After lurking about the British dance scene for the past few years, a trend–once thought to have peaked and faded–may find new life in the United States, thanks to a DJ/producer called Danger Mouse.
“Mash-ups,” or “Bastard Pop,” involves the cross-pollination of the instrumental or rhythm track of one artist with the vocal track of another. After one track is digitally superimposed on the other, the end product is typically made available over the Internet or on bootleg CDs.
In response to the release of his “Grey Album,” which blends the music of The Beatles’ “White Album” with the lyrics of Jay-Z’s “Black Album,” Danger Mouse has received extensive club play, a positive review in New Yorker magazine, a mention in Rolling Stone magazine’s editors’ favorite albums, singles and videos column and a cease-and-desist letter from EMI Group.
The problem is that due to the availability of music editing software programs and the ease of remixing on one’s home computer, this new breed of desktop DJs fails to secure, or even request, the requisite licenses from the appropriate record label or music publisher of each original master and composition underlying their new “mash-up.”
While this blatant revolt undermines the tenets of Copyright law, the music industry should embrace this latest fad.
BLURRING THE LINES
Digging trenches and preparing a chess-like strategy for a pitched legal battle may take longer than the duration of this perhaps fleeting trend.
As evidenced by the RIAA’s shock-and-awe campaign against P2P users, combating copyright infringers necessitates a slow, deliberate and thorough approach. That said, the results of such a campaign has been about as decisive as the outcome of a Rorschach inkblot test. Trends and fads by their very definition peak and fade at a far more rapid pace.
The first authorized remix of an Elvis Presley song, “A Little Less Conversation,” by JXL brought Elvis to a new generation of consumers.
From its inclusion in a Nike advertisement to its release as a 12″ single, it is unquestionable that this unorthodox remix drove sales of the multi-platinum album, “Elvis: 30 #1 Hits.”
In a similar vein, the industry should attempt to ride this latest wave to breathe new life into older catalogs. Think of what a really good cover can due for a lost classic. “Mash-ups” can serve as an outlet to combine that momentum with the buzz that up and coming rap artists have been able to generate through releasing bootlegs and mix tapes.
NEW REVENUE STREAM
“Mash-ups” will not cannibalize current sales. This is not as dramatic as displacing the labels existing means of distribution. This is using the Internet as well as traditional brick and mortar outlets to generate sales through licensed releases.
There is potential here to generate an additional stream of revenue for labels and publishers without revisiting existing business models or balance sheets.
Keith C. Hauprich is the director of business affairs at Cherry Lane Music Publishing Inc. in New York.