We remember when this documentary first surfaced, it became an instant go to tool for explaining the remix process to curious friends. What this documentary does great is go into detail about not only the process of a ‘remix’ but also addresses ethical and moral implementations that come with the domain. To celebrate the five year anniversary, Kirby Ferguson has polished up the original four parts and merged them into a single video. For the first time now, the whole series is available as a single video with proper transitions all the way through, unified styling, and remixed and remastered audio. Part One has been entirely rebuilt in HD. Check out Kirby’s YouTube channel for more documentaries.
Remix. To combine or edit existing materials to produce something new
The term remix originally applied to music. It rose to prominence late last century during the heyday of hip-hop, the first musical form to incorporate sampling from existing recordings.
Early example: the Sugarhill Gang samples the bass riff from Chic’s “Good Times” in the 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight”.
The Sugarhill Gang
Since then that same bassline has been sampled dozens of times.
The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash
Everything’s Gonna be Alright
It’s All Good
Gabriel O Pensador
Skip ahead to the present and anybody can remix anything — music, video, photos, whatever — and distribute it globally pretty much instantly.
You don’t need expensive tools, you don’t need a distributor, you don’t even need skills. Remixing is a folk art — anybody can do it. Yet these techniques — copying materials, transforming them, combining them — are the same ones used at any level of creation. You might even say: everything is a remix.
To explain, let’s start in England in 1968.
Part One: The Song Remains the Same
Jimmy Page recruits John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and John Bonham to form Zed Zeppelin. They play extremely loud blues music that soon will be known as—
Wait, let’s start in Paris in 1961.
William Burroughs coins the term “heavy metal” in the novel “The Soft Machine,” a book composed using the cut-up technique, taking existing writing and literally chopping it up and rearranging it. So in 1961 William Burroughs not only invents the term “heavy metal,” the brand of music Zeppelin and a few other groups would pioneer, he also produces an early remix.
Back to Zeppelin.
By the mid-1970s Led Zeppelin are the biggest touring rock band in America, yet many critics and peers label them as… rip-offs. The case goes like this.
The opening and closing sections of “Bring it on Home” are lifted from a tune by Willie Dixon entitled — not coincidentally — “Bring it on Home.”
Bring it on Home
Bring it on Home
Performed by Sonny Boy Williamson
“The Lemon Song” lifts numerous lyrics from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.”
The Lemon Song
“Black Mountain Side” lifts its melody from “Blackwaterside,” a traditional arranged by Bert Jansch.
Black Mountain Side
(Traditional, Arranged Jansch)
“Dazed and Confused” features different lyrics but is clearly an uncredited cover of the same-titled song by Jake Holmes. Oddly enough, Holmes files suit over forty years later in 2010.
Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused
And the big one, “Stairway to Heaven” pulls its opening from Spirit’s “Taurus.” The estate of songwriter Randy California files suit in 2014.
Stairway to Heaven
Zeppelin clearly copied a lot of amount of other people’s material, but that alone, isn’t unusual. Only two things distinguished Zeppelin from their peers.
Firstly, when Zeppelin used someone else’s material, they didn’t attribute songwriting to the original artist. Most British blues groups were recording lots of covers, but unlike Zeppelin, they didn’t claim to have written them.
Secondly, Led Zeppelin didn’t modify their versions enough to claim they were original. Many bands knock-off acts that came before them, but they tend to emulate the general sound rather than specific lyrics or melodies. Zeppelin copied without making fundamental changes.
So, these two things
Covers: performances of other people’s material
And knock-offs: copies that stay within legal boundaries
These are long-standing examples of legal remixing. This stuff accounts for almost everything the entertainment industry produces, and that’s where we’re headed in part two.
END OF PART ONE
ONE LAST THING
Wait, one last thing. In the wake of their enormous success, Led Zeppelin went from the copier to the copied. First in the 70s with groups like Aerosmith, Heart and Boston, then during the eighties heavy metal craze, and on into the era of sampling. Here’s the beats from “When the Levee Breaks” getting sampled and remixed.
When the Levee Breaks
Rhymin’ and Stealin’
Return to Innocence
(End of Part – REALLY)
Remix – Our thoughts
Although there have been cases where bootleg remixes have hinted at damaging artists original work, this is not as common as remixes complimenting an original artist. Remixes are a great way to reach into niche markets as well as a form of promotion which should really be seen as flattery. Although free music downloads may contribute to a lowering of an artists sales, this can be made up in performances, merchandise and many other methods.
Music will never not be shared! In most cases the formula is much like that of Paul Johnson who heavily sampled (close to copy really) Hamilton Bohannon’s – Me and the Gang, in his smash hit Get Get Down. Paul didn’t see much money from sales of the song, that went to Hamilton Bohannon. However, Paul did get to enjoy making an income from the increase in bookings and his engraved elite dj status, partly cemented by ‘Get Get Down’.
As the documentary states, remixes are an inevitable part of the creation process. It will be interesting to see how the music industry will deal with the vast amount of music that will become public domain in a few generations..
Lets leave you with a wicked website we often use during our production idea process, which tells you well – who sampled who. www.whosampled.com