A-Trak Discusses the Business of Remixing

A-Trak performs on the 2016 Gold Gone Wild Tour. (source: Facebook)

Forbes recently interviewed A-Trak about his career as a remixer and the business of remixing. The article, which comes a week before the release of his In the Loop: A Decade of Remixes compilation, provides valuable insight for aspiring and established producers alike.

The Fool’s Gold chief started off by discussing the impact that remixing has had on his career:

“What’s interesting to me is that the remixes, all the remixes over the years have played such a role in me delving into production. When I was only a DJ, a very technical DJ, I dipped my toes into production through remixes at first. It’s by doing remixes that I learned how to produce, and over the years I made a lot of friendships with other musicians by either remixing them or having them remix me or just by being a part of that ecosystem that remixes create. My record label, Fool’s Gold, was founded just about a year after I started doing remixes. For me, they were the shift that happened in my career around the same time while I was getting into production, trying things out through mixes. Even now, the original music I’m making comes from remixes.”

Though A-Trak said that remixing transformed his career, he added that most remix deals these days are outdated:

“Remixes don’t necessarily pay that much, and more than anything on the contractual level, deals for remixes are very antiquated and do not reflect the reality of remixing nowadays. What I mean by that is, in most cases, a remixer gets hired to create a remix as essentially a work for hire job. They get paid a flat upfront fee upon delivery, and they don’t get royalties on the sales. From the perspective of the record industry, if I’m remixing a song by band X, and then my version of the song sells, technically to the record industry, the song is still band X’s. The band and the record they will collect royalties. There’s generally no publishing for the remixer. The only side that has started to change a bit in recent years as remixes have become so influential and so ubiquitous and prominent, certain managers and certain remixers and producers with a lot of clout that know that their remixes will move the needle for the original artist, they are able to negotiate a few percentage points of publishing, which comes in handy if the remix gets a sync license or into a movie or something.”

Despite the lack of compensation, he said that remixes are a great way to learn how to produce:

“In a lot of ways, [remixes make] it easier to literally finish a track, because you don’t have to start from scratch. If you’re a producer who is just learning to make tracks, a lot of budding, upcoming new producers like to start off with remixes because it gives them a starting point. That’s why I started too. This is a generation of bedroom producers, where you can be a producer by just having certain software on your laptop. It’s a simple as that. You don’t have to have fancy equipment or buy studio time. You can install any kind of software onto your laptop and you’re a producer. Making a song from alpha to omega is challenging. If you do a remix, you are already grabbing a piece of vocal and musical instrument parts that not only exist but that are already good. It’s from a song that has already worked in some capacity. You’re taking a piece of something that is already catchy at in some way and you are decorating it with your production and giving your take on how you would’ve produced it. It’s a really efficient and fun exercise.”

A-Trak also noted that remixing is an effective way to establish a career as a producer:

“If you look at Kygo, he did a remix of ‘Sexual Healing’ by Marvin Gaye, which was originally an unlicensed remix. It became so popular that it got millions of plays online and now he has a huge career. The remix was made legit and the vocal was cleared and it was sold as well. Robin Schulz remixed that song ‘Waves‘ by Mr. Probz a few years ago. Huge song, it was all over the charts. I’m pretty sure that was his first production that got heard. To see that happen, that in itself, the efficiency of the remix as a tool to put your name on the map, it compensates for the fact that we as remixers don’t really make that much money off the remix. The rationale is that if you put your name on the map, then you’re able to do production work and original work where you do have songwriting points and royalties and everything. Your musical output can go from there.”

But regardless of all the benefits, he believes that remix deals should be updated:

“I think remix contracts should change. I think it’s apparent. I think it’s ridiculous that the songwriting component that goes into legitimately every remix nowadays is not recognized contractually. When I say contractually, I mean in terms of compensation.”

As for A-Trak’s favorite remix that he’s produced, he said that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” is an “obvious standout”:

“In the booklet [of the compilation], I tell the story about how I spent six months obsessively tinkering with it, and the label almost turned it down when I delivered it extremely late. Looking back and laughing about the fact that this thing almost never came out, and it’s my most popular track. Even when it first came out and was kind of popular, two years later it got licensed for a movie and became really popular. All those unpredictable twists over the years make it what it is.”

He also mentioned his remixes of Bob Moses’ “Tearing Me Up” and Sébastien Tellier’s “Kilometer.”

Related: Watch A-Trak and Tommy Trash’s ‘Lose My Mind’ Video