Modern remixing had its roots in the dance hall culture of late-1960s/early-1970s Jamaica. The fluid evolution of music that encompassed ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub was embraced by local mixing wizards who deconstructed and rebuilt tracks to suit the tastes of their audience. Producers and engineers like Ruddy Redwood, King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry popularized stripped-down instrumental mixes (which they called "versions") of reggae tunes. At first they simply dropped the vocal tracks, but soon more sophisticated effects were created, dropping separate instrumental tracks in and out of the mix, isolating and repeating hooks, and adding various effects like echo, reverberation and delay.
At the same time, DJs in early discotheques were performing similar tricks with disco songs (using loops and tape edits) to get dancers on the floor and keep them there. One noteworthy figure was Tom Moulton who invented the dance remix as we now know it. Though not a DJ (a popular misconception), Mr. Moulton had begun his career by making a home-made mix tape for a Fire Island dance club in the late 1960s. His tapes eventually became popular and he came to the attention of the music industry in New York City. At first Mr. Moulton was simply called upon to improve the aesthetics of dance-oriented recordings before release ("I didn't do the remix, I did the mix"—Tom Moulton). Eventually, he moved from being a "fix it" man on pop records to specializing in remixes for the dance floor. Along the way, he invented the breakdown section and the 12-inch single vinyl format. Walter Gibbons provided the dance version of the first commercial 12-inch single ("Ten Percent", by Double Exposure). Contrary to popular belief, Gibbons did not mix the record. In fact his version was a re-edit of the original mix. Moulton, Gibbons and their contemporaries (Jim Burgess, Tee Scott, and later Larry Levan and Shep Pettibone) at Salsoul Records proved to be the most influential group of remixers for the disco era. The Salsoul catalog is seen (especially in Great Britain and Europe) as being the "canon" for the disco mixer's art form. Pettibone is among a very small number of remixers whose work successfully transitioned from the Disco era to the House era. (He is certainly the most high profile remixer to do so.) His contemporaries included Arthur Baker and Francois Kevorkian.
Contemporaneously to disco, in the mid-1970s, the Jamaican and Bronx remix cultures met, energizing both. Key figures included DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Cutting (alternating between duplicate copies of the same record) and scratching (manually moving the vinyl record beneath the turntable needle) became part of the culture, creating what Slate magazine called "real-time, live-action collage". One of the first mainstream successes of this style of remix was the 1983 track "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock, as remixed by Grand Mixer D.ST. Malcolm McLaren and the creative team behind ZTT Records would feature the "cut up" style of hip hop on such records as "Duck Rock".
Early pop remixes were fairly simple; in the 1980s, "extended mixes" of songs were released to clubs and commercial outlets on vinyl 12-inch singles. These typically had a duration of six to seven minutes, and often consisted of the original song with 8 or 16 bars of instruments inserted, often after the second chorus; some were as simplistic as two copies of the song stitched end to end. As the cost and availability of new technologies allowed, many of the bands who were involved in their own production (such as Depeche Mode, Erasure, and Duran Duran) experimented with more intricate versions of the extended mix. Madonna began her career writing music for dance clubs and used remixes extensively to propel her career; one of her early boyfriends was noted DJ John Jellybean Benitez, who created several memorable mixes of her work.
Art of Noise took the remix styles to an extreme—creating new music entirely using samples. They were among the first popular groups to truly harness the potential that had been unleashed by Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder (as well as composer Jean Michel Jarre) with their synthesizer-based compositions. Contemporaneous to Art of Noise was the seminal body of work by Yello (composed, arranged and mixed by Boris Blank). Primarily because they featured sampled and sequenced sounds, Yello and Art of Noise would produce a great deal of influential work for the next phase. Others such as Cabaret Voltaire and the aforementioned Jarre (whose Zoolook was an epic usage of sampling and sequencing) were equally influential in this era).
After the rise of dance music in the late 1980s, a new form of remix was popularised, where the vocals would be kept and the instruments would be replaced, often with matching backing in the house music idiom. A clear example of this approach is Roberta Flack's 1989 ballad "Uh Oh Look Out", which Chicago House great Steve "Silk" Hurley dramatically reworked into a boisterous floor-filler by stripping away all the instrumental tracks and substituting a minimalist, sequenced "track" to underpin her vocal delivery. The art of the remix gradually evolved, and soon avant-garde artists such as Aphex Twin were creating more experimental remixes of songs (relying on the groundwork of Cabaret Voltaire and the others), which varied radically from their original sound and were not guided by pragmatic considerations such as sales or danceability, but were created for "art's sake".
In the 1990s, with the rise of powerful home computers with audio capabilities came the mash-up, an unsolicited, unofficial (and often legally dubious) remix created by "underground remixers" who edit two or more recordings (often of wildly different songs) together. Underground mixing is more difficult than the typical official remix, because clean copies of separated tracks such as vocals or individual instruments are usually not available to the public. Some artists (such as Björk, Nine Inch Nails, and Public Enemy) embraced this trend and outspokenly sanctioned fan remixing of their work; there was once a web site which hosted hundreds of unofficial remixes of Björk's songs, all made using only various officially-sanctioned mixes. Other artists, such as Erasure, have included remix software in their officially released singles, allowing almost infinite permutations of remixes by users. The band have also presided over remix competitions for their releases, selecting their favourite fan-created remix to appear on later official releases. Perhaps the most remixed band is Depeche Mode, with about 10,000 remixes. Remixing has become very prevalent in heavily synthesized electronic and experimental music circles. Many of the people who create cutting edge music in such genres as synthpop, futurepop, and aggrotech are solo artists or pairs. They will often use remixers to help them with skills or equipment that they do not have. Artists such as Delobbo and DJ Ram are sought out for their remixing skill and have impressive lists of collaborations, yet no solo albums. It is not uncommon for industrial bands to release albums which have half the songs as remixes. Indeed, there have been popular singles that have been expanded to an entire album of remixes by other well-known artists.
Some industrial groups allow, and often encourage, their fans to remix their music, notably Nine Inch Nails, whose website contains a list of downloadable songs that can be remixed using Apple Computer's GarageBand software. Some artists have started releasing their songs in the U-MYX format, which allows the buyers to mix songs and share them on the U-MYX website.
In the early 1990s, Mariah Carey became one of the first mainstream artists who re-recorded vocals for a dancefloor version, and by 1993 most of her major dance and urban-targeted versions had been re-sung, e.g. "Dreamlover" Some artists would contribute new or additional vocals for the different versions of their songs. These versions were not technically remixes, as entirely new productions of the material were undertaken (the songs were "re-cut", usually from the ground up). In 1988, Sinead O'Connor's art-rock song "I Want Your (Hands On Me)" was remixed to emphasize the urban appeal of the composition (the original contains a tight, grinding bassline and a rhythm guitar not entirely unlike Chic's work). Rapper M.C. Lyte was asked to provide a "guest rap", and a new tradition was born in pop music. George Michael would feature three artistically differentiated arrangements of "I Want Your Sex" in 1987, highlighting the potential of "serial productions" of a piece to find markets and expand the tastes of listeners. Another well-known example is R. Kelly, who recorded two different versions of "Ignition" for his 2003 album Chocolate Factory. The song is unique in that it segues from the end of the original to the beginning of the remixed version (accompanied by the line "Now usually I don't do this, but uh, go ahead on, break em' off with a little preview of the remix"). In addition, the original version's beginning line "You remind me of something/I just don't know what it is" is actually sampled from an older Kelly song, "You Remind Me of Something". Madonna's I'm Breathless featured a remix of "Now I'm Following You" that was used to segue from the original to "Vogue" so that the latter could be added to the set without jarring the listener. Many hip-hop remixes arose either from the need for a pop/R&B singer to add more of an urban, rap edge to one of their slower songs, or from the need for a rapper to gain more pop appeal by getting an R&B singer to sing some lines here and there. When a song by a solo artist does not take off, a remix with additional performers can give the song a second chance.
Slow ballads and R&B songs can be remixed by techno producers and DJ's in order to give the song appeal to the club scene and to urban radio. Conversely, a more uptempo number can be mellowed to give it "quiet storm" appeal. Frankie Knuckles saddled both markets with his Def Classic Mixes, often slowing the tempo slightly as he removed ornamental elements to soften the "attack" of a dancefloor filler. These remixes proved hugely influential, notably Lisa Stansfield's classic single "Change" would be aired by urban radio in the Knuckles version, which had been provided as an alternative to the original mix by Ian Devaney and Andy Morris, the record's producers.
Some remixes are made by taking the vocals of one song and using a new beat.
As remixing has grown, a whole new breed of artist has emerged, often specializing in remixing one particular genre or artist. This can be seen on such websites as BeastieMixes.com which specializes in hosting remixes of Beastie Boys soundtracks that have been concocted by remixers from all over the globe, sometimes using other Beastie Boys tracks or even including such esoteric soundtracks as those from old horror movie soundtracks or particular themes.
A remix may also refer to a non-linear re-interpretation of a given work or media other than audio. Such as a hybridizing process combining fragments of various works. The process of combining and re-contextualizing will often produce unique results independent of the intentions and vision of the original designer/artist. Thus the concept of a remix can be applied to visual or video arts, and even things farther afield. The disjointed novel House of Leaves has been compared by some to the remix concept.
In recent years the concept of the remix has been applied analogously to other media and products. In 2000, the British Channel 4 television program Jaaaaam was produced as a remix of the sketches from the comedy show Jam. In 2003 the Coca-Cola Corporation released a new version of their soft drink Sprite with tropical flavors under the name Sprite Remix.
A remix in literature is an alternative version of a writing, different from the original version. For example, remixing of literature and language is apparent in 2000's "Pixel Juice" by Jeff Noon, who later explained using different methods for this process in 2001 with "Cobralingus". In 2006 Nigel Tomm published Shakespeare's Sonnets Remixed, and Shakespeare's Hamlet Remixed and, in 2007 Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet Remixed where he defined, extended and developed the phenomenon of literary remixing. Science fiction author William Gibson has claimed the practice is a staple of his own work, a technique he borrowed from William S. Burroughs.
The origins of the technique are much older than the modern era, however. Shakespeare himself arguably "remixed" classical sources and Italian contemporary works to produce his plays, which were often modified for different audiences. Nineteenth century poets also utilized the technique. Examples include Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which was produced in multiple, highly divergent versions, and John Keats' "La Belle Dame sans Merci," which underwent significant revision between its original composition in 1819 and its republication in 1820.
Because remixes may borrow heavily from an existing piece of music (possibly more than one), the issue of intellectual property becomes a concern. The most important question is whether a remixer is free to redistribute his or her work, or whether the remix falls under the category of a derivative work according to (for example) United States copyright law. Of note are open questions concerning the legality of visual works, like the art form of collage, which can be plagued with licensing issues.
There are two obvious extremes with regard to derivative works. If the song is substantively dissimilar in form (for example, it might only borrow a motif which is modified, and be completely different in all other respects), then it may not necessarily be a derivative work (depending on how heavily modified the melody and chord progressions were). On the other hand, if the remixer only changes a few things (for example, the instrument and tempo), then it is clearly a derivative work and subject to the copyrights of the original work's copyright holder.