MJ B&W image1 THE REMIX MANIFESTO: THOUGHTS ON THE VALUE OF REMIXES  

 

Part 3 of 3: Conclusions about remixes and Michael Jackson

 

So – it’s down to That Question.

Even if they are done respectfully and well, do remixes necessarily hurt or cheat Michael Jackson’s legacy?

If you think that they do, then philosophically, the last 400 years of eager, inventive, mind-boggling and thought-provoking remounts of works by William Shakespeare done all around the world have just become essentially meaningless… or worse, even criminal.

Even more relevant, all the thousands of orchestral conductors who’ve spent endless hours pouring over Mozart’s works to add their interpretation to his, because the works are inspiring and grand and stellar examples of the best efforts of a gifted creator who floored audiences and inspired millions… are quaking in their tailcoats and spinning in their graves.

Unlike words printed and published in a book or painting or drawing on canvas or paper, music is a living flowing piece of art. It can easily change drastically once created. Like energy itself, music may change form or sound but it can never be destroyed.

But what about changing it? Can you really formulate this into a “right or wrong” argument? To my way of thinking, the real argument is “remembered or forgotten”. Even the oldest known forms of music have been kept alive and relevant to ensuing generations by the constant interest, reinterpretations and energy of others. (But the originals will always exist in their virgin form, and do not hunt you down and punish you for appreciating another interpretation! Nor are you obliged to pledge exclusive and undying allegiance to either. This must reassure you.)

It is clear that Michael Jackson never EVER wanted to end up as a museum exhibit. By saying that his art should never be heard or seen in any manner or interpretation other than exactly as in his original studio albums or works in progress as left in the vault, energetically it edges him closer to that dusty glass case.

In short: I think remixes benefit MJ’s legacy much more than cause harm, and connect very firmly to his musical roots.

My feeling about remixers is that first and foremost, they honor the original creator – much like a jeweler who makes more art from gem or ore or mineral, but cannot in essence fault (or better) the precious thing created by nature or divine guidance.

They also know that as raw material, a song by Michael Jackson is as good as it gets. (And no one has to wonder if it’s really his voice, since components of the original songs are clearly in the mix.)

Though I wrote the first draft of this article three years ago, to this point in my experience, no remixer is selling their creations for large sums of money unless they have been commissioned by a legally entitled entity – a record label or in MJ’s case, his Estate – nonetheless the widespread desire to do unofficial remixes on him remains. They incur costs to get equipment or software and knowledge to do the mix and then more costs to package and market their efforts decently, if they choose to take their chances and do so. There are certainly risks involved. The majority of remixers end up taking their chances sensibly on shared media outlets and private websites, with no recompense involved and asserting that their intentions tread on no royalty issues.

What happens then? In reality, the additional exposure they provide with their remixes, official or not, is analogous to solar power users whose systems provide extra watts back into the power grid. They charge and recharge the music — perhaps alternating the current a bit — and ideally attracting listeners with different voltage to plug in… The Jackson electricity is never static!

Also, I have seen no serious effort yet to package MJ’s songs or music and present it as their own creation – but simply as their own interpretation. In many cases the remixer is never even identified on their work.

If they come from another branch of music (such as rap or hip hop) It seems clear there is a strong desire out there to somehow make and keep MJ a part of their particular musical philosophy. A connection with MJ is still sought after. He was and is so universally respected by his peers.

And if they show off a little in doing their mix, what’s wrong with that?

When you’ve got it, you get to flaunt it. (Talent and expertise, that is.) In Simon Langford’s series of articles (see Remix Manifesto Part 2), he notes that well-received remixes (perhaps collecting voluminous hits on YouTube) can sometimes lead to a career as a record producer, but he also delivers a cautionary reality check when he notes that the industry is not an easy nut to crack. Caveat creator.

***

My personal take on Michael Jackson is that he relished that unpredictable creative spark in anybody he encountered and always wanted to share and collaborate and inspire. He wanted to fan that spark into flame however he was able and challenge people. He does that still, in remixes and mash-ups and megamixes.

Anyone who attempts to wade through the explosion of video creativity on YouTube, dealing with MJ in all his facets and details from the first sign of his genius to the last, can clearly see that positive inspiration is alive and well and doesn’t look to abate any time soon. I think this is magic – as magic as a video I saw once with a sequined white glove falling from the sky (because everybody knows exactly who that glove represents) and becoming a rainstorm of sparkly gloves. Bring ‘em on! Let them become a flood!

The more sparkly gloves and love and positive inspiration and even imitation that exist, the more evidence exists that the media got it totally wrong in attaching so much negativity to Michael Jackson’s name.

I don’t think it ever was about money to MJ, except when he needed some to help others and take care of his family, but it WAS about numbers and breaking records – being loved and appreciated, and never forgotten. And the remixes and amateur videos (like everything else inspired by MJ) eventually lead new and old admirers back to the original songs. In so doing, they sell music for MJ’s beneficiaries, with no effort on the Estate’s part.

If they tried to take away all the genuine high-quality and respectful creativity that MJ inspires, to regulate and to incriminate, the damage done to MJ’s legacy would be far worse than any amount of fan money or time spent upon remixes created by others. The remix simply has been embraced as a creative tool, even by MJ himself as evidenced by the number of official remixes he released on his own label – there is no going back.

Case in point 1: MJ has his own streaming radio station online, from Europe, called MjTunes. (www.mjtunes.com) (How many artists can say that?) Their imaginative play lists include all parts of his career and also extensive presentation of remixes, some of which the station itself has apparently commissioned. That the remixes (and the station) are there is a testimony to their popularity among listeners and also of the awareness by record label and legal representation that such participatory exposure is vital to the legacy of MJ’s art.

Case in point 2: Whosampled.com, a member-driven and moderated database keeping detailed track of covers, remixes and songs that sample from other artists, reports 28,178 remixes from among 247,213 artists in the database and more than 10,000 contributors. (My own much more modest collection of just MJ remixes currently numbers north of 1,675 and still collecting.)

Some official MJJ Productions remix GOLD

Some official MJJ Productions remix GOLD

***

I offer this personal treatise, then, as a way to better understand why remixes are valuable.

Personally I skip listening to covers of MJ’s songs, they cannot possibly satisfy me – but remixes ROCK.

They and all roads lead directly back to the one, the only, original and unique King of Pop, Rock and Soul: Michael Jackson. He was and is the heart of inspiration for so many.

It has been said that his efforts saved the recorded music industry in the Eighties – and based upon sales figures for his audio and video art in 2009 and 2010, and the income figures for his Estate since his death, he is performing a similar service inspirationally today even though physically absent.

Some say he might have also been a messenger. The message that I hear, loud and clear, when I play a remix, is that there is absolutely no end to inspiration and innovation and the human need to strive for excellence, as personified by Michael Jackson – to do something that just might eventually change… EVERYTHING.

MJ B&W image2

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Comments
  1. sfaikus says:

    I’ve read your comments in the DWTE blog , and enjoy them. I don’t know if you have joined the Facebook group MJ Archives, so I sent you an email invitation. The author of the ebook just released about MJ remixes is in that group and they are discussing it now.

  2. corlista1 says:

    I have now read all 3 articles. Absolutely excellent. Though I generally wasn’t a fan of remixes of Michael’s music you have inspired me to look at them in a whole new way so I thank you for that. That you could convince me in a non-judgmental and articulate manner that they are actually a way of honoring Michael and extending his legacy and fan base speaks to your wise and studied approach. Artistically, Michael is an unparalleled living, breathing artist to this very day and will continue to be so for a long time. What he most wanted which was to achieve immortality and inspire others has been accomplished – in spades. Except for the obvious need for money to live, I never believed it was about money for MJ either. His goals were much higher, deeper, more inspired, more divine – if you will. And, yes, I believe he was a messenger.
    In closing, I would love to know where that white glove video is!

    • Chris Kohler says:

      Hi corlista1 – thanks for visiting and for your kind comments.

      Thanks also for reminding me about the “Gloves” video- I meant to insert it into the article and never did.
      It’s there now, and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NQgkDXY5JQ

      I’m so glad that remixes might tempt you to explore MJ’s music further. The point is to consider the options, an important approach when delving into anything regarding Michael Jackson’s life or career. He explored more options than any entertainer ever and pushed boundaries while encouraging others to challenge themselves as well. Sometimes just writing about MJ becomes the challenge with so much dogma and so many ego-driven personal agendas being espoused, but “open minds, open hearts” is where I try to go. I also recommend the excellent “Dancing with the Elephant” blog for some eye-opening explorations of MJ’s art.

      • corlista1 says:

        Thank you for the video – very poignant – and I do read DWTE often. Very insightful discussions. In fact I just read one that you referenced on Studio 54. Excellent insights into where Michael may have gained the impetus for his masterfully magical creations.

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