Monday, February 04, 2013

New Media - MP3s and Mashups

You can find the reading here.

How does Shiga define "mash-ups"? Is this phenomenon due to the easily-sharable music file (mp3 or variant), or did it exist before that? What contributes to its existence?

Do you have a favourite mash-up?

Finally, what happens in the future? Are mash-ups finished now? (Perhaps they have been for a few years)

That's all - I know there isn't much this week, but that is alright. The reading is not the easiest either, so that's that.


Phil Wiebe said...

Shiga defines mash-ups as 'using audio-editing software to splice and combine songs to produce hybrid or "mashed-up" recordings.' That was a bit of a paraphrase, as he specified pop music and MP3.

This phenomenon grew exponentially with the advent of affordable 'digital studio' software and the proliferation of easily-obtainable digital music files, but it's not new. Shiga compares and contrasts it to its predecessor DJing, specifically of the club/dance variety, but I think its true progenitor is the practice of sampling. Genres skewed towards experimentation had fooled around with the concept earlier, but hip-hop turned sampling into its status quo from the get go, which itself springs from hip-hop's roots as a live event where rappers would rap over cuts, hooks, and beats of R&B/Soul/Funk/Dance/etc. tracks. From there it grew: commercial tracks would sample beats (like 'funky drummer' or the 'amen break), then entire riffs or melodies (like the flute stab on The Beastie Boys' Sure Shot), and finally entire instrumental tracks ("Under Pressure" / "Ice Ice Baby", "Super Freak" / "U Can't Touch This"). The latter form anticipated the simplest style of mashup (acapella + instrumental) long before the digital era, and it wasn't limited just to hip-hop music: the heart of Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger" is Edwin Birdsong's "Cola Bottle Baby" (which in turn would be used as a significant 'mash-up' element of Kanye West's "Stronger").

That said, Shiga's essay is primarily concerned with mash-up culture, which certainly did not exist prior to the MP3. I would attribute the appearance of such a culture to similar factors as Shiga, with some differences.
1. The availability of software tools to produce work that previously could only be done in a studio, thus opening production to anyone with a PC capable of running said programs
2. Software developments meant that someone with little knowledge of technical musicianship (key, tempo, rhythm, etc) but an astute ear could produce something good
3. MP3 and filesharing providing nearly unlimited (thought low quality) source material

Phil Wiebe said...

Boom, you've got mash-ups. Where I split with Shiga is the role of dissatisfaction with commercial music and DJing and the fetishization of illegality. I think those factors defined the most vocal, partisan, and dedicated (and thus most visible) parts of mash-up cultures, the ones most concerned about the 'culture' aspect, but it really is an egalitarian method of production. I'm also tempted to categorize some of the inclinations and motivations of the 'true believer' part of mash-up culture to be inauthentic, which is not to disagree with the thorough research presented. Most strikingly, how mash-ups (if not the culture) have been sublimated right back into the mainstream; the industry was more than happy to take the songs that people liked listening to and sell them, or use the same methods on their own records. I'm suspicious of any movement that is founded out of a reaction rather than pure notions, because it will be placed in a losing dialectic against what it opposes. I think the music industry in turn reappropriated all the symbolic currency the mash-up culture had appropriated from mainstream music. For me, mash-ups as a form of critique or fringe style are over; the mash-up culture, I'm sure, remains and no doubt complains about how they did it before it was cool, but their products are not special anymore. You can't fight the mainstream and win without a strong foundation. The future of mash-ups is what they always should have been: novelties that crop up and maybe get a bit of limelight, but mainly exist on the edges, catering to the same people who go searching for covers of songs they like. That's the songs themselves at least; the act of mashing-up itself has been commandeered by its original owner, DJs: the place where most people hear mash-ups today is by going to a club and hearing the Top 40 spliced together. It's so mainstream that I can turn on my radio every weekday at 5pm Pacific, tune it to The Beat 94.5, "Vancouver's #1 Hit Music Station," and listen to the "5 O'Clock Traffic Jam with DJ Flipout," wherein the eponymous DJ mashes-up mostly Top 40 songs.

I like a few mash-ups, and they can be sorted in these categories Shiga lists-

'wow, those two songs do sound
exactly the same'
Axis of Awesome - 4 Chords (

‘entirely new song made out of little pieces of a bunch of other
Norwegian Recycling - Viva la Viral! (
Franz Ferdinand vs. Electric Six vs. Scott McKenzie - Michael goes to San Francisco (
And my favourite category:
‘you put what together and made it sound good?!’
Kavinsky vs. Kanye West - Two Words : Night Call (
Nirvana vs. Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up (
Team Teamwork - Don't Touch Me (Gerudo Valley) (