Rise of the Remix Contest

In today’s fickle musicscape, it’s no longer enough to release an album and pray that your fans download it on iTunes or shell out thirty bucks or more to see you on tour. Twitter missives about the In-and-Out burger you’re munching while stopped for gas in Reno and what movie you saw on the plane en route to NYC are as essential to publicizing your band as a Myspace profile and playing shows 250 days a year. Facebook fan pages have forged faux personal connections with people who just ten years ago would have spent hours curating with almost religious fervor cassette and VHS libraries of music videos, performances and interviews, their index finger hovering over the ‘Record’ button like a hungry lion stalking a particularly plump zebra. With pop culture blogs capturing and commenting on celebrities every move, we’ve become accustomed to holding an all access pass to every area of an artist’s life, except for one; the artistic process. Ironically, it’s been Radiohead, a notoriously press shy band that almost broke the Internet in 2007 when they released In Rainbows as a pay-what- you-want download, that has led the charge in bringing music to the masses in the form of the remix contest.

It’s an astoundingly simple idea that speaks volumes about the technological advances we’ve quickly absorbed into our society. A band releases digital files of the individual instrumental tracks and lets users download them to reconceptualize the original work. Many groups still commission high-profle artists and producers for bonus tracks and B-sides, but Radiohead was one of the first artists to turn songs over to their audience with separate contests for ‘Nude’ and ‘Reckoner,’ the first two singles off In Rainbows. Working with Apple to make the tracks, or stems, available through iTunes and Garageband, users paid a small fee for each stem and uploaded the completed work to the Radiohead website. Being above such trivial matters as prizes and winners, Radiohead announced the only reward would be that they would listen to the best remixes.

Following the enormous response and success of Radiohead’s project, artists like Passion Pit, Depeche Mode and even the Black Eyed Peas turned to their fans for a unique take on their material. Indie darlings Passion Pit made the stems for ‘Little Secret’ available for the price of an email address a month before the May release of their debut album Manners, and let fans trade back and forth to collect all the snippets. They then had fans vote on the best ten submissions, and chose five of those for inclusion on a limited edition vinyl-only single. Depeche Mode teamed up in April with electronic music website Beatport to announce the remix competition for ‘Peace,’ the first single from their twelfth studio album Sounds of the Universe. In addition to releasing the winning entry through Mute Records, their longtime label home, Depeche Mode also gifted the lucky producer with thousands of dollars worth of studio equipment. And if you aren’t already sick of hearing their ubiqiuitous single (and current Target jingle) ‘I’ve Gotta Feeling,’ this month the Black Eyed Peas will feature the ten best remixes on Dipdive.com, the online home for all things BEP, and shower the winner with Korg syntheizers, Moog effects pedals and a $500 Beatport giftcard.

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