Mashups : history, legality, and aesthetics

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Boone, Christine Emily

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As the popularity of mashups attests, individual songs and their increasingly irrelevant prepackaged albums no longer seem to constitute a finished product to many who listen to them. Instead individual songs often serve as raw ingredients for use in another recipe – the playlist, the mix, the mashup – which those who buy the songs make and exchange. The strict division between producers and consumers, which the music industry exploited very productively throughout the twentieth century, seems to be breaking down, and I conclude that the mashup models a different, more fluid relationship between musical consumption and production. In this dissertation, I examine mashups from a music theoretical point of view. I argue that the mashup represents an important musical genre with distinguishing characteristics and its own historical development. Chapter 1 defines the mashup and devises a typology that classifies the genre based on two characteristics: number of songs combined and the mode of their combination (vertical or horizontal). This typology leads to the division of the mashup into four distinct subtypes. Chapter 2 discusses significant legal challenges raised by the mashup, especially with respect to copyright. Mashups – at least in recorded form – began as an underground, largely non-commercial phenomenon, due to the cost and difficulty of obtaining permission to use another artist’s recording. I also examine various pertinent musical lawsuits and discuss their influence on the way mashup artists make and distribute their works. Chapter 3 probes the historical factors that led to the development of mashups, including sampling in hip hop music (both recorded and live), collage techniques in art music, and looping and mixing by club DJs. Chapter 4 investigates the aesthetics of the mashup. Critics in the popular press and on the internet judge mashups without specifying the musical characteristics that make a particular mashup successful. This chapter seeks to locate the aesthetic principles that govern mashup production. Using commentary by mashup artists as well as transcription and analysis of several mashups, I divide these aesthetic principles into two categories: construction and meaning. I then develop a list of characteristics that mashup artists aim for when creating their tracks.




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