Labels and artists are only now catching on to the idea of letting fans remix their music, and are even slower to give those fans access to individual stems. But where musicians have embraced this idea, they’ve gotten surprisingly big outpourings of support — thank a culture that’s gotten savvy with digital music tools and consumes more music than ever.

While that change continues to spread slowly, though, audiovisual remixing could already have a jump start.

Radiohead: Big news for fans of data visualization, the coding tool Processing, and Creative Commons: Radiohead have "shot" their latest video using only 3D scanning devices in place of cameras, and they’ve made source code and the data (in friendly CSV files) free. The whole thing is released under a non-commercial / ShareAlike CC license, which is well-suited to remixes in general.  So, to anyone who was disappointed that Radiohead didn’t use a Creative Commons license for their remix contest, now you’ve gotten something you didn’t even ask for — three-dimensional, animated data of Tom Yorke’s face. And because this is essentially raw data, it’s unusually open to interpretation.

Visual stems? By total coincidence, Create Digital Motion’s Jaymis wonders aloud if the entire A/V scene couldn’t be given a jump start by two obvious (but strangely elusive) decisions: 1. release video "stems" for music videos to give people free access to them, and 2. go get a real visualist. Some artists have done #1, of course, but there wasn’t a specific name given to the result, and they’ve more often than not released full videos — so here you go.

Both stories are covered today on Create Digital Motion:

Radiohead Makes House of Cards Video with 3D Plotting, Processing; Gives You the Data

To The Next Level of AV Remix Culture: It’s Time to Release Music Video “Stems”

But I think it’s well worth asking readers here on CDMusic, too. Music sampling and even remixing may be old news — even if copyright protection remains the norm. But could opening up visual remixes and free visual interpretation re-energize how people think about music?

Of course, this isn’t just for the sake of doing it. Jaymis launched his discussion partly because he wanted something more expressive at a performance, and Radiohead’s CC decision allows them to take an experience that would be pretty limited (a few minutes of cool video) and make it far less so (live data and code remixed by especially-savvy fans). Likewise, the CC license is essential in the latter case; there’s far less incentive to fans to code their own visual software if they can’t share ownership of the result, or — just as importantly — share the resulting code with each other. (The tool the band’s video used, too, wouldn’t even exist without the open source community that created it.)

So, what’s next — particularly if you’re not as famous as Radiohead?

  • Radiohead's at it again! This is a great idea, that further cements their place as the pioneer of digital engagement. With the nude remix campaign, they did a great job of giving their fans a new experience by letting them be one with the music. Before that, they had that whole pay what you want model which made just a little bit of noise in the music industry.

    So when will other artists start to follow suit? Its a great idea, and more people have music/media making software than ever before!

    Why not let fans have access to the stems so they can personalize the music however they want. This feels empowering and fuels the discover of the music — anybody who uses music software knows of the intimate relationship one has with his pro tools/garageband. And, on an monetization level, why not sell then stems as well as the full song? It just means more money! In an age where music sales compete against illegal music downloads, this would give the consumer another reason to purchase the stems, albeit until they became available on the black (free) market of digital music. I think radiohead prooved this one too by charting at #37 on Billboard because of the stems (highest since Creep!).

  • I'm with you, Gavroche … and, actually, I have to admit, much as I love Radiohead I'd be *more* excited if some strange, oddball band did the same thing — someone I'd never heard of. So, any of you out there, go for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • sorry for the ssp but the open stems movement for both 'name' and 'emerging' artists is alive and well at ccMixter ๐Ÿ˜‰ – many of those are full album stems.

  • ssp?

    Yes, I agree. We'll have more on CC actually, probably later this week. ccMixter is fantastic. I meant only that a lot of labels and artists remain resistant … sometimes to even the idea of doing dedicated stems with or without CC, sometimes just out of laziness, I think.

    The visual stems idea would be fairly new, of course… there are visuals out there under these licenses, but I haven't seen a musical artist really pursue a specific release.

  • Hi,

    I am trying to promote my music entirely online. As stated in this post, what's the right thing to do for the licensing stuff?

    I would like to get as much exposure as possible for my music. This include providing vocal track for fan's remixes and creating music video competition.

    How do I let my fans know about these licensing issue? Or should I just ignore all these legal stuff, since I own the copyright.

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  • Darren Landrum

    @Peter Kirn: I'm going to guess SSP means "self-serving post." Just a guess, though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I'll stop being off-topic now.

  • Sah

    reading your post makes me wonder how much more I don't know about digital music. I'm new with computer generated music and have been following this site for a while now.

    i think Radiohead's idea is really great and now I'm seeing the extent that technology has changed!

  • KCLau — I think its a great idea that you're trying to promote your music online! Not printing CDs will save you a lot of $$$!

    In terms of what the right thing to do with licensing stuff, if you own the copyrights to your work (which it sounds like you do), you can basically do whatever you want. I think letting fans remix your stems will give you some good exposure, and to set that up, you can license your stems under one of the creative commons licenses, or under pretty much any license that you want.

    But since you're trying to cultivate a fanbase, I wouldn't be too concerned about your rights at this point. Creative commons should work for you at this point. Just be clear with your fans as to what the licensing structure is.

    For more on Copyright law, check out

  • @ Gavroche,

    Thanks for your valuable opinion. Much appreciated!

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