upfront fees. I myself have been through many situations like that, and usually it errs on the more difficult side to get true accountings of record sales unless you can actually see a record is atop the charts and know it moved a lot of units.
Some of the most famous and popular remixes of all time resulted in the producer receiving really small fees and nothing on the backend after the remix blew up. In the case of the “Yeah Yeah” record, Ramirez only got about 500 British Pounds for that record, even after it topped the charts and had radio success he was still not endowed with anything more even though it was his mix that made the record popular, and the artist a lot of money. Every instance of that mix online that is labeled as “original” is actually the D. Ramirez remix including the video labeled as “Original” on Bodyrox’s own YouTube channel. Good luck trying to track the actual original down online.
Another fellow producer Jason Nevins, did a remix of Run DMC’s “It’s Like That” in 1997 and ushered in a new era of Hip House, going on to sell over 5 million copies. His total compensation for a worldwide hit was a four figure deal. It is a story that is told over and over again.
While hits and continued success can lead to bigger fees and more work, the norms in the world of remixing agreements haven’t really changed that much. Now go out and remix something.
Robin S “Show Me Love” The Very Original Mix
Robin S “Show Me Love” The Stonebridge Remix
Bodyrox “Yeah Yeah” D Ramirez Remix