Is remixing the new X-Factor?

toy piano

Or Is remixing becoming the new X-Factor? Whatever you want to say about them, tv shows like the X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, America’s Got Talent, etc., are becoming the major way for kids to become pop stars. The temptation to audition for one of those shows is often too much for the budding singer, girl band, boy band, or guitarist, and when they finally reach the live shows, there’s the chance to get free publicitiy, exposure, critique of their style and ability. Even if they don’t make it all the way to the final, there’s always the chance of being signed by a record company, however well they can sing.

So, why do I think that remixing is becoming the new X-Factor? Well, compare the two: someone advertises a talent contest where you don’t need any industry form or prior performance experience. You just need your instrument (voice or digital audio workstation – Ableton Live, anyone?); the material to perform with, either a song or some audio stems; and you need some time to get your performance right, but not necessarily to a high level. There are so many talent shows out there – X-Factor contests run by pubs and bars, holiday hotels, local tv and radio stations, probably a new one every day somewhere in the world. There are so many remix contests out there too. There are even websites dedicated to advertising the latest contests. Somewhere in the world, someone will enter all of these contests, but usually budding remixers, who see it as a quick way to get signed by a record label, will enter one or two a month, hoping that this will be their big chance.

But, like the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, the really talented, dedicated, hardworking remixers will miss out, only to be beaten by the “popular vote”, in terms of the ones with the highest number of plays or likes will be shortlisted. Talent probably does come into it if they’re in a contest that is looking for particular techniques and it’s about ability rather than what sounds good to some people. However, like in the real world of becoming a popstar, it’s the approaching people in the industry and showing them what you can do, that gets you the opportunities. Ok, so some people who win remix contests may be famous and find a way in to the music business, but more often than not it’s the talent that is wanted and that’s what gets you the gig.

So, two things from all that. First of all, anyone can make a remix. It may not be good, but it may be what someone is looking for. Even my 8 year old can make a remix in Ableton Live. Secondly, I still enter remix contests, despite having done “official” remixes for some bands I know, and appearing on compilations etc. Why, because there’s a very tiny part of me that still sees them as a way to get famous, despite that fact that I always ridicule shows like the X-Factor! My latest remix below, is one I did in about 6 hours for the Ableton 24 hour remix contest “Beat the Clock”. I downloaded the parts for the track, most of which you could only open in Ableton Live and you had to make the remix with the same program. Having only used Live for a few days before, I probably proved my theory that anyone can make a remix, so here’s the result:

Contest Page:

Beat the Clock – Ableton Remix by Tim Blackburn/mistrust

Listen in Soundcloud:

By the way, if you’re a Soundcloud user, and like the track, please favourite it,and share it, thereby making me win the popular vote! If Pudsey the dog can do it, so can I!

I’m in Music Tech Magazine

Just to let you know I’m finally in Music Tech Magazine for winning the Motif XS6 synthesizer! The article is in February’s edition – but in case you don’t want to buy it, the editor sent me a copy of the page, and I’ve attached it here as pdf (the whole page) and a jpeg (click to see the whole pic).


Other news…
the manager of a band from New Zealand called “Pitch Black” has said I can have a go at doing a remix of a track from their new CD, “Rude Mechanicals”. If it’s good enough, it’ll appear on the band’s remix CD and as a download on music sites like iTunes and Beatport. More on that soon when I decide which track I want to have a go at….

Non-music stuff: we took Paul to see a residential school in Shrewsbury today. Absolutely amazing place. Part of a 16th century hall and estate. Class sizes are usually 2 students and one teacher – it’s for kids with autism. He sounds relatively keen on it, but we’ll have a job on convincing the education authority to pay for him. It’s around £30,000 per year!

Page from MTM magazine reproduced by kind permission of Music Tech Magazine/Anthem Publishing/Yamaha UK (c)

Saving the planet

Am I saving the planet by not making any new tracks at the moment? I’ve got lots of things to inspire me and lots of ideas going round in my head, but can’t seem to find the time to put them down on the computer as rough ideas. As for saving the planet, I guess that I’m lightening the load on my carbon footprint by not switching on the laptop and the midi keyboard, but if I’m not making any tunes, the conceited view would be to say that someone somewhere is out burning fossil fuel instead of being at home listening to my music.

I’ve been listening to an old tape I made in 1988 called “PMWW” which stands for “Power, Movement, Wisdom, Words”. It sounds like a strange title, from a time when I would write endless pages of lyrics and try and fit some music around them, and hope they all gelled together into songs. I probably made about 5 or 6 of these tapes, all with about 12 tracks on each, so that’s a fair amount of music. The thing with PMWW and probably all the others, is that although the songs and the singing aren’t particular good and the timing of the playing isn’t perfect, there are lots of that sound interesting and original. It sounds like I’ve taken the time to play around with the sounds and the drum programming, made some interesting intros and solos. Fair enough, my playing technique wasn’t very good, but there are some decent basslines and chords in there. In those days, I had a Jen SX1000 monosynth, a Casio MT31 keyboard, Kay Memory Rhythm drum machine, and a Yamaha VSS 100 sampling keyboard. Listening to PMWW it reminds me that I used to connect the Jen’s output to the line-in on the Yamaha. Then I’d play a note on the Jen and start up the amazing 2-second sampler on the VSS, and build up a few other sounds using the latter’s oversample facility. Then I’d start mangling them with the built-in editor. Amazingly, I’d end up with samples that sounded like the Yamaha DX7 and PPG Wave synths and none of my tracks had the same sounds. They were all original sounds, too.

The point I’m making is that these days, I sit down in front of the computer with Acid Pro open on a blank page, find some loops that sound good together or load up a soft synth and use the midi grid to paint in some notes, and take it from there. So the only thing that a track comes from is usually something that started out being made by someone else. Alright – I usually end up cutting up the loops, or changing a few of the soft synth presets, but the tune more often than not is a some of its parts, until I go back to it a few weeks later and add a bit of my own personality to it.  I guess it all boils down to lack of time. I usually get on the computer about 9.30 pm one or two evenings a week and get constant interruptions, especially as Paul isn’t in school and on Prozac and demands constant attention.

Which brings me back to Power, Movement etc. What little time I got on the PC the other day, I started looking at some of my old VST plugins, and ran them through a little program called Cantabile, which lets you play the plugins using your computer keyboard.  I actually started playing some riffs and experimenting with the sounds, trying to make something original, I got the same buzz I had all those years ago, and I’ve actually been creative!

Finally, the O’Neill surfing clips I’ve mentioned before (and are on my video wall) have found their way on to Sumo TV’s website. Apparently, it’s a bit like Youtube, but the videos can be shown on their satellite tv station.