18 August 2007

Loveshadow's blog

Multi-talented artist, remixer par excellence and very good friend of this site Loveshadow has just started Loveshadow's blog about "Music, Video, Remixing, Art, Writing, Photography". Having corresponded with Loveshadow privately and on public forums since a few days after posting my first remix almost exactly a year ago, I'm looking forward to his insight, experiences and opinions being available in a more public setting rather than just to us few who have interacted with him before. Welcome to the wacky world of blogs, comments and RSS, Loveshadow!

15 August 2007

Jamglue - T-Pain Remix Contest

This is interesting in several ways: Jamglue is hosting a Remix Contest for "Bartender", a track by Jive Records recording artists T-Pain. The tracks are creative commons licensed, and the winner will have their remix turned into a ringtone by Jive Records. However there is no indication, that the ringtone would be distributed commercially - so the prize may be more about fame than fortune :-)

However, Jamglue is a "remixing for the masses" site, with a browser based mixer right on their site. It is thus a pretty neat way to try our remixing without having any of one's own audio software.

The tracks can be downloaded as well for remixing in one's own audio software. The link for the download is towards the lower left hand side of the page for each published track.

Related: Splice is another site where beginning remixers can remix online.

14 August 2007

ccMixter quick tips 2

This is part 2. Part 1, which deals with listening to music can be found here.

These few quick tips deal with ccMixter features for remixers as well as for providers of tracks, loops and samples.

  • As a general rule, to upload content (including reviews, playlists forums posts, messages), you will have to register/login at ccMixter - to download stuff you don't have to.

  • ccMixter is not intended to host your original music like myspace or other "bands and fans" sites. If you have creative commons licensed original music and are looking for a place to host it, you may want to consider uploading it to the archive.org audio section. ccMixter is dedicated to the specific musical form of remixing.

  • ccMixter is remarkably spam free. That's not an accident, but a result of diligent observation of the uploaded content by the site administrators. Trying to spam the site is not only uncool, but pretty much a waste of time. This includes not so subtle "tricks" like slapping too many or misleading tags on uploads to try to show up in more search lists. That nonsense may work on youtube, but not on ccMixter. Whoever tries to be cute that way will find their upload deleted rather unceremoniously. Which keeps ccMixter more useful and enjoyable than so many other social networks. There's an acceptable place for on-topic self promotion in the pluggy plugs section in the forums. However, ads for medication, replica watches or too-good-to-be-true software deals don't stand much of a chance there either. :-)

Source tracks, samples, loops

  • Go to the ccMixter home page, and then click on one of the high level tab menu items on the top of the page: Samples or A Cappellas. On those respective pages, explore the sub-menu tabs. Good places to start are the Samples Browse page and the A Cappella Melodies page.

  • ccMixter generally makes a high level distinction between vocal tracks (a cappella's) and any other kind of sample. When uploading, you'll want to make sure, that you upload to the appropriate area, because currently you can't change that high level distinction after you have uploaded your file. One nice feature on ccMixter is, that you can re-upload a file in addition to editing the information associated with a file after the original upload. This is great for correcting errors or adding more useful information or tags after the fact.

  • There is a way of putting multiple files into a group, by using the "Manage Files" link on the right hand side of the page for an uploaded file. Although the purpose of that feature is mostly to allow more than one format for a specific file, it can also be used to group multiple files of a remix pack for an entire song together. Doing that creates less clutter in your upload page, however it makes all of the subservient files only accessible via looking for the main one. For example, I uploaded the instrumental loops for a song as additional files under the a cappella vocal tracks. This keeps all of the tracks/loops for an entire song together, but it makes it pretty much impossible to find the instrumental loops by themselves. Decide for yourself, what's more important to you: to keep the parts for a song together, or to make individual parts easier to find.

  • For uploading high quality audio source files, use the FLAC format. It is the best of both worlds: The quality of an uncompressed WAV file at a significantly smaller file size. If you have several files, which are likely to be downloaded as a group, put them into a ZIP archive before uploading. You can decide to upload your source tracks in FLAC and in mp3.
    very cool: ccMixter will list the contents of your ZIP files on their download page.

  • If you are uploading an a cappella track, consider putting a link to a full mix into the description. Since ccMixter doesn't like uploads of full mixes, an external link pointing to a full mix is a nice way of giving remixers an easier starting point to work from. Try to make sure, the target location will really hold your full mix for a long time, because somebody may only bump into your song months or years later.

  • Make all of your file names as meaningful as possible. That's will make them more attractive to others. If it's a female harmony vocal to verse 1 of your song "I dream of fame", call it something like "I_dream_of_fame_vox_harmony_female_verse1". Of course, if the file is part of a ZIP archive containing various parts only for the song "I dream of fame", the file can be called "vox_harmony_female_verse1" and the ZIP archive can be called "I_dream_of_fame_vocal_parts".

  • Try to make life easy for remixers by cutting the beginning of tracks and loops at even bar boundaries. It's generally not very useful to have many bars of empty space at the beginning of a track, and most certainly not at the end.

  • If uploading instrumental tracks or loops, consider uploading a midi file in addition to an audio file. It allows remixers to make use of your playing or midi programming while using sound sources (hardware or software) of their own choice. That opens up an entirely new world of possibilities. For drum parts, it's the easiest to work with drum parts adhering to the GM midi standard kit note assignment. However if that's not possible, it may still be valuable to have the midi file of a drum part, if the groove is really cool. Midi files are currently a rare find at ccMixter, so uploading a few great midi loops may make you a ccMixter star in no time :-)

  • The best file format for complete remixes is mp3, because you want to make it very easy for listeners to enjoy your remix without having to do conversions. 192 kbps is a pretty good quality setting for most mp3 music files, sounding close to CD quality to most people. However, a single file upload has to be 10MB or less in size, so if your remix is very long, chose a streaming rate of 160Kbps or 128 Kbps. And use 44.1 KHz sampling rate (NOT 48KHz), because the site resident flash player can't handle 48KHz.

  • Don't forget to give credit for original source tracks used in remixes. ccMixter makes that very easy as part of the uploading process for remixes. It also allows you to add additional credits for other people's samples via the "Manage Remixes" link after you have already uploaded your remix.

All uploaded files
  • ccMixter has a kind of a "draft mode", which allows you to have files and their data already uploaded to ccMixter, but not yet visible to anyone else but you and the site administrators. In ccMixter terminology that is called "unpublished". This can be very useful while you are still assembling some of the descriptions for a file, or while you are uploading additional files. You can already see how the page with the file will look, proof-read everything, test all of your links, before making the page with that file and it's descriptions publicly available.

    You can also un-publish a file after it has been published. But try not to do that too often, because it will confuse the heck out of people, who are following links. But it can be useful, when people have already linked to your file, and you found a major problem with it. In that case, you can un-publish the file, upload a new version of it, and then re-publish it. And all the previous links are still working.

That's it for now. Happy remixing!

As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

13 August 2007

RSS in plain English

Thanks to the folks at Common Craft for the following video explaining RSS, why it's useful and how to use it quickly and easily. RSS is becoming more and more used at many music sites as well, and it provides the easiest way of quickly staying in touch with goings without having to visit each web site separately. Of course this blog has an RSS feed, too.

08 August 2007

ccMixter quick tips 1

ccMixter is refreshingly different than - and in my opinion superior to - many of the cookie cutter social networking sites on the web these days. Here are a few quick tips for new ccMixter users (note: some advanced features require registration - it's free and easy).

Searching and finding stuff (people, songs, samples, keywords)

  • It's pretty straight forward with one caveat. In the ccMixter databases, in terms containing spaces, these are converted to underscores. For example, the term "a minor theory" becomes "a_minor_theory".
  • Don't overlook the small link to an "Advanced search" just above the main search box on the top right hand side of each page.
Listening to music

On pages where you can listen to remixes on ccMixter, you will find one or more buttons:
  • Pressing the little speaker icon next to "Play", will play a song (or sample) in a little flash player applet inside your browser.
  • Clicking on the "Stream" button will begin playback in the default media player of your computer/browser pretty quickly.
  • Clicking on mp3, WAV or FLAC, will typically download a song before playing it.
  • Very cool: a larger blue button "Stream This Page" will stream all of the items on that page.
  • Ultra cool: To grab a podcast of the collection of songs on a page, open iTunes and then drag from the orange "Podcast" button on the ccMixter page onto the "Podcast" menu item on the left hand pane of your iTunes window. In iTunes, click on the little triangle to the left of the newly listed podcast labelled ccMixter to expand the list of individual songs, and then click on the little GET ALL button - and voilĂ , you are a a whole bunch of songs richer! You can now copy the songs of your choice into your main iTunes library.
One of the shining aspects of ccMixter is the myriad of ways you can find and organize remixes to listen to. Here are just few to get you going:

Newest Songs can be found under the "Remixes" main tab and then the "Latest Remixes" tab. Try the "PLAY this page" or "STREAM this page" buttons on the left hand side of the page. If you don't like a song, just use the regular controls to skip to the next one.

Remix Radio is found under the main "Remixes" tab and is a quick way of creating an instant randomized playlist of remixes from selection criteria.
  • Quick tips: Editor's picks are only very few - they get you to a quick list of songs that are pretty decent, but there are tons of great songs that never make the Editors Picks. Don't rely on star ratings either, since ratings are a weak indicator of quality at ccMixter (and at every other site I know). There's no way to program a fair and easy to use rating's system, because it's more of a social issue, not a software one. I could rant on about the difficulty to create decent ratings systems - effectively a voting system, which is a better topic for political science scholars - but I'll spare you the boredom. :-)

Favorite Songs
list keeping is another stellar feature of ccMixter (for registered users) via the concept of "Playlists". You can make many playlists - and your playlists are visible to others and vice versa. On pages containing remixes or lists of remixes, there is a button "Add to Playlist", which gives the option of adding a song to an existing playlist or create a new one. After creating a new playlist, you can rename it on the page for that playlist.When playing a playlist, the feature to open it in a separate window will keep the music going while you are browsing to other places.
  • Very cool: Since the playlist feature works for sample files as well, remixers can create playlists of sample files, essentially creating a bookmarking system for files they may want to come back to.
  • Ultra cool: Even if you are not a remixer, you can become a creator and maintainer of great playlists which other people can link to or subscribe to. If lots of people subscribe to your playlist, it will show up under the main "Playlists" tab in the "Hot Playlists" tab. If you've always dreamed of being a Radio DJ or station manager, here's your chance.
  • Fun: Record and upload your own "station identification" as a short sample and put it at the beginning of your playlist, and possibly a couple of other places, but not so often as to be annoying to your listeners. (Listen to ccMixter's own "Remixer Radio" for examples of that).
Friends type of relationship management is implemented philosophically differently (in my opinion much better) in ccMixter. It's not reciprocal, but when you are on a person's profile page (and are logged in as registered user), you can click on the link "Add ... to your favorites" at the bottom of the page or a bit higher up is a link next to Notifications "Get Notified About ...", which allows you to get emails when the person has uploaded a new remix and/or has been remixed. So you can keep track of other people remixing the same materials as you as well as keeping track of your remixers. So it's really easy to keep track of relevant happenings at ccMixter without even having to go there. Since ccMixter doesn't have an interest to always suck you to their site and click on ads, it is much more gentle with your time than commercially motivated social networking sites. And that's a good thing!
  • Very Cool: clicking on the Publicize link on a user's "Profile" page gets you to a page of html code snippets to include in your own website or myspace or similar sites. There are a number of different options - one of my favorites can make it look like this (yes, this player [invisible in some RSS feeds, though] is really included and piped in from ccMixter):

Private Messaging is implemented differently as well (philosophically and technically). Again, since ccMixter does not need you to click on advertising, it doesn't need to suck you to their site for every little thing. Registered users can send an email to a fellow registered user, by going to that member's profile page and clicking on the [email contact] link next to their name. That will send a message to the email account of that member. Note, that this will reveal the email address you have registered with ccMixter to the other person. So it's not private messaging like on some other sites, but facilitates making off-line connections.

There's quite a bit more, but you'll get the idea. Next time I'll try to mention a few ccMixter features for sample providers and remixers.

Happy ccMixter listening, and as always, comments and corrections are appreciated!

06 August 2007

7 good things about remixing

Preamble: The concept of music remixing is still evolving. It originally started mostly as an alternative version of audio manipulation techniques applied to a master stereo recording. For example different equalization, addition of effects like reverbs, delays and compression would be applied to the stereo track of a song, often done to make songs more dance hall ready.

However more recently, remixers are taking it much further, thanks to individual tracks (e.g. vocal, guitar, bass, drums) of songs being made available to remixers by the original music makers. This has enabled remixers to create much more dramatically different versions of songs, than before. In addition, this added freedom has made it possible not only to punch up a song for the dance floor, but also to mellow it out, or even to take it into different genre's. This in turn has made the distinction between a remix and a remake more blurred. I would therefore propose, that the distinction between a remake and a remix is becoming less relevant.

So here we go (the order isn't very important):

1. Remixing teaches composition and arranging
Since remixing starts with one or more given pieces of music, it is a less intimidating starting point than a blank piece of paper. The remixer can just re-arrange the given musical snippets, or cut them up some more before re-assembling them. Or the remixer can venture into more advanced compositional techniques, like adding their own parts, or even changing the chords around a given melody. The latter one is definitely one of my favorite pastimes!

2. Remixing teaches production techniques
With even entry level DAW (digital audio workstation) software featuring built-in equalization and effects, remixers get to use and therefore learn the same kinds of tools that professional recordings are made with. Instead of just pretending to be Paul McCartney or Nelly Furtado, you get to be like George Martin or Timbaland.

3. Remixing changes how you listen to all music
Remixers find, that their own compositional and production experience gained from remixing, makes them experience other people's recordings more intensely. Great music becomes even greater for remixers, because they start to hear subtleties in compositions, individual musicianship and recordings, through their ears and brains trained from their remixing work. Once you have dissected and worked with individual tracks of a song, you become better at hearing individual tracks in other songs, too.

4. Remixing is an additional way to become a music maker
Traditionally, music makers were mostly singers or instrumentalists. And to create something that sounded somewhat good, you had to be a good singer or a good instrumentalist. As a remixer you can create an end product exceeding your vocal and instrumental skills. Numerous music makers have come more from a DJ background than a musician background. And more recently, music lovers with limited (or rusty) musicianship are turning into music makers because of remixing. Regular readers of this blog will note my abundant use of the term "music maker". It is an acknowledgment of music being made not only by musicians in the traditional sense anymore, but also by people with turntables, Kaoss pads and computers.

5. Remixing builds musical community and collaboration
Remixing is a form of sequential collaboration, in some ways similar to certain aspects of open source software development, or creating art collages. Sequential collaboration hands off the decision making from one person to the next. Therefore it's collaboration without infighting, arguments and artistic hissyfits. Since most remixing is done at sites where more than one person remixes the same piece of music, it fosters dialog around a common theme. In some cases, remixers find musical kinship through their remixes, and end up collaborating in more traditional ways. In addition, there's something deeply gratifying on both sides of the remixing equation. Having experienced both, I can attest, that it's very gratifying and humbling as remixer to be able to work with somebody else's source materials. But it's also very gratifying and humbling to have one's song remixed. Both sides are giving musical gifts to each other.

6. Remixing increases understanding and appreciation across musical genres
A classically trained musician can take a rap song into a classical direction of their choice as much as an industrial hard core rocker can re-interpret a new-age piece. This cross genre appreciation is easiest to achieve when remixers with different musical leanings remix the same song. While one may not necessarily start loving extremely different music, most well intentioned remixers can't help but gain respect for music makers with different backgrounds.

7. Remixing increases cross-cultural appreciation
Remixing songs from different musical cultural backgrounds can be a good learning experience for different approaches to music. From different instruments, different singing styles to entirely different scales. My last four remixes have been for songs with a good helping of Asian and African backgrounds. Incredibly cool and ear-opening experience. World peace through remixing? We can only hope!

Do you have any favorite things about remixing? Agree or disagree with my top 7? I'd love to hear it in the comments!

04 August 2007

Freesound - sound sample collection

For music makers, one of the great sources for sounds is the Freesound Project. From the "what is freesound?" page: "The Freesound Project aims to create a huge collaborative database of audio snippets, samples, recordings, bleeps, ... released under the Creative Commons Sampling Plus License. The Freesound Project provides new and interesting ways of accessing these samples, allowing users to

* browse the sounds in new ways using keywords, a 'sounds-like' type of browsing and more
* up and download sounds to and from the database, under the same creative commons license
* interact with fellow sound-artists!"

A remarkable resource. Where else could you find a recording of a tire being rolled around on sandy pavement?

01 August 2007

Remix Commons

Thanks to Loveshadow for the following. He writes:

"Sometime ago on the Realworld Remixed site i posted in the forum there about the site extending its borders to include visual art. For those who liked a remixers work and were moved to add artwork to support it.

Well here is a vision of the future: remixcommons.org

It is an inspired UK based project embracing the Creative Commons ideal whole heartedly. You will find music, video, artwork, blogs, poetry, links to other sites and projects. There is also a full and simple explanation of the mechanics of the CC protocol.

I am sure there are other sites out there blossoming like it, but even if you don't get involved it's an entertaining way to spend a hour or two and worthy of your support."

More from the Remix Commons home page: "Remix Commons is a network of free culture projects in the UK. Our aim is to get artists (working with music, video, images and text) to come together and share their work, be inspired by each others' work, and ultimately to create 'remixes'. Our volunteers run local events promoting free culture, bringing the ideas and content to people across the UK who would never find this stuff online."

For some most amazing remixes, check out Loveshadow's realwordremixed page.