Remix Rehab: When a remix outshines the original

Post Author:
music mixing logic stems

Remixes. Some leave the spirit of the song mostly intact, like doctoring your favorite store-bought food except with a dash of synth instead of paprika and turning up the BPM instead of the oven temperature. Then there are others that take apart an existing track, stem by stem, to whip up a brand new song made (mostly) from scratch. Sometimes the new song will seem like nothing more than an off-putting distortion of the original, but how do you feel about the original when the remix is just empirically better?

At a music magazine (or any job in front of a computer) song links are continuously sent back and forth with such revealing lines of exposition as “Did you hear this?” Recently I responded to one such message with, “Woahhhh. Now I did.” It was actually two messages, each containing one link. First, the remix: a down-tempo affair made for fluid-meets-robotic body movements. Its pitched up-and-down vocal effects flitted across the room with yearning restraint. The bass line’s presence hiccuped in front of a slow burning, soulful melody.

As a guitar-driven girl, my sudden attachment to the syrupy synth track immediately piqued my curiosity about the original version. I had no expectations really. Well, I guess one: that it would sound vaguely like the remix, but it took less than one second to realize that expectation would not be met.

If Photobooth were open when I first pressed play, I could have launched a meme career on facial expressions alone—my eyes bulging out of my head in shock and awe…wtf. That experience of expectations unmet might be why I found this track so laughable, but at the time it seemed like an empirical fact that this song was far inferior to its remixed version. The tone of the synth melody yawned in my ear like a cartoon accordion. The now apparently female vocals screamed melodrama in a way that’d be more at home in the opening sequence of a late ’80s sitcom at the center of a stand-alone track in 2014. To this version of the song, I wanted to air drum my fist in jest, the way you would to Bon Jovi or Journey. All in all, the original felt saccharine and overwrought; its over-flavored sheen too rich to bear, like cake batter lip gloss in audio form.

A few days passed. As I returned to the two Soundcloud pages in preparation for this post, I shouldn’t have been shocked to discover that both artists, The Night IV (the original) and IYES (the remixer) were on the same label. At the time I thought having one of your artists so clearly outdo another one of your artists at their own song would be a music business foul. But The Night IV’s play counts and account follows sent a different message. That hokey, high-gloss original track of theirs had over 45k plays. The remix had just a 10th of that.

But maybe Duly Noted knew all along that the (somehow popular) song sucked and wanted to get a better version out there. Pushing a greater talent on your roster by having them remix another more popular talent’s song seems like a good opportunity to kill the cross-publicity bird with one stone. But the business rationale behind the remix isn’t this essay’s key objective. How does a remix being better than the original make you, the listener, feel?

On practical terms, it made me feel like I will forget that great talent of the remixer and associate the better version with the more visually-prominent name of the original artist. On an abstract level, it made me wonder if my reaction to the original track would have been so absurdly comical had I heard the electro power ballad version first, before the remix whet my appetite for a smokey, slow burning synth groove.

Consider taste in food. Going from the “Wonderlust” remix to the original was like going from black coffee to a Frappucino. Most black coffee drinkers curse Frappucinos until the day they die. But maybe they just never gave Frappucinos a chance? Coffee is an acquired taste, after all. It stands to reason that un-acquainting yourself with its bitterness in exchange for a highly-sweetened version would, eventually, make the sweetness more palatable? Personally, I’ve always hated Frappucinos. Even after working at Starbucks for three years and dumping three Splendas into one medium Americano, Frappucinos still sucked to me. And if after all that time Frappucinos never grew on me, according to this metaphor, the odds in favor of the “Wonderlust” original look pretty slim.