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Do I need permission to make a remix of a record?

Remixing has been the path to fame and glory for many an artist, producer and engineer. But how do you get started? Do you need permission to make a remix?


Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...

If someone wanted to do a remix, does the record need to be out to begin with so they can re-release it? Before? If a track is being released how does one know when to do the remix or find out? Also, if the Record company doesn't know you, wouldn't they request remix work that you did? How much should you send?


David Mellor responds...

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The most important question is do you need permission to make a remix? The answer is yes you do. However, most remixes are done without permission being sought upfront; only after the remix is made is permission sought to use it in some way. While the advice I have to give is always play by the rules, the fact of the matter is that the rules are not always played by. Make your own judgment on that.

You can, in the USA but not in the UK, re-record a song without permission. The copyright owner of that song has to allow you to release it, providing you pay the statutory royalty. However, that does not extend to using parts of the original recording of that song, which of course you would need to do to make a remix.

If you are not in touch with any record labels, then there are two ways to get into remixing...

One is to make a remix of a track you like, then go to the label and ask them for permission to release it. They will probably refuse permission. Alternatively they may agree terms with you so you can release your remix and pay the label a royalty.

The other is to make your remix in just the same way, and then persuade the label that they should release it themselves. They will probably offer you a flat fee for your work, and pay you no further royalties. This however would be a very useful 'foot in the door'.

Either way, even though you have made the remix without permission, it is unlikely that the label would react badly, as long as you hadn't made your work publicly available. (Free legal advice does of course come without a guarantee.)

The best option however is to create a showreel of your remix work that you can play to record label execs. To be on the safe side legally, you should never give copies away or send them through the mail. And certainly don't post your work on a website! That would really be asking for it. But if you can persuade record labels to let you through their doors, CD in hand, then that would certainly be a good thing.

If you want to play more dangerously, then you could get your remixes played at clubs. If they prove popular, then you will be in demand. I have certainly never heard of anyone getting sued for this, but in theory it's possible. But if your remixes are that good, why should a label want to sue you and kill the goose that's laying golden eggs. They could sign you up and make even more money for themselves.

So in summary...

  • Persuade your way into the offices of record label execs. Play your work to them.
  • Get your remixes played in clubs. Get yourself known as a brilliant remixer.
  • Don't post your work on websites or otherwise distribute it or sell it. Unless you want to invite problems, that is.
By David Mellor Monday December 19, 2005