Composing and Recording for Fluid Digital Music Forms

1. Introduction

“Future music products will need to adopt a platform-agnostic world view that encompasses powerful and social interactivity to empower consumers to create their own unique experiences.” (Mulligan et al.: 2009)

Digital technologies have brought a new set of issues to musicians and the music industry, transforming potential income streams and the traditional recorded music market. Changes in consumer and fan behaviour in online environments and market decline due to internet file sharing brings a corresponding need to reassess the way in which recorded music is presented to audiences.

The music industry media has suggested the idea of an ‘interactive album’ could help save the recording music industry (Buskirk: 2009) but has provided little evidence as to how exactly this might work.

This study examines a new model for recorded music to determine possible effects this may have for artists and producers in creating a release format that invites user participation.

The dominant discourse surrounding participation, co-creation, product usage and music consumption, highlights the need for research on future recorded music release models based on participation and interaction instead of passive consumption. “Using digital editing resources, consumers increasingly modify cultural products to their personal tastes, often in an ongoing, continuous process” (Hughes and Lang: 2006). There is a significant gap in research on user behaviour patterns, benefits and successes for artists as they might relate to formats beyond the realm of mp3 downloads, compact disk and vinyl. Wikström (2012) argues that, “increasing the economic value created from recorded music is based on context rather than ownership.”

The idea for an interactive music release format proposes that instead of releasing a song on a CD or as an MP3, the artist arranges a song for a multi–track application (like a mobile app). This app then allows the audience to create their own versions of the song. This will allow the audience to co-create with musicians and participate instead of passively consuming music.

Interactive/context-based music services are emerging as the music industry transforms. MPEG has standardized a format creating the IM AF (Interactive Music Application Format). Jang, Kudumakis, Sandler and Kang envisage that “this new concept of digital music content will dominate over the next generation of music services” (Jang et al.: 2011).

The study used an emergent research based on research led practice. The output produced was a series of music works/experiments and a version of an interactive music release format, to be used for audience testing in a later study. Throughout the development of this creative project, insights and reflections (Smith and Dean: 2009) were made based upon the following research questions (1) the possible translations of the mixing principles from remix culture into other forms of music and (2) the possible effects this format may have on artists and the artistic process.

2. Background and Context

This study firstly identifies the principles that have emerged through the remix traditions of dub, electronic and hip-hop genres and, secondly, investigates the potential implications this new mode of production might have for artists.

There is currently limited academic literature on interactive music release formats, yet the existing literature on digital culture, changes in media consumption and interactivity is pertinent to this topic and, as such, worthy of review.

2.1 Digital Culture

The potential and historical innovations in the digital music product need to be reviewed in order to provide context to this study.

Transmutability is “the technical capability to easily change cultural content products that are encoded as digital data” (Hughes and Lang: 2006). Hughes and Lang provide a theoretical framework for digital cultural products and transmutability:

Consumer led digital transmutations: unbundling, re-bundling, portability and distribution, personalization and edit/re-editing.

Producer led transmutations are classified as re-contextualization, extension, recombination/remixing/sampling.

The term transmutability, as well as the provided framework, has become an important tool formalizing key terminology.

Compositional possibilities for the direct manipulation of recorded sound and music can be traced back to 1948 when Schaeffer coined the term musique concrete to describe the process of “composing with materials from an existing collection of experimental sounds” (Paul: 2003). This example highlights the possibilities for taking existing files and remixing them.

As technology developed, so did this concept of remixing. Jamaican dance hall culture in the 1960s was a producer-led movement that created re-arranged ‘dub’ versions of popular Jamaican music tracks (Arroyo: 2008). Artists like King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry scratched records and cut tape to produce samples and loops (ibid.). This technical process required expert skills and expensive tools. The dub movement later inspired hip hop and electronic genres, which are` “premised upon the notions of sampling and remixing” (Hughes and Lang: 2006). This was a street-led movement resulting in artists adapting B-sides, versions or extended remixes, thereby changing recording methods for their audiences who could then sample their music. The literature on the history of the remix is important to review for this current study. Firstly, it gives an understanding of the creative and technological path from producer-led remix to consumer/user/fan-led transmutation and, secondly, it highlights the historical theme that artists constantly adjust to suit the demand of consumers.

The concepts at play in remix culture have been widely explored. Hughes and Lang (2006) suggest that the re-use and combination of cultural products within an open source context will create significant economic value, innovation, creativity and growth in the cultural industries. However the “[i]ncumbents in the industry have not yet fully adapted to this paradigm shift” (ibid, p. 5) and digital products are still being delivered as if they were fixed goods expecting the audiences to just “passively consume” (ibid.)

These digital cultural products and historical movements have presented unresolved challenges for the music industry. The ideas of consumer-led or producer-led transmutability and context-based formats are an essential foundation to this research, which aims to merge extension, personalization and editing to create customized song versions.

2.2 Interactivity 

“The music industry is shifting from an ownership model via an access model further towards a context model. In other words, economic value is increasingly created by providing the audience with tools which allow them to “do things” with music rather than providing the audience with basic access to music”(Wikström: 2012)

The literature on interactivity within music largely addresses electronic music. Hence, it is important to also consider literature addressing user-led innovation and interactive releases of other cultural products to explore audience behaviours within a similar context.

Users interact for many reasons. Baym and Burnett conclude that “fans value spreading the pleasures they have enjoyed and building relationships with others in their (often intersecting) on and offline communities more than they value cash. They also value the “social status and influence these practices enable them to attain” (Baym and Burnett: 2009, p. 23). Giesler and Pohlmann suggest the internet has enabled consumers to develop “auto poetical processes” (Giesler and Pohlmann: 2003, p. 2), enabling them to self create and organize themselves against modern society’s conviction to inclusion. These key studies on interactivity point to the fact that users are motivated to interact for many reasons, including social, status building and individualization.

Interactivity is not a new concept in the cultural industries, interactive movies had a short life span in the mid-1990s but the media claimed they lacked strong storylines and were seen as merely a novelty (Pearce: 2002). In contrast and more recently, (Lessard: 2009) discussed the computer game ‘Fahrenheit’ as proof that the interactive movie format is not dead and could become a popular game format in the future. Similarly, adventure style interactive computer games have been highly successful with audiences, where “the player is more engaged in a game like experience” (Pearce: 2002, p. 2). Pearce stresses that for audiences to interact there must be an element of play. She claims the most successful games are those that allow the player to be the co-author “thereby challenging the traditional concept of ‘author’’’ (Pearce: 2002, p. 8).

Gaming and music audiences have merged through the creation of music games like ‘Guitar Hero’, ‘Sing Star’ and ‘Beaterator’ resulting in a “new breed of musical talents that enjoy music in a more artistic way than before” (Peerdeman: 2010). However, Scott Snibb, developer of the Biophilia app (the first interactive album by artist Bjork), when discussing past projects states, “we were trying to find creative, open-ended ways to interact with music that weren’t turning it into a game. Guitar Hero pigeon-holed music into the same idiom as a normal game, trying to get a score. You don’t get a score using Pro Tools, right?” (Dredge: 2011).

Montuori discusses a creativity emerging around participatory games like beaterator and GarageBand software “where individuals share their own music” (Montuori: 2010). This highlights the changes in creativity from being a personal experience to a collaborative and participatory exchange. On the other hand, Arakji suggests that game users are generally more acquainted with technology and tools to manipulate digital forms than most music users, which she attributes to the music industry’s reluctance to explore the consumer – producer collaboration because of copyright restrictions (Arakji: 2007).

It can be observed that fan videos, mainly centred on the ‘YouTube’ platform, are firmly implanted in guitar and indie music, illustrating the emerging hybridization of indie music and its receptiveness to digital technology. User-led innovation on YouTube is a well-documented area of literature. Here, consumer-created fan videos highlight indie audiences’ desires to interact with songs they like.

There have been a number of interactive music services that have emerged during the music industry’s transformation. MPEG has standardized this format creating the Interactive Music Application Format (IM AF).

The standardized form IM AF is comprised of:

  • multiple audio tracks—representing music (e.g, instruments and/or voices)
  • groups of audio tracks—a hierarchical structure of audio tracks ( e.g., all guitars of a song can be gathered in the same group)
  • preset data—predefined mixing information on multiple audio tracks (e.g., karaoke and rhythmic version)
  • user mixing data and interactivity rules—information related to user interaction (e.g., track/group selection and volume control)
  • additional media data—that can be used to enrich the users interaction..
  • metadata—data used to describe a song, music album and artists. (Inseon et al.: 2011)

There are currently two major services in the interactive music services area, Korean based Audizen and French company iKlax. Both companies have released mobile and web apps that allow the audience to mix a song. There is no research or literature that offers guidance on how artists might create a work for an IM AF format.

The literature surrounding the artistic processes of interacting with audiences informs an important study on two collaborative musical projects, these being CC (Creative Commons) Remix and a collective mixing environment called Malleable Music places. Tanaka, Tokui and Momeni, the authors on these projects, found the act of authoring for such systems requires the artist to conceive of open forms that nonetheless articulate his (or her) original creative vision, that become an act of creative expression, all the while letting go of absolute control and forsaking making a frozen art object (Tanaka et al.: 2005, p. 197).

By looking at artists’ structures as shared processes there is the possibility of new forms and formats that are not just “empowering the audience but sensitizing the artist to a new set of responsibilities” (Tanaka et al.: 2005, p. 197). As a consequence, new technologies and methods of distribution give artists the power not only to create and self-distribute but completely reinvent the current form and formats of production to which they were previously bound.

There are many examples of musicians that are exploring the above concepts. In 2004 Fat Boy Slim and BBC Radio 1 held a remix competition where audiences could remix a track via an online flash-based web application (Fat-Boy-Slim: 2004). Wikström illustrates the following three examples, “Swedish pop artist Robyn has created an online-based rhythm tool for her album Body Talk that invites fans to play with sounds and images in collaboration with other fans”(Wikström: 2012). Imogen Heap has “invited her fans to remix her music with the promise that the remixes will be released as an album”(ibid) and finally Bjork’s album Biophillia, which was released as an app for iPads and iPhones. The app allows the audience to “create new sounds and rhythms and to explore Bjork’s visual and musical world” (ibid). Wikström also refers to other possibilities offered by tablet computers with the sheer amount of applications sold “not for listening to music but for making and playing with music” (ibid, p. 18).

There is a vast amount of literature surrounding the field of interactivity in the cultural industries, especially within interactive gaming (Cover: 2004; Montuori: 2010; Pearce: 2002). The combination of music gaming, remix culture, user-innovation and emergent creativity illustrate the evolving trends of consumers/audience/users to interact creatively. One could further predict that audiences may want to participate with an interactive music release so they can differentiate their individualism from other users/fans as well as share with their own networks.

It is also important to note the literature points to the success of interactive gaming being dependent on the elements of play and co-authorship (Pearce: 2002). This raises the question whether this concept could be transferred to other cultural products. For instance, patterns are emerging around the growing popularity of the interactive movie due to combining with developments of the interactive gaming industry and the emerging changes in cultural product consumption. As a consequence the ‘interactive music application format’ or IM AF now has the potential to also be popular with audiences.

3. Research Design

During the study the researcher/artist was placed at the centre of the research, analysing secondary data then putting ideas into practice using digital media and music principles (Smith and Dean: 2009). The creative practice involved building a number of trial interfaces to test and experiment with, whilst composing, recording and arranging works that would work within this new interface format. During this process the researcher/artist made note of reflections, processes and ideas. The outcome of this process is provided in Section 3, which outlines the three stages in development. By taking a bricoleur approach the researcher/artist was able to directly access potential effects this may have on artists and their practice.

These stages serve to inform the final prototype developed in this study. This prototype was then used in a further study investigating if and which types of audiences might interact with this concept.

figure 1 TR

Figure 1: Research Stages.

3. Practice as Research

Firstly an investigation was conducted into mixing games, formats and applications like the BBC Fat Boy Slim game (Fat-Boy-Slim: 2004) An initial alpha interface prototype was constructed.

The alpha prototype interface shown in Figure 2 used stems from the single Is This Your World?, released on the album Walking Home a Different Way (Redhead: 2008). This interface was used to test the creative process and gain insights for subsequent design iterations and to refine approaches to recording. The prototype can be viewed at

Figure 2 TR

Figure 2: Alpha prototype interface, Is This Your World, application screen shot.

The stems were originally created to allow a producer to remix alternative versions of the song for release as a B-Side or bonus track (a bonus track is a piece of music that is added to an edition or remake of an album, single or EP). A producer’s approach may have been to cut up the existing stems, add effects, in addition to adding new instruments or samples. An informal survey of current online music making practices indicates that this is something an expert or amateur could do, or anyone with a basic knowledge of digital audio production software.

Stems are routinely being released along with radio edits (a radio edit is a version of a recorded song that has been modified or shortened for broadcast) by artists across many genres of music, to encourage and enable fans or DJs to remix their songs. Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have released many albums and singles since 2005 in this format via a specially focused website (Nails: 2013). This website also provides free downloads of simple remixing software. Other artists that have released stems include R.E.M (Elliott: 2008), Radiohead (Radiohead: n.d.), Kylie Minogue (SoundCloud: n.d.) and Beyonce (Pandora: n.d.).

3.1 Stage 1 Results and Analysis

This process yielded many insights to further develop and guide the study. The alpha prototype interface provided only a restricted means to vary and interact with the audio, which ultimately would be limiting for creative expression. This was due to a combination of limited interface functionality and limited options within the musical stems, which were originally arranged and mixed for a fixed format. The only options for the user were to adjust volumes and create different spatial arrangements using panning. Therefore these basic options limited the audience’s ability to create unique versions of the song. With the inherent limitations in musical content, it can be concluded, there would be limited possibility of interaction with the interface and a new approach would need to be explored.

The insights from Stage 1 suggested that there needed to be a reconceptualisation of how best to approach the recording of stems so as to offer a greater range of creative possibilities to the user. The hypothesis was that this challenge would best be addressed by conceiving of the song arrangement as modular from the outset, rather than generating materials for a pre-conceived concept of a single or ‘final version’ of the song.

This conceptual shift in the approach to song arrangement highlights how this type of format might impact an artist’s writing and production processes in the event that interactive release formats become prevalent. It involves the creation of song stem components for a fluid format or open form (Tanaka et al.: 2005), instead of a fixed format. It is this different method or approach to production, arranging and composing that is explored in the next phase of study.

3.2 Stage 2 – Falling Dream Experiments

Stage 2 involved experimentation in recording, composing and conceptualising raw arrangement materials to produce stems that might offer a greater range of creative possibilities. A new song ‘Falling Dream’ (Redhead: 2010) was created.

Building on the insights gained from Stage 1, this song was specifically arranged and recorded with an interactive format in mind. The song was created with no set structure or arrangement and consisted of modular musical materials that were more broadly categorised as verse materials, chorus materials and bridge materials. This process of leaving the arrangement open differs significantly from traditional songwriting practices and approaches, which are heavily grounded in concepts of a definitive arrangement. As such, to write in this manner an artist needs to think differently about how a song is conceived. An artist that finds it difficult to let go of ideas of definitive song versions may not be willing to experiment with this format, or might find the writing process difficult.

The first creative approach was the idea of recording three different versions of a song and then mixing them together: For example an acoustic laid-back version, grunge version and a dirty blues version. This approach was explored and Falling Dream was recorded over two days at the QUT Creative Industries Gasworks studio. This was followed by five months composing, arranging and experimenting with producing this song for a fluid format.

While recording Falling Dream some immediate problems arose. Firstly, not having a fixed structure made the song difficult to work with as each version recorded had a slightly different song structure, which when combined produced a shambolic effect. Secondly there was a key change, which made it difficult to construct melodic parts especially considering the lack of structure. Thirdly, given that remix culture emerges from electronica genres, most remix materials are tightly synchronized and quantized against a timing grid or a click track. From a stylistic point of view indie rock genres are characterised by more human, less quantized timings, reflecting the fact that most parts are recorded by humans (not machines or sequencers) and thus contain a range of timing ‘inaccuracies’. There is tension between the stylistic conventions of the indie rock genre and machine quantized or sequenced parts.

The first recorded version comprised a grungy indie rock feel with acoustic drums, electric bass and electric guitar. The second recorded version was in an easy listening style. The drummer played a half-time drum feel for this version. Both versions were recorded to a click track at the same tempo to ensure a stable and consistent timing reference. Unfortunately, although both versions worked well on their own, the tracks from one version could not be successfully mixed with tracks from the second version. The result was rhythmically disjointed and musically incoherent. There were also issues that arose from the fact that the drum parts were played by a human and so were not perfectly quantized to a timing reference. This meant that there were small timing inaccuracies in each take. This was not an issue when the drums were used in the context of the version for which they were originally created and performed. Problems arose, however, when the two drum tracks were combined, as the rhythmic inaccuracies from each version contributed to a slightly chaotic, disordered drum texture.

After this initial evaluation the drum parts were quantized but even through rigorous editing they were too different in dynamic levels and accents to work coherently together.

The lyrics and vocal performance on Falling Dream were then experimented with using a process similar to Klangfarbenmelodie. This approach involved splitting the lead vocal melody into two separated parts. The split was based on lyrical phrases identified that produced new meanings within the existing lyrics. For example in the chorus of ‘Falling Dream’ the lead lyrics are:

‘I’m lost in a falling dream I’m hoping to find you soon’.

The split melodic and lyrical parts created were:

I’m ….         Falling         I’m hoping [version1]

lost in a        dream         to find you soon. [version 2]

These two vocal parts needed to be sung in a way that ensured the timbre and pulse of the voice, when combined, would fit together smoothly. This was needed in order to reproduce the original main melody seamlessly.

If these split melodic vocal parts were presented as separate stems within a mixing interface, the audience would have the ability to produce creative mixes by changing the lyrical content and melodic phrasing of the song. However, audiences and artists may find this concept challenging, due to the nature of story telling within a song. This reflection led the researcher to question what the critical aspects of a song might be that make a song connect with a listener and how might these elements best be arranged in music produced for a fluid format. A successful song usually relates emotionally with the listener and tells a story or has a strong artistic statement.

After experimenting and splitting the melody lines in the lyrics and instrumental arrangements, it was concluded that the piece was becoming too complex. Although this initial track was selected because it had no solid structure and artistic vision, the lack of structure and timing inaccuracies of the recordings resulted in it becoming increasingly difficult to work with.

In order to keep the concept of story-telling within a song produced for a fluid format, inspiration was taken from the ‘Empire Duet’ by Rhythm and Sound (Sound: 2003). The first track has a male vocal and the second a female vocal. Each track sounds individually like a finished piece of music. When played in unison they slot together to produce a new fuller sound.

In summary a new approach was needed with the aim of providing a variety of stems the audience can mix and manipulate to create different genre versions of the song whilst retaining an overall professional layered sound when all stems are played together.

3.3 Stage 3 – One Drop

Based on the interface design limitations and the scope of the project it was only possible to produce a track that had a set structure for this pilot study. A new song One Drop (Redhead: 2011) was chosen as it had the potential to work better in this context. The song had a set structure, one distinct tonal centre, and also translated well across different genres and melodic structures.

A fluid format is not designed for a passive audience so an element of play and exploration, as in gaming (Pearce: 2002), needed to be developed in order to test if audiences might interact and use the app as a listening tool. In this stage demonstration recordings (demos) were produced to explore this concept and the new approach outlined in Stage 2. This involved composing each instrument stem and developing an amorphous work. Each stem would need to work collectively with any other stem in any combination to produce a variety of song versions. This begs the question: how would an amorphous work sound if all the possible stems were played together?

The demos were produced by arranging, firstly, a guide guitar and string part. The string parts were written by layering simple melodies to produce a harmonically rich and textured sound. Each melody layer also provided harmonic support to the guitar arrangement when played individually, thereby creating additional arrangement options for the audience.

Based on the guitar and string arrangements three different drum tracks were composed using the logic “Ultrabeat” drum machine plugin. All three drum parts combined to produce a break beat style effect. On combining a half-time beat and a disco beat it was discovered that the snare became too rhythmically complex for the piece. During this demoing process it was concluded that the drums and possibly all instrumental arrangements would need to work in unison. This first recording session was invaluable in the development of ideas on how to approach and arrange the drum tracks to ensure they worked rhythmically when played in unison.

The second recording session yielded more insights. Two beats were composed that would fit together yet still give a wide choice to different genre arrangements when combined with other instruments. The drummer also created fills that would work together to highlight the structure and form of the piece. Different timbres and EQ for each of the drum arrangements were necessary so the rhythm stems didn’t sound too saturated. This also enabled each drum track to bring a new sound quality to the piece. For example the disco beat needed more mids than the band drum sound with a punchy sounding snare. The newly recorded drum tracks worked very well producing a live humanistic drum sound that could easily be mixed with programmed drum machine beats throughout the piece. This provided a strong foundation for the introduction of melodic instruments, which involved more complex planning.

When arranging the melodic instruments it became apparent that a modular approach was necessary. This involved constantly mixing parts and ideas to ensure they would work in all combinations. This included instrumental parts being played individually, thereby highlighting the need for high quality recordings. Mistakes can’t be hidden in the mixing process for a fluid format as the whole work can be dissected. This is not the case in situations where one is mixing for traditional fixed outcomes as a number of mistakes may not audible because they are hidden by other parts in the mix.

Different stylistic genre mixes were created to gain ideas on how new melodic instruments could be added. Using Arturia Analogue Laboratory and the Komplete Native Instruments range, different synth parts were produced—13 tracks in total. After experimenting with different mixes, these 13 synth tracks were combined into three different stems—Electro/Disco Stem, Ambient Stem and Melodic Stem. The synth stems work well together and also produce different genre feels when used separately. There were two final bass stems, an electric bass and a deep synth bass part using Komplete. Again both parts worked together and with all other stems within the work.

Two different guitar stems were produced. Firstly a fingerpicked arrangement similar to the original guide guitar part. The second guitar stem was a series of strumming tracks around chord inversions with the aim of producing a bell-like tone found in indie and shoe-gazing genres.

The final string parts were simplified and mixed down to one stem. This was to ensure the number of stems did not over complicate the interface design. This was also because the strings were composed using a midi Native Instrument string package. This produced a nice sounding string ensemble that worked with all the other stems. If the budget and scope allowed for string players, separate string tracks would have been created. A solo violin part was mixed with the finger picked guitar stem and the violin had a distinct midi sound to it. When the string parts were played together a better tone was produced.

Erhu, a popular traditional Chinese string instrument, was used on a separate stem. This was to add more diverse string choices for the user.

A guide vocal was used as a base to record other vocal parts. Similar to the Rhythm and Sound track (Sound: 2003), it was decided to create different vocal parts that could also serve as backing vocals. Each vocal track would need to work independently to produce a track in its own right yet still merge together in any combination.

One difficulty in this approach arose around the timing of the recorded vocals takes. When combined, the vocal takes did not overlay well as their timing was not well correlated against the click track. In pop music a vocal-take carries a lot of the emotional content of the track. The vocalist has to connect and resonate emotionally with the audience. This emotional performance often results in idiosyncratic rhythms. This produces difficulties, as consistent and repeatable timing is essential for all the parts to fit together and highlights potential complexities for vocalists working within this format.

All of these instrumental parts could now be mixed in multiple ways to create a large variety of different arrangements and genres including electronic, indie, acoustic, dance/breakbeat, ambient and instrumental.

If other artists were to create music for this format there is no reason the design has to look like a mixing desk or any type of analogue music production equipment. For example Bjork’s Biophilia contains multiple ways to approach interactivity within an application release format. The study is not an investigation into interface design per se. That would be premature, given that there has been no systematic study to date that establishes the readiness of audiences to interact with released music. For this reason the user interface was designed to be as simple and transparent as possible, to allow audiences to interact with the music at the simplest level.

The final stage involved Prof. Julian Knowles mixing the stems to ensure a consistent quality. The mix was approached by adjusting the volume and EQ of each stem, so that the piece worked with all stems playing together and in any combination. For example, Lead Vocal 3 is much lower in volume than the other two lead vocals as they clashed slightly. If the audience wanted to make Vocal 3 the main vocal, they would need to go into the full interface section and increase the volume or use the effect which also provides compression, gain and reverb. The mixing technique also enabled audiences to explore the instrumental arrangements and different directions the song could go by adjusting volumes, panning and adding effects. It was thought that this also might engage more skilled users.

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Figure 3: One Drop Final Application – Can be viewed at:

4. Conclusion

The study has identified the principles that have emerged through the remix traditions of dub, electronic and hip-hop genres and examines the potential implications this new mode of production might have for artists. Cultural products such as vinyl, MP3 and CDs are physically fixed. With the evolution of analogue to digital these “frozen properties are more like fluid ideas” in their digital form, “appropriate for extension, recombination and innovation. However, incumbents in the industry have not yet fully adapted to this paradigm shift” (Hughes and Lang: 2006, p.5). Over the past 100 years the music industry has changed the medium it uses to distribute music, e.g. physical or fixed media, like tapes, records, CDs, mp3, minidisk, downloads, streaming and dating back to gramophone 78. The recorded format of an album, however, has remained essentially the same except for the change from analogue to digital. The concept of a physically fixed recording originates from analogue recording processes. This involves capturing a moment in time and producing copies. The moment in time was a musical performance. The recording is the same each time it is heard, just repeating the performance it has captured, yet if a musician or band repeats the performance in a live context it will never be the same. However, with changes in technology, the development of remix culture and recording production innovations, the actual process of recording itself has changed. This paper argues that recorded formats of music are emerging into fluid forms.

When bands record an album they often overdub or use other techniques that are not about recording a specific performance. These techniques in themselves are a new creative innovation. They also have been evolving yet all still work towards recording a fixed product. As the contextual review outlines, the slow evolution of recorded formats could include cutting tape to produce the samples and loops (Arroyo: 2008), sampling and remixing (Hughes and Lang: 2006), B-sides, versions or extended remixes. This creative and technological path from producer-led remix to consumer/user/fan-led transmutation highlights the historical theme that artists constantly adjust to suit the demand of consumers.

These principles have emerged through remix traditions but are now being translated to other forms of music. Examples of this can be shown with the stem releases by artists like David Bowie, Ben Folds and REM whose music is not traditionally associated with electronic, dub or hip hop genres.

Although many artists are releasing stems, they are all still created, produced and mixed for a fixed format and require music editing skills and software to recontextualise. This software is free and easy to learn with a vast amount of tutorials on YouTube for anyone wishing to spend the time. But if these core mixing principles were presented in an easy to use interface, the study shows there is the possibility to also engage audiences that don’t have the time to learn music software and mixing techniques.

New formats of music are beginning to emerge such as the release of Bjork’s Biophilia (Bjork: 2011), the standardisation of the lM AF format (Inseon et al.: 2011), and the corresponding literature. iKlax apps, UXyA and Audizen are a few examples of IM AFs. Most of these examples give the audience options to play with stems, like the “Is this your world” app. The UXyA, however, also allows the audience to change the structure of the song by adding verses, chorus and bridge etc.

Some of the innovators developing IM AFs (iKlax: 2008) seem to be approaching the development from a ‘design first and add content later’ model. The interface is designed first and then musicians create music for the interface. The music has generally been arranged and recorded for a fixed format. This model and way of thinking needs to be reassessed. A new framework for composing, arranging, producing and recording a work needs to be developed with the output being an amorphous artwork that has many dimensions and ways of being heard. The interface is then developed based on the ideas that come out of the artistic and creative process of the recording process.

There is no reason that each IM AF need be similar in its musical form or interface design. Each song could be uniquely developed and combined with an interface realising the artist’s vision. The idea of recorded music as a fixed form or a recorded moment in time is evolving and needs to evolve with this format in mind, not the fixed form traditional album or single.

Other artists, producers and recording engineers should be encouraged to experiment with the principles discussed to evolve the idea of context-based distribution and interactive applications. Instead of the development evolving from an industry and software engineering perspective it needs to work concurrently with how artists perceive their music within a fluid format.

A few challenges to this new model would be how the concept of a great song would fit. What makes a song great and how does this fit in to interactive-based formats? How could concepts of story telling be developed through fluid and open music forms from content and a vocal performance perspective?

An important technique or framework that could be applied in the production of music for fluid forms could be the development of a tempo, structural and arrangement map, which could then be simplified for use as a map for audiences to access within the application.

A challenge that has not been addressed in this study is copyright limitation and how it would apply to a format like this and then audiences’ sharing of songs with their networks. There are copyright restrictions on the transmutability of most music products (Clemons et al.: 2002) and many consumers already run the risk of being sued by copyright owners for participating. Further research is needed that analyses this format separately through the lens of rights management in order to ensure its viability for commercial exploitation.

In conclusion, this exciting study shows many possibilities for digital music products including artistic innovation and consumer participation. In order for these possibilities to gain popularity much research and artistic experimentation needs to take place to explore and develop these themes to evolve and take digital recording formats into the future.


Arakji, RY (2007) ‘Digital Consumer Networks and Producer-Consumer Collaboration: Innovation and Product Development in the Digital Entertainment Industry’ In R. Lang Karl (ed.), (0), 211c-11c.

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