Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has never been shy about encouraging others to remix his music. His 1992 EP, Broken was quickly followed by a collection of remixes called Fixed and his next two albums, The Downward Spiral and The Fragile), each had their own companion remix albums (Further Down the Spiral and Things Falling Apart, respectively). These days, when every artist with a modicum of dance-floor appeal commissions remixes from high-profile producers to help tap into a cross-over market, this may seem pedestrian, but in the early ’90s this was unheard of from mainstream acts, and far from being uninspired club mix rehashes, many of the tracks on these albums were complete transformations, twisting Reznor’s creations into strange, unrecognizable creatures.
When 2005’s With Teeth was released, however, it was followed by something even more unexpected: Reznor offered the audio tracks from lead single “The Hand That Feeds” as a remix-ready file for Apple’s GarageBand music software, and encouraged fans everywhere to interpret the song for themselves. The experiment was so successful that the album’s next single “Only” was released in a wider variety of audio formats to allow remixers using Ableton Live, Pro Tools and other software to join in the fun.
April 2007 saw a new album, Year Zero, and a large new set of multitrack files available on the album’s official web site. Now we can hear the results: the new Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D compilation includes a remix made by fan Pirate Robot Midget along with versions of tracks from Year Zero reinterpreted by a variety of artists including Ladytron, Saul Williams, Fennesz, Kronos Quartet and The Faint. Most incredibly, the CD version includes a separate DVD/ROM with audio files for every track on the original Year Zero as well as a demo of Ableton Live so that aspiring remixers who don’t already own multitrack audio software can get their feet wet. Even better, this week nin.com unveiled a new community site, remix.nin.com, where members can download the multitrack audio files, and remixers can upload their creations to share with the rest of the community. While remix sharing sites have existed on the Internet for years, this may be the first of its kind to be officially sanctioned and hosted by a well-known artist. And it’s a pretty impressive site, at that, with a variety of RSS feeds and the ability to create playlists and podcasts of submitted music. I’m really looking forward to hearing what people create… and hopefully giving it a shot myself.
Another thing Reznor hasn’t been shy about lately is voicing his contempt for the record industry, and the ways they exploit and demonize the most loyal music fans. Major labels have had an uncomfortable relationship at best with amateur remixers and the murky copyright status that comes with the rearrangement of another artist’s work. So it comes as small surprise that Universal, the record label that owns the rights to these tracks, almost prevented the remix site from launching. The compromise they arrived at requires submissions to go through a time-consuming review to ensure that they contain no copyrighted material other than the NIN source tracks, and holds Reznor personally liable for any legal difficulties that may arise. While far from ideal, it’s a testament to Reznor’s commitment to the concept that he fought so hard to make it happen. Now that his contract with Universal has expired, I can’t wait to see what he does next, now that he is free to use his own music as he sees fit. And I hope that other artists, big and small, follow his lead and embrace the idea that the lifespan of a piece of music doesn’t have to end when it reaches the hands of the public.