Seven years ago, remix competitions were a new and exciting marketing opportunity, fired up on the possibilities of UGC and how it could create a different connection between artist and fan. Their growing ubiquity has, however, taken the shine off them a little. With everyone from underground acts to superstars doing them, can such competitions retain not just their relevance but also their vim?
In 2005 when XL Recordings ran a remix competition for MIA, the idea was fairly radical. Fans could download a cappella vocals from three of the songs on her debut album, make their own remixes, then upload them to a dedicated site as part of an online compilation.
MIA was not quite the first person to do this – Faithless, for example, ran a remix competition in 2004 – but the idea, pre-UGC explosion, that consumers could take an artist’s music and create their own content for online distribution was still considered quite extreme. After all, iTunes had only opened two years previously, YouTube was still in its infancy and music distribution was still largely in the hands of record companies, distributors and physical stores. In this way, the user remix idea fitted in well with MIA’s emerging aesthetic of technological innovation and online know-how, using the internet to build a connection with fans.
In 2010, however, when the rapper repeated the trick, inviting fans to remix ‘Steppin’ Up’ in anticipation of her appearance at the Hard Festival, things were very different. Yes, the winners got festival tickets and studio time, but an explosion in these kind of competitions – not to mention UGC as a whole – meant that there was little new about the idea. After all, if you wanted to remix an MIA track in 2010, the chances are you could have found the necessary parts online, and then uploaded the resulting mix to your SoundCloud, YouTube and Bandcamp accounts for instant global distribution.
Indeed, so widespread has the idea of the remix competition become in 2012, that there is now a whole website devoted to it, RemixComps.com, which at time of writing features 115 open competitions, allowing you to get your hands on tracks form artists as diverse as The Wombats, Linkin Park and Tangerine Dream. Meanwhile, Indaba Music, a website devoted to online musical collaboration, includes competitions from the likes of Paloma Faith and Bootsy Collins. “Compose, record, and remix songs for superstar artists and global brands,” the company says on the site. “Get heard, get licensed, get released.”
How to stay relevant against the rising tide of ubiquity
As remix competitions get ever more popular, it is worth asking, then, what exactly do labels, artists and even entrants get out of them? Are they just a fad? Or can they be a significant part in the marketing jigsaw? For budding musicians and producers, gaining exposure is often the key attraction: most of these competitions do offer prizes but they tend to be fairly small amounts of cash, with the possibility of a commercial release often the star prize.
“There are three prizing categories to invest across for the best results,” explains Indaba Media SVP of business development Sean Rosenberg. “The first is experience: this can be as simple as a video call between the winner and artist or an opportunity to perform on stage. The second is exposure: will the winning remix be commercialised with an official release or promoted from artist properties? And the third is the producer fee: it is important to transfer the copyrights from the winning remixer to the label with a ‘buy-out’ fee that can range from $1,000 to $5,000.”
For the labels and artists who run these competitions, the main goal is largely the same: generating publicity around the artist and release in question. And if they unearth a blinding new talent while doing it, then so much the better. In this, though, the very popularity of these competitions can work against them: user remix projects have become so ubiquitous that they either need to involve the biggest band on the planet (Radiohead have done two to date, the first generating more than 2,200 remixes) or have a serious twist – à la Chapel Club, of which more later – to generate some coverage.
The benefits are there… if you look for them
Edward Cufaude, who runs RemixComps.com, says that while remix competitions have exploded in popularity – there were about 40 contests when he started the site at the beginning of 2009, today he regularly has between 110 to 130 going at one time – there are still considerable benefits to be had for artists and labels alike.
“The contest organiser’s reason may well be different depending on how well the artist or label is known,” he explains. “For example, an already known artist may be attempting to get more engagement between themselves and fans, while a smaller label might be looking to promote themselves.” Burrowing down into specifics, Cufaude identifies several distinct ways in which these contests can promote artist and song.
The first is a simple numbers game: having 200 remixes of a track on SoundCloud will inevitably result in more exposure than just posting the original. What’s more, many of the remixers who get their hands on a track will probably be DJs, meaning they may play both the original and their remix to clubs, bars etc. Even if they don’t, DJs and musicians are often key tastemakers, so getting a track in front of them is very important for marketers. Then there is the bonus of what is a fairly unique form of fan engagement. By getting fans to remix a track, the theory is that they will buy into it far more, due to the hours they have spent with the music.
“When one remix is created, it reignites an artist’s core fan base with a fresh take of the recording,” says Indaba’s Rosenberg. “During a competition, hundreds of remixes are created for fans to discover and share their favourites. When this much content is digitally shared it earns social impressions for the artist and reaches new audiences.” In tangible terms, Rosenberg explains that the main benefits for artists and labels are marketing reach, direct email opt-ins, commercially viable remixes and data capture. “The main data capture is email opt-ins that can be paired with demographic profiles such as gender, age, income bracket and so on,” Rosenberg says.
There is money to be made here too
In addition to the promotional angle, labels can also make money from these competitions by selling the remix stems (the parts needed to remix the track) to entrants. The five stems for Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ – offered in a remix competition in 2008 – cost $0.99/£0.79 each to download from iTunes, for example. Given that the competition attracted more than 2,200 remixes, that is more than $10,000 in income.
“Savvy labels can actually turn a profit with the right investment strategy,” explains Rosenberg. And why just stop at a single track? Rosenberg notes that Indaba Media has partnered with artists including Bon Iver, Metric and Marcy Playground to remix entire albums that were then commercially released. “These projects turned a significant profit for each artist since they had already built up awareness, direct marketing lists and demand with their fanbase through the remix competition,” Rosenberg says.
In this context, the Chapel Club Remix Project – it’s not a competition, although it shares many of the same characteristics – is highly interesting. Late last month the band made the stems from their track ‘Good Together’ available to download for free, with fans encouraged to remix the track and then sell their creations. Remixers get to keep all the master income from sales, sync and third-part licensing (although not publishing), with the only stipulation that the band retain approval over where the remix is synced.
“Because the band are unpublished, if any of these mixes get released or licensed to film/TV/advertising the band would directly earn publishing income from each approved licence,” explains the band’s manager Stephen Taverner. “Obviously, the more mixes that are released, the more potential income on the publishing side. The band also quite like the punk rock attitude of giving the master rights away. It’s something that a traditional record label could never do,” he says.
“The main point of this was that people could remix the tracks, sell them and then keep the money for themselves,” says Motive Unknown’s Darren Hemmings, who advised the band on the project (and who also contributes to Music Ally). “It was about exploring a new model while we had the opportunity – in the sense of the band being between label deals – and seeing what the outcome was.” Has the project been a success so far? In terms of exposure, almost certainly yes, with the project being covered in both business and consumer media outlets.
In more general terms, however, it is probably still too early to judge: Taverner says that the stems have been downloaded 360 times in total. “If we end up with over 300 remixes out there, I’d consider that a huge success,” he adds. “This has always only been seen as an experiment, to see what would happen if…” This level of response, it seems is eminently possible. Rosenberg explains that remix competitions on Indaba average 250 submissions “although we’ve broken 1,000 submissions for artists including Linkin Park and Usher”.
A few good remixes are worth more than hundreds of average ones
What is more, Daniel Ayers, director of digital services at Sony Music UK, says that these competitions may only need half a dozen good entries to make them feel like a success. “The number of people who will listen to the results is greater than the number who will take part and no one will listen to 200 remixes of the same track,” he explains. Ayers, who admits his experience of these competitions comes largely from five years ago, nevertheless retains some doubts over their worth. Issues, he explains, can include a split between the serious “pro-am remixers” and casual fans who want a flash app to play around with; the cost of getting hold of the stems themselves (especially if they weren’t saved at the time the track was recorded) and a degree of audience fatigue.
“Some fan bases turning quite quickly from, ‘Awesome, we get to remix our favourite band’s tunes’ to, ‘Dudes… do your own work. You’re meant to be the artist’,” he says. This attitude, Ayers admits, was more commonly a problem in UGC campaigns where fans were encouraged to make videos for a song. However, with even video games publishers now getting in on the music remix act – Microsoft is currently running a competition for the music from Halo 4, for example – it is something that labels and artists must keep at the front of their minds.
“Remix competitions are real opportunities for independent musicians to gain experience, exposure and fees while helping to promote an artist’s release,” says Rosenberg. “Each competition needs a unique prizing package to attract the best independent talent and in turn create the highest quality remixes.” If you do manage to come up with your own take on the concept, however, as Chapel Club have undoubtedly done with their own Remix Project, then the rewards could potentially be very big indeed.
“It took a while to get the band’s legal representatives in sync, as it’s a totally new concept but once they grasped it, though, it was relatively straightforward,” Taverner says before concluding, “Some of our legal team have been saying that this could be a new business model. I think it just goes to prove that anything is possible, as long as you are willing to look at your business in a non-traditional way.”
Dos and don’ts of remix competitions
- Come up with a creative, original idea that will set your competition aside from the rest.
- Get the artist to promote the competition using social media and other channels. A$AP Rocky made a video for his Goldie remix comp, for example.
- Decide on the audience you want to appeal to: is it pro-am or casual consumer? This will make a big difference to the competition.
- Run the competition past a lawyer. You don’t want a lawsuit because you got the wording of the rules wrong.
- Charge too much for the remix stems. If you do, the fans won’t like it one bit.
- Get lazy. One UGC competition is great, but don’t expect fans to do everything for you.
- Expect the world. It takes time and effort to remix a track so a handful of strong entries is a good response.
- Forget remix stems when the band is recording. Getting the stems later can be a pain in the neck.