The Financial Express

Original vs Remix: Listeners, musicians weigh in on the debate

| Updated: October 06, 2021 19:48:01

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People who are not professional musicians may find it difficult to define what a remix song technically is. But they can surely tell the difference between an original song and its remix version when they listen to both.

They may not know the technical definition, but they can tell ‘Boshonto Batase’ by Sheikh Sadi is a remix when they listen to the original Shah Abdul Karim track.

They can tell HUGEL’s (French musician) ‘Bella Ciao’ is a remix when they listen to Manu Pilas’ original.

They can tell Tumhari Sulu movie’s ‘Hawa Hawai’ is a remix when they listen to the original Mr India movie’s version — without even looking at the contrasting screen adaptations.

So remixing must have something to do with the sonic elements. And that ‘something,’ in theory, is simple- use source material from a preexisting piece of music and transform it into a new version through sonic adjustments to the mix or alterations in arrangement.

Productions of the earliest remix songs date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s—an activity with roots in Jamaican music.

After around five decades, now these ethereal, walloping, club-ready tracks have become regular chartbusters and staples of the dance music scene.

But the growing popularity of remix songs generated a heated debate over whether remixing old tunes is a good trend.  So we sought out opinions from Bangladeshi listeners and musicians in hopes of understanding their contentions. 

What’s there to like about remix songs?

Mushfiq Rahman, a Dhaka University undergraduate student, tries to point out specific technical aspects of remixing songs.

“Remixing can be a good thing as long as alterations are made only in the instrumentals and the real essence of the original track is preserved.”

Referring to Alvee and Shima’s remix of ‘Beder Meye Josna,’ he adds, “Remixing can sometimes resurrect an almost forgotten iconic track of the yore and pass it on to a brand-new generation.”

Shakibur Rehman, a businessman involved in export-import trade, says he likes official remixes and sometimes these can even end up being more revered than the original.

For the curious ones — an official remix is produced when the remixer gets the stems and/or MIDI files of the preexisting track from the original artist or record label and then alters those in terms of tempo, beat, effect, etc to create a new track.

Nihal Haque Sarker, a 3rd-year student of mechanical engineering department at BUET, says, “Remixes sometimes sound cool when retrofitted with funky synth licks, faster tempos, and disco-inflected grooves (SeeB’s remix of Mike Posner’s ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza,’ for example).”

Remixes are only acceptable when done with the permission of the rights holders of the original work, namely, the artist or label who owns the master recording, as well as whoever owns the publishing side of the song, remarked Nihal.

What’s there to hate about remix songs?

Rashid Abid Dhrubo, an undergraduate student of Dhaka University (DU) Marketing, regularly shares his cover songs on social media. He is a bit frustrated regarding the alteration of originality of classic songs.

“Nowadays anyone can be a remixer, thanks to the free software available on the internet. And when novices bootleg classic songs, they often turn those into unrecognisable versions and alter the message that the original artist tried to convey to the listeners.”

He also thinks remixing a preexisting song can sometimes indicate the incapability of creating new music on the parts of singers, music directors, and lyricists.

Tasfia Farah, a student of English department at Dhaka University, says she doesn’t personally like remixing because it spoils the original flavour.

“Many old songs weren’t composed with electronic musical devices we see these days; those songs were composed with different types of traditional instruments.”

“When a song, that was originally played at a slower tempo, is suddenly remixed with high-frequency musical beats, it sounds artificial to me,” she added.

Infected Mushroom’s remix of The Doors,’ ‘Riders on the Storm’ can come across as one of those artificial-sounding remixes to some listeners.

Md Mahfuzar Rahman, a final-year LLB student at Dhaka University, comments that it’s distasteful and inexcusable when soulful songs (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s songs, for instance) are converted into overproduced, meaningless new tracks through remixing. He thinks that’s a shallow attempt to ride on the popularity of the original songs.

For some listeners, original songs induce a sort of raw feeling which is the reason for preferring it to remix. Hasibur Rahman is one such listener. This final year student of Physics from Tejgaon College shared, “Sometimes we want to listen to songs that conjure up feelings of melancholy, nostalgia, or serenity. But such sentiments somewhere get lost in the midst of upbeat music of the remixes.”

What do the musicians say?

Masrur Abdul Quader is the bassist of two Bangladeshi bands — PIN CODE and JOGOT. On being asked whether remixing is a good trend, he responds, “From a musician’s perspective, I’d say, an artist should mainly focus on developing his own master recording instead of reusing other artists’ tracks.”

He thinks some artists make remixes of popular songs because it’s a surefire way of getting noticed and getting famous. Sometimes, imposition of vulgar scenes and abusive words are deployed as a part of the remix strategy to get attention, remarked the veteran musician.

He believes, if a generation identifies a classic song with its remix version, they’ll never understand the real essence of that song.

“Old songs have their own unique tunes and instrumental arrangements — all of which combined to build that song. Vinyl record players had surface noise, but this is what spoke to our desire for authenticity.”

Mr Masrur also refutes the common belief that remixing is a way of promoting an old track. He says if that’s the only intention, then “doing a cover without meddling with the original composition” is the way to go.

This way, an artist can pass on his favorite iconic track to his fan base and also pay tribute to the original creator.

Muntasir Tusher is a music producer with over 12 years of professional experience. He believes remixing can be a part of the learning process for new producers because it gives producers a chance to experiment with their producing and arranging skills.

But he warns, “Remixing is okay as long as such reinterpreted songs come out once in a while. But if the music industry leans heavily on this practice, a time will come when there will no longer be any original song to be remixed.”

Nowadays, some artists keep on making mostly remixes and covers even 6/7 years into their career, Muntasir shares his observation. He thinks such practice shows a lack of creative ingenuity.

“An artist should explore his own style, expression, and uniqueness through his own music instead of only adding catchy lyrics and tunes to an already popular song.”

Although plenty of in-jokes mock how easy it is for a novice artist to remix a preexisting song, Muntasir says it’s wrong to think that remixing doesn’t require any skill.

“It’s true that remixing is comparatively easier because a remixer is basing the process of a previously recorded material instead of composing a song from scratch. And although modern tools do facilitate the process, an artist must acquire basic musical skills before trying his hand at remixing.”

He further mentions that producing a remix is a complex legal issue that’s closely related to copyright law.

“Several Bangladeshi music associations are working to develop an advanced copyright system. I believe this is the only thing that can protect the intellectual property of original creators and prevent unauthorised use of their creations,” he concludes. 

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