According to Digital Music News, the new startup Remix Hits has just closed a deal with Sony Music that could change the way musicians and DJs create and distribute legal remixes using copyrighted material. The service will allow users to purchase “stems” — isolated parts of songs — for musicians to use in their own creations, which can then be released via the company’s Remix Hits Platform distribution service.
The company, based in Nashville, says the platform works with an advanced audio identification technology that can detect copyrighted material at the stem level, even if it’s been “chopped, reversed, pitch shifted, time stretched, distorted, and compressed to extreme levels.” That’s a step beyond most identification systems, which can, for example, recognize vocals lifted from a popular song and used in a bootleg, but might not be able to detect those same vocals if they were heavily altered in some way.
Through their licensing model, musicians will be able to purchase approved stems from Sony Music to use in their own productions. Stems are separated elements of songs, usually identified by type of instrumentation (like vocals, guitar, synth, or percussion). The musician can then legally release the material created with the purchased stems through the company’s Remix Hits Platform. Once distributed, a revenue share plan will split royalties between the musician and the original rights holders.
There’s a lot that’s unclear from Digital Music News’ report. When users release material on the company’s Remix Hits Platform, are there deals in place to distribute to big players like Spotify and Apple Music? Will or can it act like an isolated listening destination like SoundCloud? Is it legal to distribute the songs yourself outside of Remix Hits Platform if you’ve purchased the stems? Can you sell songs created with the stems purchased from Remix Hits? What will the price range be to purchase stems and how will prices be determined? Will Sony Music’s entire catalog be available, or only portions? The Verge reached out to Remix Hits and the company declined to comment.
Illegal remixing and sample use has been a plight for the music industry for years, not just because of musicians, but a complete generational shift toward digital consumption that has outpaced ancient label models for income. (Streamripping site YouTube-MP3.org was recently shut down, and was said to account for 40 percent of all illegal audio-ripping.) The solution, for a long time, was simply to report the offending material for copyright violation. Some platforms, like SoundCloud, still engage in this with what it calls “strikes.”
There has been some movement in recent years for labels to work with content platforms. YouTube signed a deal in 2012 with nine labels that allowed for users to upload copyrighted material and direct ad revenue back to rights holders. But the area of DJs, remixes, and music-specific streaming platforms has continued to be sticky in terms of navigating clearance and revenue.
Sony Music, it seems, is leading the way for the majors to adopt newer ways of looking at gray area music that uses label-owned content. It also recently signed a deal with Dubset, a service that takes music created with copyrighted derivative material (often remixes), and clears its use with the original rights holders for legal distribution and revenue sharing. Dubset is also reportedly working on deals with Universal Music Group and Warner Music.
These are two very different ways to look at legalizing samples. Remix Hits (along with other beta platforms in development like TrackLib) is betting that users will pre-pay for clearance, while services like Dubset take care of clearance after the creation process. By solidifying agreements with both, Sony Music appears to be spreading its chips to see how behaviors will lean. Given the growth of remix culture spawned by a SoundCloud generation, it might be more likely that models like Dubset will succeed. Many bedroom producers are already used to releasing bootleg material, finding it easier to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. (Plus, Dubset’s model can clear a song without a penny invested on the creator’s part.)
Remix Hits confirmed to Digital Music News that it is also in talks with Warner Music Group and Universal Music.