The New Yorker on Mashups

1 + 1 + 1 = 1 [pdf]

Mashups find new uses for current digital technology, a new iteration of the cause-and-effect relationship behind almost every change in pop-music aesthetics: the gear changes, and then the music does. If there is an electric guitar of mashup, it is a software package called Acid Pro, which enables one to put loops of different songs both in time and in tune with each other. Mark Vidler, known professionally as Go Home Productions, explained some other benefits of digital technology to me in London not long ago: “You don’t need a distributor, because your distribution is the Internet. You don’t need a record label, because it’s your bedroom, and you don’t need a recording studio, because that’s your computer. You do it all yourself.”

[…] As Jennifer Justice, of Carroll, Guido & Groffman, Jay-Z’s law firm, explained, “Jay’s song ’99 Problems’ uses two huge samples and has four different credited publishers. That’s before you’ve added anyone else’s music to it, which would be yet another publisher or two. Making a mashup with that song means the label issuing the mashup has to convince all the publishers involved to take a reduction in royalty–otherwise, it won’t be profitable for the label. The publishers are not going to agree to this if we’re not talking about two huge artists. With Jay-Z and Linkin, it’s like found money, but less well known artists might not be sexy enough or big enough.” This may be true, but lawyers and considerations of profit have little to do with how mashups happen, or why they keep happening.

[…] Mashup artists like Vidler, Kerr, and Brown have found a way of bringing pop music to a formal richness that it only rarely reaches. See mashups as piracy if you insist, but it is more useful, viewing them through the lens of the market, to see them as an expression of consumer dissatisfaction. Armed with free time and the right software, people are rifling through the lesser songs of pop music and, in frustration, choosing to make some of them as good as the great ones.